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'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst: Book Review

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Sat 11th Jan 2020
Blog Categories: Inspiration & Books Reviews | Wood Engraving Printmaking | All / Filter

Book:'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst
160 pages ; Numerous illustrations in watercolour etc.
This Edition Published By:Search Press 2017 (English Translation from original in Dutch)
Originally Published By:Alkmaar Atri in Dutch
ISBN:978-1-84448-560-4 / 9781844485604

You would be forgiven for wondering what a predominantly painting book on Realistic Abstract is doing in my Wood Engraving section. There is a very good reason - Kees van Aalst is an excellent communicator, presenting mainly the theory of Art Creation and presented in a different format than most English Art instruction books, using fewer words to powerfully communicate a lot. (Note: This book is a translation from the original Dutch.)

'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst

He splits up the theory of making pictures neatly into something he calls 'Principles and elements of a Picture', which he defines as follows:

 Principles: Unity, Contrast, Dominance, Repetition, Variety, Balance, Harmony
Elements: Line, Tone, Colour, Texture, Form, Proportion, Direction
- p46 of 'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst

Most pages contain pictures, or pictures-in-the-making with a little text. But in just a few words, Kees van Aalst communicates a lot, and makes you think. Take the 2 pages on Line, for example. This contains just 53 words, and 6 captioned illustrations, which carefully illustrate the points made. Do you really need more? In my view no. It may not state in 1000 words what to do (what lines, how to create them etc.), but it makes me think, and to me that is the point. I don't necessarily want someone to tell me everything, I'll hopefully produce better art if I sit down and think about it, preferably with pencil and paper in hand, doing sketches.

Let us see how he starts those 53 words:

Line suggests the contour of a shape. A line may be straight or curved but can also vary in thickness, length, direction, tone, colour or texture. ...
- p61 of 'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst

Along with the illustrations, that makes me think about my use of line in wood engraving, and that is what I like. How will my lines suggest the contour of a shape? How will I use straight and curved lines that vary in thickness, for example? How will they suggest form, texture, tone? What about their direction, will this help define the form of an object, will they curve, and will the thickness of each help to define the tone too?

There are so many things that these few words can lead to.

Let us look at what he thinks an art work is (he is focused on painting, but I'll widen to any 2D as it applies just as well I think).

 A painting is a picture about something, not a picture of something. Therefore you need to interpret your subject, not imitate it. To do this you need to simplify the information. Eliminate excessive detail ... 
- p106 of 'Realistic Abstracts' by Kees van Aalst

Kees van Aalst then expands this, in one of the more rare full page text pages, but isn't this so true. A picture of an apple, in whatever meduim, to be expressive and interesting needs to be about an apple, how we express it, what it is like to us. A mechanical picture of an apple may technically be great, but is it art? Is it interesting?

Now, of course a book like this will focus on colour, it focuses on the painting mediums of 2D art rather than wood engraving. But that doesn't matter, I don't use colour (or more than one colour) so I can just read that bit, see if I can get something out of it, and move on.

I've only outlined a little about this book, but if you are at all interested in the theory of art, I'd recommend Kees van Aalst book 'Realistic Abstracts' - and I get no commission from saying this!

Tags: realistic abstract,abstract art,art theroy,realistic abstracts,kees van aalst,9781844485604,9781844485604,book review

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