Making a Minimal Painting

Artist Alan Brain describes how he considers what to include in his minimal painting inspired by a photograph of Cold Canada.

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Here is the photograph...

Taken by artist buddy Vera Bobson from a lake shore in Toronto in February

Making a Minimal Painting

Where to start?

Be absolutely certain that image truly interests you and then ask yourself...Why?

(remember everyone is different and we will see different points of interest, these are my points)

First off  I just love the sense of space, limitless quiet space - solitude where you can let your mind be still. I have been painting that for years.

The wide shape is next. It will dominate the painting and is vital for the feeling I want. It has to be landscape in a similar ratio to the photograph.

Next the colours - I love those greys and the traces of yellow towards the bottom right.

Then that hard dark horzontal shape (walkway) with the interesting piece on the left.

Maybe the ice? I am not sure but those ramdom straight edges are appealing.

Nothing much left that interests me now and I probably have more than I need already.

We are making a minimal painting - let's get to it...

I have identified the feeling I want in my mind, now it is time to make it visible with the help of paint and paper and stuff.  All the pieces are there for one reason only - to describe or enhance the feeling I am after, everything else is just decoration at best and a distraction at worst.

But maybe I will make a shape or add a colour to enhance the feeling. Onwards...

Design and place your shapes. Mark them out (note I added the verticle bar to the right as I wanted to enhance the height)

Commit to that vast area of greys with those hints of yellow. Mix up lots of paint and just go for it!

That edge at the bottom of the grey/yellow has (for me) to be sharp so the lower shape is black. Mix it up and go for it but fade it out some towards the bottom to avoid it looking like a slab.

The walkway shape is within that black rectangle and I have extended it into a vertical bar to the right. The bottom left has an interesting break - that's the place for a different solid colour. Paint the rest by varying the blend of yellow and blue/grey to enhance the large grey/yellow rectangle.

Use those ice lines? Yes but very indistinctly - I think that reveals my uncertainty about having them at all!

That's it!

No, not at all. I spend ages adjusting those subtle colour changes until the whole painting feels like I want it to (or as close as). Sometimes I might put in an extra shape but more often I take them out - to get rid of those distractions.

Am I happy with this one? Yes and No. I can see things I might have done differently and that is how I always feel - but on to the next one!

Let's take a look at the finished painting...


Am I satisfied?

No, that is a very rare occurance but I am pleased with my attempt up to a point. Now it's time for that all important self critique...

Colours. They are much prettier than the photograph; maybe too pretty. I wanted to make a minimal painting with some coldness - this is too warm. Remember it was the light yellow I loved now I have blues in competition.

The shape of the painting has reverted to the manufacture's norm or close to. I forgot that I wanted longer and narrower - dah!

The edge between the two large shapes is not quite right. I know edges are very important but I lack the skills to get exactly what I want but I'm working on it.

The painting of the horzontal and vertical columns is nearly right - maybe some more luminosity towards the top of the vertical on the right would be better?

That blue moon? I like it, it adds mystery.

The ice lines? One would have been enough - the one on the left.


All in all not too bad.  I award myself eight out of ten and I'm happy!

Making a minimal painting is not easy and in writing this post I am conscious that I am over-simplifying. It is not a lesson (I do teach however) but an approach that this artist takes. That individual approach has been honed over years of practice.

Any questions? Please just ask. Any comments? I would love to hear them.

5 + 9 =

One last point... why make a minimal painting?

Nobody should tell artists how to paint; show us different ways for sure but never tell us that it must be done in a certain way. An "..ism" is just a way of describing art, a label not a box and artists are free to do what they like.

Minimalism  is my way  currently to say what I want to say - it removes all distractions from my aim which is to create that certain feeling in my art. I have used surrealism and geometric art to create different emotions or variations of solitude, whatever works for me is fine by me.

There is no hierarchy in art - abstraction is not more clever than realism - I, like many artists started with realism but it left little room for personal interpretations which, for me is part of the magic of making paintings.

So right now I just happen to make minimal paintings but watch this space!