8 Ways to Go From Blank Canvas to Abstract Masterpiece

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Perhaps you look at an abstract painting and think "Um, my 5-year-old could paint that." And then you sit down with a blank canvas and immediately regret such thinking.

After all, with abstract art conventional rules go out the window, and whether your subject matter is a bowl of apples or just the idea of apples, it can be hard to even make the first stroke.

To get over the hump, adjust your mindset: remember that you're free to experiment and explore your materials. Don't worry about the end result right away. Play around as if you were a child, simply discovering things along the way.

Eight easy methods for painting abstract art

1. Watercolor spray painting

There's no law that says watercolor paint has to come from the end of a brush and in fact, when you use a canvas with watercolor, the paint naturally will flow and mix quite organically. (That's because a canvas primed for acrylics and oils is not very absorbent.)

To make an abstract spray painting, fill some spray bottles with water and mix a different watercolor in each bottle. With your canvas laying horizontally, spray colors on top of colors and watch how they react to each other.

2. Watercolor, glue & salt on canvas 

Clear glue and Epsom salts are paint repellents, meaning they push paint away from themselves — and that natural motion can create beautiful textures.

To create this look first lay some washes of watercolor paint on a primed canvas, then squirt drizzles of clear glue on top. Then sprinkle salt on top while the paint is wet and let it all dry.  The salt can be rubbed off later. The glue can be left on or peeled off too.

3. Drippy abstract watercolor shapes

By now you're oh-so-comfortable using watercolors on canvas, so why not move on to something a bit more representative?

Go ahead and paint some actual shapes on canvas this time. For instance, paint ovals and loose floral shapes for an abstract cactus painting. Put lots of paint on the canvas and tip it a little and let it run in unexpected ways.

4. Stamping

When working with acrylics or oils on canvas, you can use ordinary objects such as stamps to create an abstract painting. This painter used caps, cups, and sponges to stamp the paint onto the canvas! (Can we get that in a filter?)

5. Acrylic mixed media

If acrylic is your jam, go with it. Acrylic modeling paste can be combined with acrylic paint to create a thick, moldable paste that goes right on your canvas. Gel mediums can enhance or diminish the gloss of your paint or make it more transparent. There are so many possibilities here!

Create a texture-filled abstract painting by combining acrylic paint with modeling paste, gel medium, gel skins, and colored pencil like this painter did.

6. Palette knife

You've probably got one abstract painting tool right in your hand: the palette knife. It gives you less control of the pigment than a brush does but in this case, go with it and challenge yourself to do the whole thing without even picking up a brush.

7. Dripping

C'mon, admit it: splatter painting in the style of Jackson Pollock looks ridiculously fun, and perhaps you've wanted to try it out. This painting method is very therapeutic and can definitely help you loosen up and think more abstractly. All you have to do is drip paint from a loaded brush or pour paint straight from a can.  Just layer it on and go with the flow.

8. Melted wax crayon

Not a drop of paint needed for this method. Peel the paper off of some old crayons and use a blow dryer to melt them onto a canvas. Try all colors and all kinds of designs.

If you think of more ways to use painting materials along the way, go with it. The more free you can be with your methods, the more unexpected and creative your abstract paintings will be.

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8 Ways to Go From Blank Canvas to Abstract Masterpiece