Abstract painting techniques open a world of creativity for artists of all levels. They allow you to explore color, form, and texture on canvas without the constraints of traditional subjects. In this post, I will cover 20 of the best abstract painting techniques for success, highlighting the right mediums to use, surfaces and give you all the tips you need to make sure you are creating the best abstract art you can make.
As someone looking into abstract art, you might be wondering where to start. There are many abstract painting techniques and mediums that can help you begin this journey.
For example, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and oils all offer unique ways to create abstract art.
Each medium allows you to experiment with different combinations of composition, color mixing, and values.
Abstract painting is often seen as a spontaneous and unpredictable form of expression.
It is enriched by a variety of techniques. Each technique offers a unique approach to bring out color, texture, and form.
Below I have compiled a list of abstract painting techniques (or techniques that can be used in abstract painting as some may not be exclusively abstract).
I have also provided what I think would be the best mediums to use to get maximum effect and a list of some notable artists known to use the technique.
They might not exclusively be tied to that particular technique, as many of these artists have employed various methods throughout their careers.
Abstract Painting Techniques Table
|Technique||Best Mediums||Best Surfaces||Notable Artists|
|Dry brush||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas, Wood||Andrew Wyeth|
|Smooth blended||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Helen Frankenthaler|
|Impasto||Thick Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Vincent van Gogh|
|Washing||Watercolors, Inks||Paper, Canvas||Georgia O’Keeffe|
|Pouring||Liquid Acrylics||Canvas, Wood||Holton Rower|
|Splatter||Acrylics, Inks||Canvas, Paper||Jackson Pollock|
|Glazing||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Jan van Eyck|
|Scumbling||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||JMW Turner|
|Palette Knife Painting||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Leonid Afremov|
|Dripping||Acrylics, Inks||Canvas||David Alfaro Siqueiros|
|Sgraffito||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas, Wood||Max Ernst|
|Stippling||Acrylics, Inks||Canvas, Paper||Georges Seurat|
|Taping||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Barnett Newman|
|Monoprinting||Acrylics, Inks||Paper, Canvas||Edgar Degas|
|Collage||Mixed Media||Canvas, Paper||Pablo Picasso|
|Frottage||Crayons, Charcoal, Pastels||Paper, Canvas||Max Ernst|
|Decalcomania||Acrylics, Inks||Canvas||Max Ernst, Oscar Dominguez|
|Grattage||Acrylics, Oils||Canvas||Max Ernst|
Understanding Abstract Art
Abstract Artwork and its Significance
Abstract art invites you to explore beyond visible world objects. It emphasizes an artwork’s formal qualities over its representational subject matter.
By experimenting with vivid colors, and unconventional shapes, and rejecting realistic three-dimensional perspectives, abstract artists encourage open-mindedness and imagination.
As you immerse yourself in an abstract piece, the focus shifts from visually recognizable objects to the emotions, ideas, and sensations it evokes.
Abstract artwork ultimately challenges your mind while offering a unique, personal experience for both the artist and the viewer.
Famous Abstract Artists
Several famous artists have contributed significantly to the abstract art world. Their innovative techniques and unique styles have inspired generations of artists and art enthusiasts alike. Here are some notable names:
- Jackson Pollock: Known for his “drip paintings,” Pollock pioneered the technique of pouring or splashing liquids onto canvas, creating dynamic and intricate patterns.
- Pablo Picasso: Credited as one of the inventors of Cubism, Picasso used geometric shapes and patterns to break the conventions of traditional representation in his abstract works.
- Mark Rothko: A prominent figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Rothko developed a unique style focusing on large color fields, exploring the emotional impact of color relationships.
- Wassily Kandinsky: Often considered the father of abstract art, Kandinsky’s works incorporated swirling lines and vibrant colors, conveying emotion through form and color alone.
- Henri Matisse: Known for his paper cut-outs, Matisse used bright, bold colors and simplified shapes to create compositions that captured the essence of his subjects.
By studying these famous artists and their techniques, you can gain a deeper appreciation for abstract art and its influence on the art world.
Primary Techniques in Abstract Painting
Color Field Painting
Color field painting is a technique that focuses on large areas of solid color.
This method allows the artist to create impactful, emotional responses using simplicity and boldness.
By carefully choosing colors and their arrangements, you can evoke different moods and atmospheres in your paintings.
The key is to experiment with color combinations and layering, allowing each hue to stand on its own.
Action painting relies on the energetic movement of the artist to create spontaneous, dynamic compositions.
To begin this technique, you can use a variety of tools, such as brushes, palette knives, or even your fingers, to apply paint onto the canvas.
Allow yourself to be guided by intuition as you apply strokes, drips, and splatters, capturing the essence of motion and energy in your artwork.
This method is perfect for those seeking a more expressive style of abstract painting.
Acrylic pouring is a fun and easy technique that produces unique, visually appealing results.
To get started, mix acrylic paint with a pouring medium to help the paint flow more easily.
Choose multiple colors and layer them in a cup, then pour the mixture onto your canvas.
You can tilt the canvas to manipulate the paint, creating beautiful patterns and cells.
Don’t be afraid to try new techniques with acrylic pouring, such as using a hairdryer, a straw, or even a palette knife to push the paint around and create different effects.
With practice and experimentation, you’ll find the acrylic pouring technique that suits your artistic vision.
Role of Colors in Abstract Painting
Color Palette Choices
Selecting the right color palette is vital when creating abstract art.
Experimenting with different colors can significantly affect the mood and composition of your work.
Take time to explore various color combinations, such as vibrant colors, pastel shades, and even negative colors.
A wide variety of colors can help your artwork stand out and evoke different emotions for the viewer.
Color Mixing Strategies
Color mixing strategies play an essential role in developing abstract paintings.
By combining different shades, you can create unique and visually appealing arrangements. Here are some tips for effective color mixing:
Using a limited color palette can help you maintain consistency in your work. A limited palette won’t overwhelm the viewer, allowing them to focus on the overall composition.
These are colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. They create a harmonious feel in your artwork and blend easily together.
These colors sit opposite each other on the color wheel. They create strong contrasts, adding visual interest to your abstract painting.
This color scheme uses one color paired with two colors adjacent to its complementary color. This creates a more subtle contrast than the complementary color scheme.
Be strategic with your color mixing. Occasionally, you might choose to focus on a single color, using different shades, tints, and tones, to evoke a particular emotion or atmosphere.
Remember, your abstract painting’s success depends on the careful selection of colors and color mixing strategies.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and play with different combinations to make your artwork visually captivating and evocative.
Tools and Mediums for Abstract Painting
Use of Palette Knife
A palette knife is a necessary tool for abstract painting. You can create fascinating textures, mix colors, and apply paint to the canvas.
To make thick paint layers, you can apply paint straight from the tube with your palette knife. This adds depth and interest to your artwork.
Spray Bottle and Paper Towel Techniques
Spray bottles and paper towels are great tools for adding flexibility and spontaneity to your abstract paintings.
With a spray bottle, you can adjust the wetness of your canvas and explore exciting effects. Mist the wet paint on your canvas to create a fluid look.
To achieve different textures, press a paper towel on the wet paint, and lift it off.
Acrylics vs Oils
Choosing between acrylics and oil paints will depend on your personal preference and desired outcomes.
Acrylic artists appreciate that acrylics dry quickly, allowing them to work fast and layer colors.
Fluid acrylics are particularly suitable for thin paint layers. On the other hand, oil paints dry slower and blend better, offering more time to work with wet paint and create smooth color transitions.
Choosing the Right Brushes
Selecting the right brushes is vital for the success of your abstract painting.
For thin paint applications, you will need soft brushes that can hold more fluid. To apply thicker paint, opt for stiff brushes that can easily move dense paint around your canvas.
Be sure to have a range of brush sizes and shapes in your set to cover different techniques and effects.
Exploring Abstract Painting Ideas
To apply texture, experiment with household items like plastic wrap, sponges, or even a fork.
By using these techniques, you will add depth and visual interest to your abstract paintings.
Making Use of Various Shapes
Incorporating diverse shapes in your artwork adds variety and helps you convey emotions or concepts.
Geometric and organic shapes can be combined to create fascinating abstract compositions.
Try creating shapes with unconventional tools like palette knives, stencils, or even your fingers.
Creating an Abstract Composition
An abstract composition is vital to your artwork as it dictates the overall arrangement of elements within the piece.
Start by deciding on a color palette that captures the mood you want to represent. Experiment with different compositional techniques such as balance, contrast, and repetition.
Layer your shapes and textures in a way that promotes visual harmony. Remember to take a step back from your painting, have a look at it objectively and adjust elements as necessary.
Abstract Painting Techniques for Different Effects
These abstract painting techniques may seem hard but with a little practice they are actually easy painting techniques.
That’s the great thing about abstract art, with the use of this technique or that you can achieve some interesting results.
It’s one of the main reasons why I love abstract designs and abstract art.
Dry brushing is a simple technique that lets you create unique textures in your abstract painting.
To try this, you need a dry paintbrush and some paint. Dip the brush tips lightly into paint and then brush away excess paint.
Gently sweep your brush across the canvas or paper, allowing the bristles to touch the surface lightly.
You may use a variety of brushes for different effects. Experiment and enjoy the textured appearance.
Acrylic washes create a translucent yet vibrant look on the canvas. This technique involves watering down acrylic paint and applying thin, smooth layers onto your canvas.
Apply the wash to your canvas or watercolor paper with a soft, wide brush.
You can build up layers to achieve the desired color intensity and create beautiful abstract watercolor effects.
Transparent Layers of Color
To create depth and a sense of atmosphere, transparent layers of colors can be applied to your abstract paintings.
This method involves glazing or applying a thin layer of transparent color over an already dried layer of paint.
Choose a transparent or semi-transparent paint for this technique. Apply the paint using a wide, flat brush in thin layers, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next.
This technique can produce a rich, luminous appearance to your abstract creation.
Remember to experiment with different brushes, paints, and techniques like dry brushing, acrylic washes, and transparent layers of colors.
Embrace the freedom and versatility of abstract painting to express your creativity and discover the endless possibilities.
Elements of Abstract Art
Abstract painting, as a form of art that doesn’t rely on realistic depictions, uses a unique language of shapes, colors, forms, and lines to create its compositions.
These are the same basic elements for all types of art, from representational art to non-representational art, but what differs in abstract art is how they are used.
These elements are used to evoke emotions, concepts, and impressions.
Here are the primary elements of abstract painting and should be used to suit your art style:
Beyond its aesthetic function, color in abstract painting can represent various emotions and ideas.
The choice, combination, and contrast of colors can evoke moods and convey a message or theme.
Lines in abstract painting can be thick, thin, wavy, straight, jagged, or curvilinear.
They can guide the viewer’s eye, create divisions within the painting, or even represent movement.
Shapes, both geometric (like squares and circles) and organic (irregular, often based on natural forms), are fundamental building blocks in an abstract piece.
They can be used to create patterns, convey depth, or represent abstract ideas.
While closely related to shape, form has dimensions—depth, width, and height. In abstract painting, forms can be three-dimensional illusions or flat entities on the canvas.
The tactile quality of the painting’s surface, whether it’s smooth, rough, soft, or bumpy, adds another layer of depth and interest.
Texture can be achieved through brushwork, tools, techniques like impasto, or added materials.
This refers to the areas around, between, or within shapes and forms. Space can be positive (filled with color or shapes) or negative (empty spaces).
Proper use of space can create a sense of depth, dynamism, or calmness.
Value pertains to the lightness or darkness of colors. Playing with value can bring depth, emphasis, and contrast to a painting.
While this isn’t an element per se, the way the elements are arranged—composition—is crucial.
The balance, alignment, and distribution of elements within the painting can make it harmonious or intentionally discordant.
But when it comes to making abstract art, are some elements more important than others to get right?
These elements work together, allowing the artist to convey complex ideas, emotions, and narratives without resorting to realistic or representational depictions.
The interpretation often lies in the eyes of the beholder, with the viewer’s personal experiences, emotions, and knowledge influencing their understanding of the artwork.
Elements of Painting To Focus on in Abstract Painting
When it comes to abstract painting techniques, the importance of specific elements can vary depending on the artist’s intentions, the message they wish to convey, and the chosen medium.
However, certain elements often take precedence in various techniques:
Color is a paramount element in abstract painting, no matter the medium.
For example, in acrylics, artists can use the paint’s quick drying time to layer colors, producing glazes or vibrant overlays.
In watercolors, the translucency of the paint allows for delicate color blending, gradients, and the layering of washes.
In mediums like oil and acrylic, texture becomes a significant point of focus, especially with techniques like impasto, where thick layers of paint are applied to create a sculptural effect on the canvas.
Texture can be less pronounced in watercolor due to the medium’s fluid nature, but it can still be achieved with techniques like dry brushing or using granulating paints.
Especially crucial for techniques that involve dripping, pouring, or sgraffito. Lines help guide the viewer’s eye, create movement, and add structural intricacy to abstract pieces.
In mediums like inks or watercolors, the fluidity can be used to create flowing, organic lines, while acrylics and oils might produce more defined and bold lines.
Shape and Form
Abstract techniques often revolve around the interplay of shapes and forms.
In collage or mixed media, the cut or torn shapes of materials become the primary focus.
In more fluid mediums like watercolor or ink, shapes can form organically as colors bleed and blend.
Especially relevant in minimalistic or “negative space” focused abstract works.
The balance between occupied and empty space can create tension, balance, or emphasis, regardless of the medium.
This is a vital element when working with monochromatic schemes or when emphasizing the play of light and shadow.
In charcoal or pencil abstract works, value becomes the main method of conveying depth, movement, and contrast.
My other thoughts when exploring abstract painting techniques are primarily based around the medium.
For example, what medium best serves the purpose if you’re trying to achieve a specific outcome?
I wouldn’t use inks if I were looking for impasto on canvas as an effect. So choose your mediums carefully when planning your abstract artwork.
As for the importance of these elements differing by medium:
Emphasis often lies in texture and color due to the paint’s versatility and quick drying time.
Texture and value are key, given the rich, deep quality of the colors and the longer drying time, which allows for more blending and layering.
Color, space, and form might be more emphasized due to the medium’s translucent and fluid nature.
Line and color become central due to the flowing nature of inks and their vibrant hues.
Charcoal or Pencils
Value and line are paramount in creating depth, contrast, and structure.
While these generalities can serve as a guideline, the beauty of abstract art is its lack of strict rules.
The importance of any given element can change based on the artist’s vision, the technique employed, and the emotional or conceptual message of the piece.
Basic Techniques in Abstract Art
One great technique in abstract painting is the use of different tools beyond the traditional brush.
These can range from palette knives to sponges, offering a variety of ways to apply paint.
Some of the most common acrylic painting techniques include pour paintings, where paint is poured onto the canvas, and brush strokes, which create texture and movement.
The best way for beginners to start is by exploring basic acrylic techniques.
This allows them to familiarize themselves with the medium before diving into more advanced methods.
Abstract acrylic paintings can be executed on different surfaces.
Canvas paintings are classic, but artists also use wood, paper, and even fabric. It’s always exciting for artists to discover new ways to use different mediums.
Trying out abstract watercolor painting can be a great way to experience different drying times and effects compared to heavy body paint.
Tips and Tricks for Abstract Painting Techniques
If you’re approaching abstract art painting for the first time, starting with a blank canvas can be both exhilarating and intimidating.
A great way to begin is by using reference photos or your favorite music as inspiration. While the end result won’t be a direct replication, these references can guide your color choices and shapes.
Tools and Techniques
A great tool for those new to the abstract art technique is the palette knife.
It’s one of the simple acrylic painting techniques that allows artists to spread heavy body paint in different ways, creating unique textures and patterns.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to use tools in abstract art; it’s all about experimenting and finding what works for you.
For those who enjoy abstract watercolor painting, managing how much water you use is crucial.
A wet brush creates a softer look, while a dry brush offers more control.
For those using acrylics, an easy painting technique is to let the paint drip from a height, creating random patterns that can be a great example of the unpredictability and beauty of abstract art.
Exploring and Evolving
Art tutorials can be a great way to learn new techniques, but the best part of abstract art is the freedom to interpret and express.
There’s no wrong way to approach it, and each artist develops their unique style over time.
Art lovers in the United States and around the world have embraced the ever-evolving world of abstract art.
With so many various techniques to choose from and endless abstract art ideas, the only limit is one’s imagination.
If you need to free abstract art tutorials, YouTube is my main source these days. The videos and creators have taken a massive step up in quality.
Most are better than paid services or online schools.
Abstract Painting Techniques – Wrap up!
The journey of abstract painting is as much about the process as the final piece.
Whether you’re creating brush strokes to the rhythm of your favorite music or discovering new effects with a clean brush, every step offers a chance to express and explore.
Push your ideas to the limit but I suggest plan your ideas on paper or through written words.
Abstract does not mean chaos. Abstract art works best when it is planned and thought through.
Before You Go…
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Joseph Colella is a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While he holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent style he spent years trying to get into various Art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), and failed to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. In his spare time, he writes for the this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he shares practical advice on art, making art, and art materials. Joseph’s art has been sold to collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
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