How To Create A 'Swirled' Abstract Painting With Acrylic Paint

A 'Swirled' Acrylic Painting

(c) Azure11, 2011
(c) Azure11, 2011

Creating an Abstract Painting

If you are an abstract artist you can achieve some really beautiful results using watered-down acrylic paint. This is a technique that I have been using for a number of years and I have sold many paintings using this technique.

What you need:

  • a canvas
  • empty plastic (water) bottles
  • acrylic paints
  • masking tape
  • spatula/icing spreader

So first of all you need to decide which colours you wish to use. You can check my article on basic colour theory if you wish to know which colours go best together. Generally I tend to use colours that are close to each other on the color wheel (analogous hues) but sometimes I mix up opposite colours in the painting or even completely random ones just to see how it will turn out!

Once you have decided this you need some empty plastic bottles in which to mix the paint. Mix the paint with water in an approximate 1:1 mix. Make up at least 5 different colours to give the painting some variety. It is a good idea to test the colours first on a spare canvas to check that they go well together. Have a good variety of contrasting depths of colour. You don't need to mix particularly large quantities of the paint but obviously it depends on the size of the canvas.

Once you have mixed the colours, put masking tape all around the edge of the canvas to form a lip which will stop the paint from running off the edges.

(further instructions are under the video below)

Video Instructions

With the canvas flat on the ground or on a table, pour the paint from each bottle onto the canvas in an approximate pattern of how you want it to look. Try to spread the paint around the canvas evenly and don't have too much of one color in one place.

Once you have put all of the colours on the canvas, use a spatula or something similar to make sure all of the paint joins and that no canvas shows through but try not to mix the paint on the canvas while you are doing it so that you get a more organic look from the painting as the paint merges in its own way.

Make sure you do not put too much paint on the canvas or else it will likely pool in the middle and may take days to dry and may also crack off the canvas if it is too thick.

At this point you can add some glitter or gold powder to the painting to give it an extra sparkle. In order to add more movement to the painting, slightly tilt the canvas to get some patterns into the paint. Keep tilting in various directions until you have a pattern you are happy with. You could also add a few drops of water in various places which will make the paint move around more.

Once the paint is covering the whole canvas, leave the canvas to dry flat overnight. It depends upon how much paint you have used as to how long it takes to dry but if it takes more than 36 hours you have probably used too much!

If you think there is too much paint on the canvas when you are creating the painting then literally tip it off or else use a syringe to take it off if you don't want to spoil the pattern, but you need to take the excess paint off before the paint starts to dry.

Once it is dry, remove the masking tape from the sides, paint the edges and varnish.

Some of my paintings using this technique

All paintings are (c) Azure11, 2007-2010
All paintings are (c) Azure11, 2007-2010

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nikki1 profile image

nikki1 6 years ago

Thanx for sharing.

eatingright profile image

eatingright 6 years ago

Great tips. Will try creating an abstract painting!

dylanvest profile image

dylanvest 6 years ago from Dayton, OH

I use this method often. It is so fun. Great hub!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks guys, is a lot of fun I have to admit and the results are often unpredictable!

Ali Boom 5 years ago

Pretty cool! I have not heard of painting in this manner. I am going to try this!!

cangetthere profile image

cangetthere 5 years ago from New Zealand

Hi I have just read your hub. I have never yet thought of abstract painting The photos of your paintings have inspired me to give it a try.Good way to get a painting of colours to match a room.Thanks

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks cangetthere, hope you enjoy giving it a try.

ChristinCordle12 profile image

ChristinCordle12 5 years ago

Excellent hub! Great ideas on acrylic painting. Thanks for posting.

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Christin

jenubouka 5 years ago

That is sooo neat! I have found a new idea to try. Thank you!

malcolm 5 years ago

My experience is acrylics can dry flat colours if you dont add some gloss medium

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 5 years ago from UK Author

Yes I agree Malcolm and I very often use a gloss varnish on my acrylic paintings.

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Jen, hope you have fun with it!

jenubouka 5 years ago

I am going to give it a whirl today. Your articles are so informative. And your paintings timeless. Do you do art shows? Where do you display your paintings?

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Jen, thanks, let me know how you get on. Yes I exhibit in the UK and Dubai and will have an exhibition in Abu dhabi in October.

yougotme profile image

yougotme 4 years ago from Manila

Great hub!

I've linked your hub to mine. I've written a hub on Abstract Art in general:

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks yougotme and interesting hub on abstract art

grinnin1 profile image

grinnin1 4 years ago from st louis,mo

Beautiful work! I love the colors you use. I use a similar technique with watercolor for wild waves, etc. Nice hub!

kathy 4 years ago

I wonder does, the paint run to the center or do you support the canvas underneath...?

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 4 years ago from UK Author

Good question kathy. As long as you do not add masses of paint it will not run to the centre, and as long as the paint is not too liquid. It also depends on how taught your canvas is but I find that all the canvases you can buy in the shops are fine. The only time I have come across this problem is if you have a really big canvas. I did a couple that were 1.8m x 1.8m and there was a bit of pooling with those so I had to be really careful with the thickness of the paint.

Kathy 4 years ago

Thank You for answering so quickly, I also wanted to know if you sell your art online so that we can get a better look at these beautiful swirled painting you created. I am giving this a go today along with the squares painting. Swirling looks like fun!!!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Kathy, I do have a website at - if you go to the 'more paintings' section you should be able to see a bunch more of the swirled paintings as well as some other stuff that I have done :-)

MelChi profile image

MelChi 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

Your artwork is breathtaking! Thanks for sharing your tips, I think I'm going to give this style a try when I start painting my canvas for the lounge. I wasn't sure what to paint, but now I have more of an idea. Thanks! :)

carlarmes profile image

carlarmes 4 years ago from Bournemouth, England

Reading your hubs is giving me some really useful ideas, thanks for sharing.

wynnestudios profile image

wynnestudios 4 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

Beautiful art and ideas. I love to paint abstract art but I always yell at myself because I think it's bad. Art is unique and one may like it while another won't. I need to learn just to let go and enjoy what I do for me. Thanks for the article.

kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 4 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

I enjoyed this - I love abstract art and have dabbled in it but this sounds like a fun approach to the medium. I love the results - your paintings are wonderful. Thumbs up!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks kartika :-)

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

Just found this hub and being an acrylic painter...I found this very useful and interesting. This is an interesting approach to using acrylics and I am inspired to try. Thanks for a great article. Thumbs up!

Jennifer Barker profile image

Jennifer Barker 4 years ago from San Jose, California

Neat idea. I really like the results. I've wanted to try out abstract painting for some time but needed inspiration I guess. I'm going to try this out. Thanks!

MegannNicole profile image

MegannNicole 3 years ago from Florida

Great article! I can't wait to try this!

Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

you so much for this hub, it is exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to try something new with paint and this may be just it. I do not have to much space to work so working on the table suit me just fine

Laurel Sheridan 3 years ago

Wow I'm blown away by your demo on swirls. I've wanted to do this style of painting for so long but never had any success. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing. Thumbs up from me.

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 3 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Laurel, your comments are appreciated :-)

Holly 3 years ago

Thanks! The video was great. This was my first attempt ever at painting and it didn't turn out too badly. Only problem now is what to do with all the paintings I want to do...

Jordan 2 years ago

this is awesome!!!!!!! cant wait to try this today

braincandy profile image

braincandy 2 years ago

This looks so fun and what a beautiful result.

Nicole 2 years ago

I really enjoy this tutorial! You are amazing! My only question is which level of paint did you use when you mixed it with water 50/50?

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 2 years ago from UK Author

Do you mean quality? I tend to use high quality paints as they set better. If you use cheaper paints then they can rub off when you come to varnish the painting.

Nicole 2 years ago

Thank you! I guess I mean quality. The only place I really have to buy paint is Michaels and they sell theirs in levels 1-3 student, artist, and professional, respectively. The level 1 is kind of a buttery texture, the level 3 is thicker, with level 2 somewhere in between. I'm excited to try this method and just want to make sure I'm starting out with the right consistency :)

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 2 years ago from UK Author

Ah I see Nicole, yes you really need the best quality for this. I would recommend trying it out on a small cheap canvas first to check how your consistency of paint works out. A lot of it is trial and error! Good luck.

Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

Fiona Jean Mckay 2 years ago from South Africa

I've bought a few ACEO's using this technique on eBay recently and have been wondering how exactly it was done - thanks so much for sharing!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 2 years ago from UK Author

No problem although I have no idea what an ACEO is!

Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

Fiona Jean Mckay 2 years ago from South Africa

An ACEO is like an Artist's trading card - they are small - only 2.5" by 3.5" and apparently are quite collectible - I like the size because I have no more space on my walls for art. BTW, I played around today and made a few of the cards, and some bigger pieces and they came our really beautifully so thanks again.

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 2 years ago from UK Author

Oh yes I know what you mean. I made some postcard sized pictures using this technique on acrylic paper and put 3 of them in a frame together and they looked great.

NiaG profile image

NiaG 2 years ago from Louisville, KY

How neat! I'm trying to see how you created the masking tape edge. Are you just placing the tape along the border? Yours looks so stiff. Loved this hub. Hope to try it soooon!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 2 years ago from UK Author

Hi NiaG yes I'm just sticking it on the edge of the canvas with some of it sticking up to create a lip. Have fun!

Samantha 16 months ago

I know this is an older post but looking forward to trying! I love Tobias Tovera and this is the closest tutorial I've found for coming close to his end result. Your pieces are absolutely gorgeous!

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 16 months ago from UK Author

Hi Samantha, wow I just googled him and yes this technique might give you a similar result. I don't know what medium he uses but maybe it's watercolour by the look of it, I need to investigate further!

Sandra W 15 months ago

Amazing art. I just want to know do you paint the edges ?

Azure11 profile image

Azure11 15 months ago from UK Author

Thanks Sandra, yes I try and smooth off any excess paint that has gone through the masking tape onto the edges, before it dries, then I do paint the edges in a matching colour or with a mixture of any left over paint.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Azure, that was pretty cool and easy to do! Voted up for awesome!

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