Abstract Challenge

Hello Friends,

I recently joined a local abstract artist group. We meet once a month online, and for each meeting we have a challenge. This month’s challenge was to select a page in a design magazine, and use the color palette of the page to create an abstract painting.

I chose a lovely two-page Ralph Lauren spread from Vanity Fair for my inspiration. The colors in this ad are stunning.

Ralph Lauren ad

The first obstacle I encountered was that I don’t have some of those colors in my collection of paints. I did the best I could with the colors I have, and came up with a fairly reasonable palette.

My idea was to do a series of scrunch-and-pours using each of the colors one at a time. The scrunch technique involves wadding unprimed canvas up into a tight ball and cramming it into a bucket. Then I pour thinned paint on top. The exposed areas of canvas take the color, and the areas tucked inside resist. Here’s how it turned out.

Tondro experimental painting

The colors are OK, but it looks too heavy and uninteresting. I wanted a softer and prettier look. So next I decided to lighten up and just do a yellow pour, drip the other colors on top, and wash them off when they were partially dry, for a more pastel look.

Tondro experimental painting

The results aren’t all that pleasing. It’s too busy and I’ve lost the pattern of the yellow pour.

Third time’s a charm? I decided to go simple with a turquoise pour and fewer drips of color.

Cassandra Tondro experimental art

Also not so great.

It’s disappointing when paintings don’t work out well, but I learned something from this exercise. It’s difficult (for me) to start with a preset plan, like a fixed color palette. I do better when I can choose the colors as I go along and I get a sense of what colors will make the piece look interesting. With this piece, the colors were all selected in advance, and that doesn’t always work out so well.

The Ralph Lauren color palette is pretty, and maybe too pretty. I think my paintings work out better when I throw in some odd and unexpected colors.

It was a good exercise. I got to experiment with some new techniques, and I learned more about how color works for me. It’s good to stretch now and then, even if it doesn’t result in successful paintings.

What story can you share about stretching yourself in unfamiliar and uncertain ways? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

With love and appreciation,



  1. Sorry, not answering your question – just wanted to say that I really love the middle painting, the ‘pastel’ one. I know what you are saying, but everyone has different tastes, and that one appeals to me!

    1. Thanks, Jill! That middle piece took quite an evolution. After the yellow pour, I dripped dots, then decided I didn’t like that. So I folded the canvas in half, like a Rorschach ink blot, opened it up, and folded it in half again in the other direction. I didn’t like that, either, so I hosed it down and scrubbed some of the dots off with a stiff brush. That’s how it became more pastel. It’s interesting looking, but I think it needs more focus. Or not! I appreciate that you like it the way it is.

  2. I like the colors from looking at the Vanity Fair ad. Bright and cheerful. Happy you are enjoying your class.

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