In the Mind of Mondrian

In the Mind of Mondrian - the finished image


I was reading about Piet Mondrian on the web, and came across a story about his studios. He had started life in Holland, painting trees and flowers, then as war in Europe became more likely in 1938 he moved first to Paris then London and finally to New York. At about the same time he started to develop the geometric style that he eventually became famous for. In fact he turned his back so firmly to natural subjects that it was said that in later life he preferred not to look out of a window if there was a tree to be seen. The decoration of his New York studio was entirely geometric: flat panels of colour, though in Paris he did permit one flower: an artificial tulip with its leaves painted white.

Musing on this story I thought it would make an interesting subject for a picture: what goes on in the mind of an artist who has changed his outlook so completely? My first thought was to show Mondrian's famous Broadway Boogie Woogie painting with teeth, attacking a flower, but I decided that his revulsion for natural subjects would not make him want to eat it. Crushing the tulip with a fist seemed more appropriate to the story.

Here are some of the articles that I read:


This was all done with The Gimp at a resolution of 5000x3000. The images here are rather smaller. I expect a similar process would work with Photoshop, though some of the words might be different.

I started with a rough sketch to get the proportions right: Planning sketch

In The Gimp I created a new image with the right resolution and a black background.

The first job was to create the "Boogie Woogie" part of the image. This went onto two new layers: one for the white square and another for the pattern. I had originally planned to draw the lines using a patterned gradient and a wide brush, but I found it too hard to make the colours line up. In the end, I set up a grid using guides:

The grid of guides ready to make the pattern

I could then select suitable rectangles very easily using the "snap to guide" feature and fill them with the colours I wanted. In fact it would have been easier to use Gimp's own grid feature but I had originally intended to make the coloured lines narrower than the gaps which would have required a non-regular grid. This is not a literal copy of Broadway Boogie-Woogie but the connection will be immediately obvious to anyone who has seen the original.

The basic Boogie-Woogie pattern

There are two photographs in the image: my own hand, and a tulip in my back garden, both photographed against a black background to make it easier to extract them:

Photo of my hand   Photo of a tulip

I cut out the useful bits of each image by making a path around the bits I wanted, converting that to a selection, tidying it up a bit and feathering it by about 5 pixels.

I placed the hand image on a new layer and used a gradient on the layer mask to fade out the arm on the left:

The arm in place

The coloured gradients that I had created earlier came in useful at this point. Here is one of them being edited:

Creating a pattern in the gradient editor

I put a new layer on top of the arm picture and set it to Colour mode, then painted over the fist using a large round brush to produce the sinew effect:

Colours added to the fist

Another layer on top, in Normal mode this time, and the same brush to create links to the pattern:

Fist with links on top

Here is the top-links layer on its own:

Just the top links

To improve the 3D effect I put another layer under the fist and drew some more links on that so that they appear to connect to the back of the arm:

Top and bottom links now in place

At this point I temporarily flattened the image and took a copy of the fist part. This was pasted into a new layer on top of the stack and then smudged with a large brush to produce the motion effect:

Fist with motion effect

Reducing the opacity of the smudged-fist layer to 68% improved the motion effect, so all I had to do then was to paste in the tulip and adjust it's size to fit:

In the Mind of Mondrian - the finished image

Here is the completed stack of layers:

All the layers

More Mondrian

-- AndrewFindlay - 08 Jun 2008

Topic revision: r5 - 15 Apr 2015 - 10:02:22 - AndrewFindlay
Copyright © 1999-2018 by the contributing authors.
Comments and administrative requests to:
Please read the Important Information page which also has information about cookies and tracking