Ronnie Ireland ‘Towards Abstraction’ Zoom Demonstration

Friday 8th April 2022

Ronnie Ireland began the Zoom by welcoming us all in and then introducing himself. He is Scottish, born in Glasgow, he went to the Glasgow School of Art. He came to England about 11 years ago and he teaches classes in Guildford and Farnham. In the main he paints people, some animals, landscapes and abstracts too. For more information:

This evening Ronnie is going to divide the demonstration into three parts. In the first part he will look at some the large range of paintings that can be covered by the term abstract. In the second part he will look at how to make abstract paintings yourself. Finally, he will get to painting an abstract painting of his own.

Part 1

The word ‘abstract’ means ‘to take from’ and the first series of slides show how Mondrian developed his idea through a series of paintings on the same subject. The first painting in this series is a naturalistic looking tree, the second has become slightly simplified and in the third the branches have been reduced to a shallow curve.

Here the background and tree have become equally important. The whole surface of the painting has become one. Depth and perspective have disappeared.

Mondrian continues to take things further reducing the forms to simple lines and colour. This is taken even further with some of his work where he uses lots of tiny little lines, vertically and horizontally to represent the sea (not shown here).


Here Mondrian has reduced everything to white, black, blue and yellow straight lines and primary colours. These images look very clean and neat but in reality, when seen up close, the paint is actually quite thickly applied.

Mondrian ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’

In this painting called ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’ the same colours are used. Mondrian painted this in New York. He loved dancing and music and here he was trying to convey the rhythm of the boogie-woogie.

Mondrian was a Theosophist, implying he was searching for harmony in the world. He was painting in the 1930’s!


The next artist Ronnie Ireland looked at was Kandinsky, showing some of his early paintings. This one of a peasant village is almost fauvist in style with discernible figures and landscape. Kandinsky’s work developed into an abstract form still playing with colour and form.


Here Kandinsky is using geometric shapes and still playing with colour and inspired by music. During the 1930s everyone was clearly very influenced by Picasso.

In the first series of Mark Rothko paintings above there are figures of people discernible although they are flattened images. His later paintings are abstract very large paintings such as these of three stripes made up of multiple layers of different coloured paint. Towards the end, his work became very dark, almost monochrome.

Another artist looked at during the course of this to illustrate how abstract art developed was Josef Albers, who was important because of his teaching of colour theory. Bridget Riley, whose is known for her ‘Op Art’ created optical art that almost hurts the eye . Her work is always perfectly executed and very accurate. Some of her work is very colourful with varied colour combinations in patterns of lines and waves.

Bridget Riley

In America there was a desire in the 1940s to have paintings that were specific to America rather than influenced by European artists. Jackson Pollock was an American artist in the Abstract Expressionist movement where there was no composition and no perspective. He is well known for his drip paintings which were done by lying the canvas on the floor and painting it while dancing around it. It was intended to represent individualism and freedom and was vaguely reminiscent in a way of Navaho sand paintings.

Jackson Pollock

Some artists work to look at would include Man Ray (photographic abstract) Gerhard Richter (photo realism) , Patrick Heron (almost collage), Peter Lanyon (glider pilot flat aerial landscapes), Ben Nicolson (cubism with no perspective), Barbara Hepworth (St. Ives sculpture).

Contemporary paintings of buildings, landscapes, figures and even still life often share a flattening of perspective. Clearly, abstract art comes in very varied sizes, styles and forms.

Part 2

In this section of the evening Ronnie Ireland looked at how to make a start at doing an abstract painting yourself. Ronnie sees abstract images everywhere and he is never without his camera. This photograph of a brick wall is a good example of the kind of thing he finds interesting.

There are a lot of textures here to make this wall of interest to Ronnie. He looks for the arrangement of geometric shapes, textures such as metal, brick or peeling paint; and lines that are not quite straight.

The following abstract paintings by Ronnie Ireland all came from this brick wall.

Manipulating photographs to focus on a particular area, cropping and rotating the image can all be done very easily on most PCs and many people’s mobile phones as well. Ronnie Ireland recommends duplicating an image several times and then manipulating it until it works for you. Possible subjects are everywhere. Here is an example of how a shadow can create a geometric pattern, or how twigs and lytchen on paving stones might work for other reasons.

Here is another example of how a photograph of a very ordinary scene in the backstreet of a town can be rotated and cropped to create what becomes an interesting composition and possible layout for an abstract painting. The blue door and the yellow line enlarged and turned upside down produced greater potential.


Recently Ronnie was on a painting day when he saw this wall under a canal bridge. He liked the T-shape and decided that he could develop this along with the interesting textures he could see that made up in the T-shape and the wall surrounding it.

Stage 3

“The secret is in the doing”. This was the point in the evening when Ronnie got out the board he would be painting on for this demonstration. It had already been painted on before so there were areas of old paint and some sand already there. By turning the board around he could see that the area of sand formed a kind of T-shape and so he was going to work with this.

A very good piece of advice is to always have an organised way of using the palette. Ronnie keeps the same system and recommends that you do this too. He uses a plastic box with a lid to keep his acrylics from drying out. He likes certain colours and he organises these the same way each time: light to dark. His advice is to have a specific way that you follow every time – until you find a better one!

Ronnie has chosen to work in acrylic because it is more practical than oil for demonstrations as it enables him to apply multiple layers since acrylics dry fairly quickly. This can also be a problem. He likes to use acrylic painting gel or medium, this can be found in either gloss or matt. He will use the gloss as medium this time because it does not only help to stop the acrylic paint from drying out but the gloss helps it stop looking flat.

Studio acrylic medium gel

Remember water is a solvent which will make the paint weak, by adding the medium it will make the paint stronger which will help it flow and go on easily. Ronnie started by dipping his brush in the medium and then the Prussian blue paint. He applied the paint generously, including over the frame.

The brush Ronnie uses is an inexpensive two inch brush. Best not to use an expensive brush over a textured surface as it will ruin it.

Colour is emotional. Ronnie knows that he wants one side of the painting to be darker than the other. Decisions are important where shape, line and texture is concerned. What kind of edges will there be? Sharp or rough? Will the lines feed into each each other or divide cleanly?

The painting was developing. The titanium white and buff horizontal line and the yellow vertical line added another dimension. Even the method of drawing a straight line has options. Ronnie used a palette knife but if he had wanted a sharp clean line he could have used masking tape. Finally, the trick is to avoid over complicating the image.

The Zoom session was coming to an end. People found they were imagining all kinds of different things in it from seed heads to the twin towers, to a cross for Easter or the blue and yellow for Ukraine. The human brain tends to rationalise forms and an abstract piece of art offers lots of possibilities.

Ronnie said that he would continue to work on the painting and that he would let us have the next stage in a good quality photograph, which is the one above. All the rest of the photos in this write up, with the exception of the photograph of Ronnie himself, have been screen shots. The photo of Ronnie was taken from his website:

Acrylic on canvas. 64 x 74 cm

Above is a photo that Ronnie has sent to show how his abstract painting has been developing. He has called it “Return”.

Our thanks to him for a very informative, inspiring and encouraging demonstration which will certainly help take FCSA ‘towards abstraction’.

Write up by Carole Head: News Editor

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