A Step-By-Step Method For Painting Abstract Art

Updated on March 20, 2020

Learn To Paint Abstract Art?

Do you baulk at painting abstract art? Can you happily create representational paintings but despair at the thought of attempting something that isn't supposed to BE anything? If so, then you are not alone.

Many artists who competently cope with a realistic image, simply don't know how or where to start with an abstract painting.

I found this out when I lead a workshop for my art group, I was asked to concentrate on letting each artist create their own abstract painting by the end of the evening. Most had difficulty because they were so used to painting from a specific reference. I wrote about this experience on my hub, "Learn To Paint Abstract Art". This page has been produced to go through the process of painting an abstract in a step-by-step tutorial, complementing the previous page.

As I said quite positively in the previous page, this is not a recipe for a masterpiece but rather a methodology to encourage competent artists to create and complete an abstract painting. This "practice" will hopefully enable the artist to come to terms with the subject of non-representational art and find a certain amount of freedom in this genre and even in composing their usual style of art works.

All art on the page is my own. Most have been created in acrylic on paper to illustrate this methodology. Please respect the copyright of these images and do not use without permission.

Learning To Paint In An Abstract Manner. - Surely It's About Freedom Of Expression?

abstract landscape painting
abstract landscape painting

Do you believe that abstract art is something that needs to be learnt? Or is it just kids' stuff?

After all, many people think that their kids could do better. At this point I make no comment about good or bad abstract art, merely talking about non-representational art. We all "unlearn" childish behaviour as we grow and mature, and learn that somethings are not considered "good" behaviour. Making random marks on paper is often driven out of our system as childish. In many ways this is what many abstract artists are trying to relearn in their different ways.

I have found that by creating abstract art, my representational paintings are so much fresher. I love the looseness in my style that painting abstracts has encouraged.

Does Abstract Painting Need To be Learnt?

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A Step-By-Step Method For Abstract Art

Step One - The Background

I would like to reiterate that this methodology is designed to provide practice to encourage the creation of non-representational art works. I do not claim that it is a path to a masterpiece.Or even that it should be followed blindly. The whole basis of this methodology is freedom within constraints. Paint what you like/feel but the structured method is there to help you to proceed to a conclusion. First, start with a background.

This is the step which covers and hides the surface of the paper, reduces the "where do I start?", moment.

The background can be anything. Just get the surface covered. A simple plain colour or what ever pattern or texture is desired. A complete listing of the alternatives will be considered in a third lens in this series. (link to be included as soon as available.)

For this example, I have chosen to use a stiff round brush to tamp the colour on to the paper to create a textured background. The quick drying acrylic paint is ideal with this technique as there is virtually no waiting time between the different colours. So, firstly we can see the first colour employed, a dark purple:-

Then two further colours:-

Finally, the paper is covered. Five irregular shapes which are part of the next step are also seen in this image:-

The First Steps ...
The First Steps ...
One Step At ATime ...
One Step At ATime ...
The background is completed and five geometrical shapes are added ...
The background is completed and five geometrical shapes are added ...

Adding Interest To The Painting

Step Two - The Middle Ground

Once the background has been completed, it is time to add a little interest to the painting. This is done in this methodology by adding several elements to the image. There are a number of possible choices which will be fully listed in the next lens in the series. the choice is simply put; any number of simple geometric shapes, irregular shapes, non-geometric (biomorphic shapes - think of Joan Miro), linear shapes. All of these could be plainly coloured or textured, etc.

For this example, I elected to include a group of irregular, geometric shapes which you will already have seen above. I drew these in with a wide line around them because I had an idea To overpaint this in a different colour. My next step was to to cover the interior of these shapes in a semi-transparent manner with a white / red / yellow paint:-

The next thing was to texture these shapes.

The painting has been completed by adding a dotted metallic texture to those five shapes,complementing the background.
The painting has been completed by adding a dotted metallic texture to those five shapes,complementing the background.

Painting Abstracts - Ideas, Projects and Techniques

Of course there are many, many techniques which the artist can draw upon to express his artistic freedom. The difficulty for someone new to abstract painting is to draw upon these techniques which can feel very strange if you are used to creating realistic images. A book which I have found to be very useful in describing some of these techniques is Painting Abstracts by Rolina van Vliet.

Painting Abstracts: Ideas, Projects and Techniques
Painting Abstracts: Ideas, Projects and Techniques
The author does not daly with talk about freedom and licence but dives straight into exercises designed to get the artist creating with the elements of artistic composition. This is a very practical book. In this way the book encourages the need for technical, painting and expressive skills of the artist. In many ways this is exactly what I have tried to do with the methodology I am offering on this page. Abstract does not mean devoid of skill. The painting must still be able to have meaning at some level for the observer. This may be through colour, line, shape or composition.

Completing The Painting

Step Three - The Foreground

In this the last step, although it appears to be simply a case of filling in the shapes drawn and painted in the preceding step, I have added texture to the shapes by adding numerous small, metallic shapes. These are inserted to build up a pattern. I have also overpainted the black outlines with a thinner metallic silver line. At this point I was fairly certain that the piece was finished. As always, if unsure, leave the painting for a week or two before adding to it. It is easy to add more but not to take unnecessary marks away. This is the completed work, not what I would call a masterpiece but that was not the intention as I have said.

More examples are shown below.

So Let's Look At How To Start

Selecting The options?

Even giving my colleagues in the group a methodology they were still unsure of where or how to start. The options seemed to be so mind-blowing that it acted as a damn for their creative thoughts. Just pick something for each level I said, make a list of a few elements and stick a pin in it. I decided that extra help and encouragement was needed, so I developed a game based around four packs of cards. One each for the levels and one for an overall style.

More Examples Of Abstract Art

Created By This Methodology

I intend to show three more examples very quickly. and to simply show the background and then the completed painting. Again these are all acrylic on paper, painted specifically as examples for the methodology.

1. Simple geometric shapes

The background is a simple blue wash and very loose overpainted yellow washes:-

Very simple triangular shapes are then painted on with black outlines and a little texturing. This being the foreground. Circular shapes joined with a black line were then added to act as contrast and add interest:-

2. Linear Forms

A slightly more worked example, the horizontal lines are thickened and textured, again the background is a simple wash overpainted with washes of a different colour:-

The verticle lines are woven between those in the horizontal direction, there are a few selected patches of contrasting colours:-

3. More Complex Geometric Forms

As with the other two examples, the background is a simple wash, this time with swirls of a semi-transparent green paint:-

The next layer is a red T-shape, transparently coloured with a white outline. This is then completed by adding various other textured elements, and silver, metallic lines on two sides:-

Very varied images from a simple methodology which again I should emphasis is purely designed to encourage the artist to paint freely.

Abstract Art - Is It Relevant?

I have given above the reasons which I believe make it useful for any artist to learn to paint abstract art, This is your chance to reply and disagree.

trees pastel painting
trees pastel painting


Is There Any Value In the Methodolgy?

I have found my abstract art has improved greatly since developing this methodology. I have in fact found that my work is becoming closely aligned to this genre. Much of my work is now semi-abstract landscapes, an example of which can be seen here.

I would therefore claim that the methodology has been instrumental in freeing up my artwork to it's advantage. I see no reason why the skills developed in practising abstract art should not be capable of being useful to any artist. Abstract work gives a feeling for colour, shape and line and composition which is instrumental in creating great art in any genre.

Have You Read The Other Titles In this Series

There are now three lenses in this series.

The original eplanation of how and why I developed this methodology, this article, and thirdly a game using Creativity Cards which has recently been added.

Again I stress that the methodology is aImed at artists who find it difficult to create nnon-representational art and need a little push to create an abstract painting. In my experience, this is a large number of amateur artists who are simply used to painting from a subject in front of them. This method is intended to give them the freedom (or even the permission) to create somthing different.

I would love to hear from visitors to this page, whether about the lens itself or about the methodology. I will always try to take criticism on board to help to improve this or subsequent lenses.

Have Your Say.

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    • HomeArtist1 profile image

      Wendy Hughes 

      5 years ago from Charlotte

      WOW, I think I'll take my brush and go home, now. lol Great work!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I love painting abstract art but it is a challenge for me at times. My mind keeps wanting to turn every stroke into something recognizable. Each time I paint something abstract, I do learn more about myself and the technique of abstract painting. :)

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 

      6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Great lens... abstract and impressionistic painting has proven to be a new experience for me the past year.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      I really wish I had time to do this.

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      I've been challenged with abstract art, but with an understanding of composition, it has became much less threatening. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      As an artist, I've always had a hard time with abstract art. Some of it is interesting, most appears to be nonsense and basically a picture of nothing.

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      7 years ago from UK

      @ajgodinho: I am glad to have helped, thank you

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've been wanting to paint for the longest time and I enjoy doing abstract painting. Thanks for these easy to understand step-by-step guidelines. You have inspired me to paint again now...stay blessed! :)

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      7 years ago from UK

      @anonymous: Thanks, the lens is obviously aimed at people who have difficulty tackling abstract subjects but I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Knowing when to stop is a common issue, as you suggest, if it looks finished, then leave it for a while and come back with a fresh eye.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I appreciate your sharing. I feel right there with you. You have a relaxed style which is really encouraging. I have only just got back into painting after almost 10 years post BFA as I felt worn out /empty from having to spin out so much work each then. All my work is now abstract and my biggest issue is knowing when to stop...Im getting to grips with this by leaving the work for a few days then looking at it again. Thanks

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am not a painter but I love abstract art. I used to do copper enameling and was quite abstract in my designs most of the time. This is a great tutorial and I love your designs.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love the road you take here in setting the nonrepresentational artist in all free to create in new ways that can set the soul free. I always love your teaching style, its like you're right there, nurturing....FB liked because I love this! :)

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      8 years ago from UK

      @Teapixie LM: Thanks for your comments. I hope that you do try it, as practice! Remember It does not guarantee or promise a masterpiece'

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 

      8 years ago

      This is such a great, thought-provoking article. I will definitely try the technique you write about here. I have a huge desire to get back into abstract art. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens


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