Exercise: Abstract illustration – Project Abstract Illustration

For this exercise I had to choose a piece of instrumental music by a given musician (I chose George Gershwin) and create an abstract piece of work, that represented how the piece of music made me feel. I was able to choose which media I used and the final image should be interesting and effective enough to be used as a CD cover for that musical piece.

I have always loved Gershwin’s work so my first challenge was to select just one piece to develop. I chose ‘Summertime’ which is an iconic piece from the 1930s and performed many times since its initial release. I really love it but I have strong visual representations of it in my mind already with links to old memories of when I have heard it before. So I needed to relax and try and hear the piece as if it was the first time I had ever listened to it. That was hard!!

Gerswhin 12.jpg

I initially used a page in my A3 sketch book with charcoal sticks and crayons which I laid out in front of me so as I was listening to the piece, I could just grab anything I thought relevant to that moment and use. My first attempt was difficult because I just had a really strong image of shimmering heat over a long, deserted southern American road in the 1950’s with telegraph poles running along the edge into the distance. I realised that the image was messy after and lacking in focus. I also realised I was listening to the sung 1950s version of the song by Ella Fitzgerald and her swaying voice was drawing me away from the instrumental melody of the piece. So I found an instrumental version on the internet and spent time listening over and over again to the components parts of the piece.

Using the same media, I turned my sketchbook on its side and started to illustrate and describe the sounds I was hearing through the trumpet melody and soft drum rhythm. This produced the following image.

Gerswhin 11.jpg

I liked some of the colours I had used but felt the main melody wasn’t being represented strongly enough. So I had a go at using a black pen and a yellow pen to show the accompanying layers. I was delighted with the finished piece at this stage as I felt it represented the music and the message of the piece.

Gershwin Abstract 5.jpg

I knew from the above piece that I wanted to use the word ‘Haze’ to describe it. As requested in the exercise, I went through the piece looking at smaller square areas of it to see which one best communicated this word and had the most visually interesting qualities.

Gerswhin 1.jpg Gerswhin 2.jpg

Gerswhin 3.jpg Gerswhin 4.jpg

Gerswhin 6.jpg Gerswhin 7.jpg

Gerswhin 8.jpg Gerswhin 9.jpgGerwhin 2.jpg

I decided on the square below as it just feels to have natural structure to it. I think I can almost see a face in it (but that might be that I have spent too long recently looking at Picasso’s work). But I didn’t think that was a problem, but made for a more interesting abstract piece.

However, I didn’t like the purple crayon undertones so I decided to explore different media to see if I could improve on this image, to see if the word ‘Haze’ could be better visually described. I did all this work in my sketch book with notes.

Gerswhin 5.jpg


Gershwin Abstract 10.jpg

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Gershwin Abstract 13.jpg

Gershwin Abstract 12.jpg

Gershwin Abstract 11.jpg

I decided to mock up a large version of the square and try two different things here. I wanted the main melody line to still have a hazy feel to it so I used conte pastel but I changed the colour to a cool blue to see if that might be strong. I also put the piece on to a strong coloured card background to see if it would give it more depth. In both cases, I don’t think it worked and the strong purple watercolour undertones seem too dominant.

Gershwin Abstract 1.jpg

I tried pastels on a textured Indian handcrafted piece of paper to give more texture to the piece – whilst feeling more hazy than the previous piece, I feel it has lost impact.

Gershwin Abstract 3.jpg

I then tried using the hazy charcoal stick again for the  main melody and combining it with the stronger, smoother look of the yellow pen. This I liked but the watercolour purple again looks too strong and messy so it confuses the whole image.

Gershwin Abstract 4.jpg

At this point I was starting to loose the plot!!! I felt I was really going too far away from the lovely, light and relaxed initial sketch – the sketch that only came about whilst actually listening to the piece of music. So I took a break for a couple of hours.

I came back and looked closely at what I thought had worked about the initial sketch. It was the quick movement of the hand in producing the marks, the combination of colours and the use of smooth paper. But in development I had liked the hazy feel given by the charcoal stick so decided to give the combination of charcoal stick, pen and watercolour one last go on smooth paper.

Gershwin Abstract 9.jpg

I realised it was the black pen in the original sketch that had kept this image strong. So I reverted back to this and experimented with oil crayon for the background yellow/orange and purple. Bingo!

Gershwin Abstract 8.jpg

This is the final version

Gershwin Abstract 2.jpg

Critical review

I found this exercise much, much harder than I thought I would. I love music. I play musical instruments and sing regularly. I understand composition of music and I surround myself with different musical styles on a daily basis. So I thought this would be straight forward. It was not. Having to put away initial ideas for this piece and actually create a piece based on the moment of time I was spent listening to it was new to me and hard. However, I enjoyed working through the process or developing it, trying to remember what of the original I liked and working out what needed to change to best fit the word I had chosen. Constantly trying new things and assessing what I was doing as I went along was the only way I could best visually represent my chosen word and get to the end piece of work. Although I have not added any text to the piece (to indicate it is a CD cover), I do believe the image is strong enough to be used as a CD cover. I believe I have completed this exercise as required.


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