Why Study Abstract Composition?

Shortly after I began making abstract book collages on a steady basis (back in 2011), I wanted to know how to make them “better”. Or I wanted to know what “better” even was. Or even what “passable” was. I did not really understand what the aim of my arrangement was. What was successful vs. unsuccessful?

I found it very difficult to find answers as to how this all worked. But questions gnaw at you, and so over the intervening years, I have gradually pieced this together. I was greatly helped by art teachers and chapter 2 of this book

They write about Visual Ordering and Principles of Organization. What a revelation to read those words!

I don’t know how many of you have looked at Principles of Design lists online. They vary widely (some have 15 principles!) and it remains a complete mystery how to apply them to the goal I had, To Make My Work Better. So this book offers this diagram:

This is at least one view of how it all fits together. I understand everything clearly until I get to this pink box and once again I don’t know how to use this list to improve my art.

In our upcoming workshop, Abstract Composition – The Deep Dive, we create an alternate list. My list is short, but each principle has its own particular magic to impart to your work.

Harmony vs. Variety is that delicate balance between a composition that is coherent and of a whole, but still has surprise, wildness, and the irrational. The cover image on this book, Eiso by Paul Manes, is a superb example of pushing variety hard, while still maintaining harmony. Look at all the different ways he paints a bowl! Creativity, inventiveness, this is something I love to see in art.

Value is easier to get right at the beginning and it establishes a strong foundation to keep building on. Notice how important the darks, and especially black, are in giving this painting a logic, and a structure, our eye can follow. This is a principle I did not know about and my early work feels weak and undefined because of it.

Visual Weight is a term I prefer to dominance, as more descriptive of the same idea. It refers to how much an element draws the eye. We want different weights, but they should harmonize, no one being too loud or too quiet. Look at the tension the red bowl creates, so bold in this composition, and yet it scuttles your eye to the other dark bowls, the black outlines, as you attempt to integrate it. For some people (like me) it may be too bold and they would change the color. But I admire it’s daring, all the same.

The shaping that goes on according to these simple ideas is so interesting, and empowering. So many people joining Yum City tell me they lack confidence in their work. This knowledge, and practice, can really help. You come to recognize the reins you have in your hands to steer your creations.

If you feel like this course could be for you, jump on our Notification List to get additional course content and signup info!

Happy Creating,


Upcoming Courses

Our Fall 2021 offering is another rendition of Abstract Composition – The Deep Dive. It is being updated as we speak and will be a 6 week course. The course will run from Monday, October 4 to Sunday, November 14.

I have a great love of the study of Abstraction. I will introduce you to useful structures to follow in your compositions, a subset of design principles that form the basis of your construction and revision process, and weekly lessons that test and illuminate these principles. Its a bit of theory, and a lot of practice.

I like to compose within the medium of Collage. It is so fast to rehearse and experiment with different composition choices. It also produces some great unexpected outcomes. We will devote the first week of the course to prepping collage materials and reviewing best practices for collage on paper.

I will have much more info on what you can expect from this course, but for now I just wanted to get a firm date out there into the universe.

More soon,



Your Monday Morning blog has been delayed due to a recent meltdown. Specifically, of Jonathan’s van, just as he was setting out for the Cherry Creek Art Festival this weekend in Denver.

Jonathan’s Van, near Taos NM

Luckily, the fire was slow to develop, so he was able to pull over and get all the artwork, tent, panels, etc. out of the vehicle without injury (a nice guy on the road pulled over and helped him. Thank you Sir!). Eventually though, the flames got to the fuel tank and the blaze was so hot that some of the art boxes he had pulled out caught fire from 20 feet away! We don’t care about the van, it was ancient. Jonathan was safe for which we are very grateful. But the art— that is just plain heartbreaking.

Nevertheless, he did not want to miss the fair so we rented him a Uhaul van and he had enough art left to stock his booth.

Booth of Jonathan Keeton at Cherry Creek Art Festival

What a trooper! So proud of his fortitude and strength in the face of crisis. And, happy to report, he sold a big watercolor today! These large watercolors are so beautifully done, but they are really difficult to sell. Even though watercolor is a much more challenging medium, most people prefer oil paintings.

Meanwhile, back here at the ranchito, I am getting courses organized. When people sign up to join Yum City, I ask them what their number one challenge is in making their art. They say things like:

  • knowing when its done
  • staying motivated
  • confidence
  • how to organize the work

For all of these challenges, I propose the Abstract Composition course as a worthy and substantive antidote. This course presents a handful of the most important art/design fundamentals to help you build, evaluate, guide, and ultimately strengthen your work. Abstraction seems to have no boundaries, no handholds or guardrails. But there are principles to guide your work, and especially the editing process that gets the work done. In 5 weeks you learn the most relevant principles and work on applying them within our community classroom at Yum City University where students can post and comment on each other’s weekly assignment right within the course.

There are another set of challenges that people list like:

  • Making time
  • Consistency in working daily
  • Procrastination
  • Getting started

For these people, I have a second recommendation, and that is our Kickstart course. Kickstart is all about establishing an art practice that you develop into a habit. We introduce you to a weekly system that I developed when I was first starting out that helped me really get in a groove and produce a large body of work. The course is 4 weeks of working alongside your fellow students in establishing a consistent art practice and troubleshooting the challenges that come up. We set up your studio, your materials, your schedule, and your process from start to finish.

It looks like we will do the Abstract Composition course for Fall 2021 and then Kickstart, Winter 2022. I should have exact dates later this week.

Does anyone want to share their number one challenge with us? Or comments on these courses? Please leave a comment below.

Allright everyone: to a great rebound week,