Georgia O'Keeffe's Techniques

Written by judy kilpatrick | 13/05/2017
Georgia O'Keeffe's Techniques
Georgia O'Keeffe painted what she saw with her heart. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The career of Georgia O'Keeffe spans nearly an entire century. Born in 1887, Georgia O'Keeffe adopted the art styles of the early 20th century: realism and cubism. O'Keeffe incorporated these art styles into her own precisionist style, emphasising form, line and colour. O'Keeffe's works reflect her life at the time of painting. As a young wife living in the city of New York, O'Keeffe painted bold flowers and cityscapes. In her later years, she moved to Mexico where she painted sun-scorched landscapes.


Georgia O'Keeffe painted in the style of realism and cubism, a combination known as precisionism. As a precisionist painter, O'Keeffe was interested in form. Using bold outline, O'Keeffe skilfully depicted realistic images with emphasis on the form itself and the way the subject fit into the landscape. In a letter to Anita Pollitzer, dated September 11, 1916, O'Keeffe remarked, "Tonight I walked into the sunset." O'Keeffe's metaphor symbolises her method of creation: she painted what she saw through the filters of her emotions. Thus, O'Keeffe's precisionist paintings depict subjects bigger than life.


Beginning with charcoal and moving to watercolour as the medium of choice, Georgia O'Keeffe painted with bold strokes and colour. Bright or dark colours are often contrasted against light colours, serving to emphasise shape and form. The contrast of colours is especially vivid in O'Keeffe's later works, which were painted in oil.

Magnification of Image

O'Keeffe's flowers are well-known for their simplistic detail. As though using a telephoto camera lens, O'Keeffe framed portions of her floral subjects, depicting their form through magnification. Zooming in on the essence of each particular flower, the use of bold and contrasting colours in these magnifications creates a feeling of intimacy with the subject. Many of O'Keeffe's landscapes, likewise, are closeups.


Georgia O'Keeffe painted with asymmetrical balance, demonstrating a mastery of the use of positive and negative space. In keeping with her interest in form, O'Keeffe used negative space to give emphasis to the shape of her subjects. O'Keeffe also found balance in her use of dark and light colours, together with her interest in form.

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