Exercise 3.4: Abstract illustration

As a refreshing change of subject, this exercise was all about creating abstract forms rather than a traditionally pictorial image as I was asked to illustrate a piece of instrumental music. I was instantly reminded of Wassily Kandinsky and his approach to abstract interpretations of music through what is considered to be a form of synaesthesia, a strange phenomenon where senses and perceptions can overlap. In Kandinsky's case this was the perception of sound as colour through chromesthesia that provided a core part in developing his painting style and views of colour theory.


I don’t personally share the same perception of colour from sound that Kandinsky and many others have, but I can interpret different sounds and music as having distinctive shapes and movement patterns. The same can be said in reverse as I sometimes assign sounds to silent movements as a mnemonic device.


Without further research into the subject I'm not sure what variation of synaesthesia that could potentially be classified as, but I know that it leads me to particularly enjoy watching synchronised sound to visual action in animations such as Disney’s Fantasia and the style of directing that Edgar Wright uses to match audio cues to the action in films such as Baby Driver (2017).


With this in mind I was curious to see what I could practically visualise for this exercise and I listened through some of the tracks from each of the suggested artists.


George Gershwin | The Gipsy Kings | Beethoven | Miles Davis


Although I wasn’t massively familiar the artists suggested, I recognised the most famous pieces and could see how they have influenced a lot of music I listen to today. The one I was drawn to in particular was The Gipsy Kings. I enjoy the sound of Spanish style guitar and was reminded of the current music of the duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.

I chose the appropriately titled track Inspiration as it stood out to me as having a lot of depth and emotion to it, with each layer of instrumentation feeling like it’s telling a distinctive part of a story. For this exercise I wanted to focus on experimenting in a more relaxed way than before, rather than immediately considering the careful placement of every element.

I initially chose acrylic paint on paper as a good material for quickly applying and moving colour flexibly and used a large A3 sheet as my initial workspace and my method involved listening to the piece through multiple times. My first pass was for a broad sense of the music, then with differing focus on individual musical sections as I build up my layers of paint to capture the main movements. I was considerate about how often I was adding to the worksheet as I didn’t want to overdo it and end up with so much visual noise that it became indistinguishable.


I still operated on gut feeling in making marks that felt right for the mood of the piece. While listening to the song, I couldn’t help but think of the vivid Mediterranean colours that influenced my palette and the movements of flamenco dancing, yet I also feel there is a relaxing energy to the music too. As a few listens I started to use pastels to soften the more distinctive shapes made by the acrylic.


When I looked at my finished image the word that became most prevalent in my mind to describe the piece became "Memory" as I can cinematically picture someone spending an evening remembering a dance from long ago. I perceive this is as a mostly a fond feeling, but also with some hints of sadness in the notes of the song.

The first worksheet for "Memory" Acrylic / Pastel on Paper

The next task asked me home in on different sections of my worksheet by cropping it into square sections to look for the area that most interests me and speaks towards my chosen theme. I rotated my work frequently during this selection process to find perspectives I would not have seen while I painting from a single orientation.

Selected areas of interest

From the selection, tile 8 features a little bit of everything from te piece for me and contained the most shapes that could be vaguely representative of the scene I had in my mind. Flowers and long grass, the rapid movements of dancers and the trails of candlelight to match the movement of the guitar notes I was hearing.


To advance the piece, I was asked to reproduce this square and I wanted to make some adjustments to the materials to create an aged fabric look on canvas that would match "memory" more appropriately. I stuck to using the same materials as before, this time using a dark blue pastel and water wash to form a night time border around the square before filling out the main elements in acrylic paint.


I moved much slower to roughly reproduce the composition but kept the paint wet throughout so that I could move it in place and use the back of the brush to scrape in details that were not present in my original square. When the acrylic had dried, I used the powdery pastels to apply more colour highlights and really bringing out the texture of the canvas.

"Memory" Revised Cover Acrylic and Pastel on Canvas

It's tricky to appraise a piece of work like this as it is very muchly up to personal interpretation, but I'm pleased with how it has turned out and I can definitely envision it as a CD cover for the original track when I look at it while re-listening to the song. From a technical perspective I'm admittedly not well versed in acrylic on canvas and although I managed to use the materials to achieve the look I was aiming for, I think in the future I could be more effective with my marks if I work at some larger scaled canvassas.

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