Cubism – The First Form of Abstract Art



“Les Damioselles d’Avignon” 1907, Picasso  Accessed from Khan Academy on 14/10/2016

Cubism was the first form of abstract art and is rarely practiced by artists these days. The most famous Cubist work (above) is titled Les Damioselles d’Avignon (1907) by Picasso.  This painting was built up from cubes.  Picasso created this work to shock the art world and he certainly succeeded.

Here is another Cubist work by Marcel Duchamp and another fine example of Cubism.


“Sonata”, 1911 by Marcel Duchamp Oil on canvas.  Image from Olga’s Gallery, accessed 16/10/2016.

I recently did a workshop on Cubism and will pass on the details here.  The first exercise was to do a Cubist sketch followed by a painting.

Firstly I drew an apple and divided it randomly with horizontal and oblique lines.  I then extended the edges to abstract the shape even further.   I then shaded in starting from the bottom and going around the apple.  The dark always touches the light and the light always touches the dark.

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To commence the painting I drew a still life with a paint brush and followed the same procedure as above.  The rule of thumb is that the objects must be either sitting separately or over-lapping, not touching.  Background lines are included and best done more sparingly to subtly delineate background from foreground.

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I then proceeded to paint in the shapes being aware of the light which I placed on the left-hand side of the objects.  This required some time consuming blending.  For the best result it helps to use the paint directly from the tube without any water.

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Cubist works were often done in monochromatic tones. The fundamental qualities of Cubism are found in detachment and intellectual control, objectivity combined with intimacy, an interest in establishing a balance between representation and an abstract pictorial structure.

Here is a very powerful nude in the Cubist style by artist Corne Akkers from the Netherlands.

Corne Akkers


Corne has recently moved on to a new form of cubism with curved lines replacing the angular marks of Cubism.  This style is called Roundism.  Here Akkers combines crosshatching with Roundism.

Braque and Picasso were the founding fathers of cubist drawing.

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Questions and Answers

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“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”  Rainer Maria Rilke


Drawing: Great Masters – Edgar Degas

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Edgar Degas, La Chanson du Chien. Lithograph, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (top above)

In these spontaneous, scribbly drawings you will see that the handwriting of Edgar Degas.  His handwriting is the total opposite of Van Gogh’s.

Degas had an elegant and graceful line and used parallel tonal strokes to create the contour of the figure.  Thick strokes placed close together show the darker tones and the more spaced tones show the lighter ones.  Degas loved to use thick sharp pencils, crayons or pastels. Here the tonal strokes in the bodies are evenly spaced yet the ones in the background are crazy scribbles with directions changing every which way.

If you look closely at the drawings you will see the artist changing directions with a back and forth scribble.

The first drawing looks rather clumsy yet in contrast, the hands and face are indeed done in a “controlled writing” style.  You may also see some restatements on the arm and torso.  These help to lend character and liveliness to the drawing.

Degas loved the light and shows it elegantly here by leaving clear white areas on both figures.

“What I do is the result of reflection and study of the old masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.”
Edgar Degas

Well, all I can say is that the drawings above look pretty spontaneous to me. There are just enough marks to make a drawing, no more, no less.

Are you willing to practice leaving some clear white areas to show light as Degas has done?  Take this chance and your drawing will really turn a corner.  “Overworking” kills a drawing, and a painting too.  “Overworking” reminds me of hairdressers who keep cutting and cutting until your hair is way too short!

Drawing – Can Your Ear Inspire You?



“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities, purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

After reading this quote, I became inspired and decided to draw to music in charcoal. The top drawing was done to a Metallica track and the bottom drawing to a romantic Bach piece.  How different they are, one lively and curvo-linear and the other geometric and fragmented.  I love both of them!


Put on the wildest craziest track you know.  Block out the world and go for it!  Willow charcoal is best because you can go back into it with an eraser or fingers if you like.   Next put on something completely different, something you don’t usually play.  Perhaps an old song loved by your parents.  The nostalgia of something heard repeatedly in childhood can reveal some amazing marks!  TIP: This is best done BIG using butcher’s paper and working on an easel.

If you like, you can take these drawings further; they can then eventually form the basis of a larger abstract piece.


Drawing: Great Masters – Vincent van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh possessed spontaneous passion in his handwriting and it showed in his drawings. The character and rhythm of his marks are riveting.

Vincent used a variety of strokes in his work, usually starting in pencil and going over with a bamboo pen dipped in ink.  He sometimes used a broad flat pen point, switched to other points and also incorporated fine brushstrokes, all in the same drawing! Vincent was a mixed media artist ahead of his time.  Some of the strokes were made in diluted ink as can be seen from the examples below.

“I want to progress so far that people will say of my work, “he feels deeply, he feels tenderly – notwithstanding my so called roughness, perhaps even because of it.” Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent had a delightful clumsiness in his work; he did not care less about conformity.  He sidestepped the academic structure which may have restrained him and made up his own mind about his tools and techniques.  As Vincent mastered his technique, he came to recognize its power and beauty.


Count as many different types of strokes you can see in one of Vincent’s drawings.  Practice these strokes using a bamboo pen and black ink.  Vincent drew as quick as lightning in short strokes.  After all, bamboo pens run out of ink very quickly.   Now refer to the drawing immediately below and select your favourite tree. Incorporate as many of these different strokes as you can.  Don’t forget the clouds!

PS I can’t resist it!  Here is a gallery of some of Vincent’s amazing drawings.  They are indeed a graphic dance across the paper, musical and fluid.


Vincent van Gogh, “Cypresses, Saint Remy 1889” Reed pen and Bistre-coloured ink, with preparatory pencil on paper, The Brooklyn Museum.

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Unfortunately, I cannot reference these, I found them in a book when I was only 16 years old!

No Perception At All

Central Australia


My powerful quote today is from the amazing Eastern philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti.

The quote is from his wonderful book, “All the Marvelous Earth”.


Our perception is not only with eyes, with the senses, but also with the mind, and obviously the mind is heavily conditioned.  So intellectual perception is only partial perception, yet perceiving with the intellect seems to satisfy most of us, and we think we understand.  A fragmentary understand is the most dangerous and destructive thing.”

To judge and make knowledge without use of the five senses creates no perception at all.



Drawing: Great Masters – Matisse

Henri Matisse - Tutt'Art@ (33)

Study of a Girl, Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse had a signature which was all about the curving decorative line.  His simplicity and elegance of line is balanced by a methodical approach with his patterns of decoration.

Matisse’s drawings are spontaneous in that he would draw in a long single line which took him wherever.  The lines seem to lack planning, and proportions were not as important as contours.  Light, shade and perspective were not his main focus, neither were accurate proportions as can be seen from the girl’s hand in the study above.

For Matisse, line was all!  He loved decorative linear patterns and did not bother with restatements.  The faces of his subjects usually had no expression or individual character which added mystery to his work.

Below are some lovely drawings I saw a couple of years ago at a Matisse exhibition at GOMA

The reclining ladies are called odalisques.

Here is an easy exercise…

Try going over the face of a Matisse drawing holding your pen in the air.  Follow the shorthand way Matisse drew the model’s features.  Doing likewise with the model’s dress will help you to feel the speed and pressure of Matisse’s long contours.  As you do this, think of the artist himself (you can read about him in the link above) and imagine you are he.

Now go ahead and do your own drawing from a magazine in the style of Matisse.

Welcome It!

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My quote today is from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

Are you ready for anything and everything this year, for things that have never been?

Are you prepared to embrace any experience, even the incomprehensible?

Or do you know only one corner of your room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip where you continue to walk back and forth?

You’ve Got to be Joking!



My quote today is from the controversial Bagwan Rajneesh..

“Whenever you see seriousness,

Know well something is wrong – 

Because seriousness is part of a diseased being.

No flower is serious unless it is ill.

No bird is serious unless it is ill.

An awakened man realizes life is a song.”

It could be said our lives are built upon the idea of limitation and struggle.  Could it be that out sense of limitation comes from seeing ourselves as separate and struggling to survive in what seems a hostile world?

Peak moments arise when this separate sense of self vanishes.  These primal experiences can be experienced during prayer, love making, meditation, music, art or whenever separation from life dissolves.  In this state the person returns home to their source or God if you like.

Meditation can happen while gardening, cycling, running, doing housework and in all those repetitive things we do.

All the more reason to make music, make art, write, photograph, meditate and make love!

Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists

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“Finishing a painting demands a heart of steel: everything requires a decision, and I
find difficulties where I least expect them… It is at such moments that one fully
realizes one’s own weaknesses and how many incomplete, or impossible to complete,
parts comprise what one calls a ‘finished’ or completed work.”
Eugene Delacroix