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En Plein Eau: The Abstract Artist in a kayak…

August 20, 2021

The Abstract Artist blogging logo of Zsuzsanna Pataki

Landscapes have been my main inspiration for abstract work; since most people who come to me for a portrait do so expecting something different than a Picasso, and I must oblige.

But Abstract Landscapes pose a different kind of challenge.

This year I decided to try to grasp the widest range of patterns during my painting trip to the Lake District. Now, the best view—a real surround-effect panoramic—is either from the mountain tops (too much sky for me, sorry I’m bored with fluffy clouds and all that blue) or from the middle of the lake. This latter one is like landscape on a double espresso: you see everything vamped up and moving, at least twice (in clear weather when the water is a mirror surface) or several times over as a jigsaw puzzle, with all the bits jumbled up; when you have small waves.

En plein d'eau with abstract artist Zsuzsanna Pataki

This broken view in the water is my best friend, my coach and guide, in creating the abstract. It shows dancing, torn scraps of sky where there should be only the reflection of rocks or trees; it splits up tree branches and twists them out of shape yet you still know it’s a tree. It deepens the colours or overlays them with a gauze of blue sky from above: turning rusty brown rocks violet, grey ones turquoise. It is a constantly moving stained glass window, upside down, with the image changing as you look again and again.

That is the effect I wanted to capture. I could swim and absorb and come back and paint (and again the same next day, when the light is the same), or somehow take my kit with me and paint on the spot. So I got a kayak. Next dilemma: how to fix an easel to a kayak. The larger, the better; I love to paint large. A1 square metre canvas might also come handy as a sail, no?

There was no way to fix the issue, unless I wanted a permanently glued easel on my vessel. I ended up downgrading my kit to watercolours, painting over my knee, a bit too small (A3) but I was able to bring back ashore what I needed. My only kayak upgrade was my husband, who kept paddling backwards to stay in place and avoid tipping over in the strong waves. Because the wife wants to paint That View.

Now, these initial studies are a far cry from abstract. They have lots of exact details; the abstraction (taking or tearing away, as the latin root says) is my next step. All this information is enough to paint a good number of works, from just one sketch. I recall what it all looked like reflected in the water, with clouds and sunshine racing across them. The colours ablaze like wildfire and then hazy again every few minutes. What were the patterns? Massive cracks across huge flat boulders, the edges covered in blossoms: a swirly jungle.

From the distance, they add up to steep sheets of rocks and flora plunging into the depth of the lake. There is quite a ready-made abstract, a cracked-broken-twisted landscape in the Lake District: so I picked up my acrylic inks and got to work, on all fours, over a large paper. Lack of comfort speeds me up and helps me trim off the fluff: all the unnecessary motifs stay behind and my mind concentrates on the effect, recreating the memory and feel of the place.

At Skylark Galleries we have a steady stream of abstract works, and many of us accept commissions if you would like something bespoke:

Click here for my own Lake District Studies...
..or learn more about just one Place Fell Over Ullswater work (below) here £249.

Ullswater by Zsuzsanna Pataki abstract artistFind a short video of me making the above painting here


Brittany by art photographer Michael FrankBrittany_05 by Michael Frank £100.


Pure Joy by artist Sara SherwoodPure Joy  by Sara Sherwood £995


Amber grey and white by Carol EdgarAmber, Grey, White £225 by Carol Edgar


The Abstract Blogger biography of Zsuzsanna Pataki

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