Continuing Education

Personalization, Simplification and Abstract Painting

How does an art instructor talk about teaching that’s based on abstract ideas? Clearly, you Imagemust first establish a space where creative thought is welcomed, encouraged and supported. CE Abstract Watercolors and Painting and Abstraction instructor Virginia Paquette has had many years to create, ponder and apply abstract concepts in her classroom and in that time she’s garnered a large circle of enthusiastic, repeat students.

As an artist, Paquette says she is most compelled by a work’s expressiveness. “(I look for) originality—a fresh vision and exciting visual design or an unusual point of view. These are the same things that attract me everywhere in my appreciation of art. Student assignments sometimes are more focused on other things, but good classroom work can be inspired by an open mind and love of the process.”

Clearly, this encouragement of good classroom work is paying off.

“Virginia is versed in all styles of art, but she is passionate about watercolor and abstraction!” says student Collene Lynch. “She shares examples of abstract artists with us, through books, her folder and sometimes the internet. At the beginning of each class, she reviews what we did previously. We each hold up our paintings from the week before and she points out the positives and how each followed the lesson objective. We learn much from each other.”

Paquette’s success in teaching lies in part with her ability to take a free-flowing art form and give it a certain amount of structure in the classroom. As Jennifer Lepore of says, “Every piece of art has its own vocabulary, a visual vocabulary that gives it structure and interest. This vocabulary is made up of six basic elements: Line, Texture, Shape, Form, Color, and Value. Whether you do abstract art, non-objective, or even realistic, you’ll find at least one, if not more, of these elements at work. Each of these basic art elements are important to the success of your work, but we tend to take them for granted.”

Lynch echoes this sentiment when discussing Paquette’s approach. “What I discovered was that abstract art has ‘rules’ and tenets, just as representational art does, i.e. value, balance, etc., but that it IS less intimidating,” she says. “When I started, I was still afraid of making Imagemistakes. I'm pretty much over that now, thankfully. In our class we have all levels of experience (I say experience, rather than ability, because that is subjective) and it is has been great learning from each other, as well as Virginia. Everyone has a distinct style that, especially if we have taken a number of quarters together, we recognize and can discuss."

Paquette says many of her students come to her class having experienced a great deal of frustration with representational painting. Eventually Paquette’s goal turned to finding a means of demystifying the abstract painting process. “Abstraction is just a means of simplification and personalization,” she says. “Once you start to discard information, you also discard any worries over the value of realistic representation. This opens up the process to a lot more fun.”

When distinguishing abstract from representational art, Paquette uses the example of the apple and the red circle.  In representational art, one must work very hard to have all the correct visual information in place to create a convincing rendition of an actual apple. Success depends on one’s visual acuity and skill with numerous challenges barring the way of the artist’s success. At the same time, one can strip down and simplify an apple’s visual information to a red circle and still have it represent an apple in an abstract context.

“I was always seeking to recreate ‘realism’ in my painting prior to taking Virginia’s class,” says student Allyn Vodicka. “Abstraction is ‘freeing’ in that one doesn’t have to create a realistic painting for it to have meaning.  I have found this class has actually allowed me to move back into realism in a much looser style when I want to…My paintings are no longer ‘tight’ and actually maximize the benefits of the watercolor medium.”

With no rules to follow, Paquette’s students discover they have a greater freedom to fail. In the case of abstract painting, that’s a good thing…particularly when the instructor paces her students. Not only does Paquette invite her students into a dialogue about their own work, she paints along with them and asks they reflect on her work.  In that regard, Paquette regularly demonstrates the value of personal exploration by reminding her students she will always be a student herself. Paquette learned early on in her teaching career that it was incredibly helpful for students to see a demonstration, especially when it comes to abstract painting. “I was surprised how often students would ask me what I was thinking of when I was painting something,” says Paquette. “That’s when I realized the process isn’t obvious to everyone.”

With a 30% return student rate, Paquette’s investment in her student’s success is clear. This is annually indicated by the number her students who submit their work the Continuing ImageEducation Student Art Show, not to mention those who’ve received prize recognitions. Paquette is a big proponent of gallery shows and their benefit to a students’ process. “Sometimes dealers scout student shows in search of artists to represent,” she says. “In my graduate show I was contacted by two dealers about representation, and joined a gallery soon after. Also, people have been known to buy work from the gallery shows on campus. I have purchased two pieces myself. You never know who will connect with your work till you get it out there.”

“I now look at abstract art completely differently,” says Vodicka. “Virginia has introduced me to a bunch of artists that I haven’t paid much attention to because I didn’t understand what they were doing.  So it is almost like a watercolor technique and an art appreciation class all rolled into one."

“There is a reason Virginia's class is always full and has so many returnees: it's just a lot of fun!” says Lynch.  “We can forget about everything else in the world for three hours and have fun with her. She has a great sense of humor and respect for everyone in the class. I truly learn something every lesson. And one of the reasons we keep returning: she always has something new to keep us interested. If you are a beginner, you don't need to worry about being ‘behind’. No one is left behind in her class.”

Learn more about Virginia Paquette’s Abstract Watercolors and Painting and Abstraction.

Photo credit #1: Art by Virginia Paquette
Photo credit #2: Art by Virginia Paquette
Photo credit #3: Art by Marla Brandt, 1st Place Winner CE 2016 Student Art Show