Take the Plunge Into Abstract Drawing

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If you tend to focus on realistic drawings, then shifting into the abstract can be a bit of a head-scratcher. But once you get rolling, you'll love this fun, stress-free form. After all, there are certainly no rules about what your piece should look like in the end! Abstract drawing techniques are great because they help us see things in a different way, and they really stretch the imagination.

A technique for any medium

Abstract style varies a lot based on your preferences, but I'll show you one method I love for getting started. I’m using pen here, but this works just the same with pencil, paint and even cut paper.

1. “Flatten” your subject

In abstraction, you aren’t too concerned with mimicking reality. It’s more about feeling or decoration. One way to get right into this mode is to flatten your drawing and make it seem 2D.

Start by drawing the outline of your subject. I have this little cat figurine that I want to abstract, and instead of drawing all of its curves, I'm just drawing its outer contour. You can include a few more details if you like — I’m drawing the cat’s face — but that shouldn’t be the focus right now. PS: No shading allowed!

2. Add decoration

Here’s where we get weird. Drawing just the outline is a super simple form of abstraction, but we’re going to up level and add some decoration. Use your imagination for this part — anything goes!

Starting with the head, I added different floral motifs and lines that travel through the cat’s body. You can have a plan and draw things in pencil first, but I think it’s more fun to let yourself create a meandering composition with no real rules.

Why'd I decide to fill this tiny cat with floral illustrations? Because it’s something I’m comfortable drawing and I find myself doodling similar imagery all the time. Your work will probably look totally different than mine, and that's the point. The key is to figure out what you naturally like to draw and splice it with different things. Cats + flowers, birds + black holes... whatever!

The benefits

There are plenty of good reasons to give this exercise a try:

  • You can take it anywhere. A great habit to get into is carrying a small sketchbook with you wherever you go. When you’re sitting in a waiting room or taking a breather on a park bench, whip out that pen and paper. Practicing drawing is the only way to get better. And the more you do it, the more you’ll discover your own unique style!
  • Since this type of drawing is decorative, you could also use those surface patterns to stamp on different products. Sites like Society 6 will turn your artwork into throw pillows, phone cases and even shower curtains. Seriously, how cool would it be to have a rug that you designed?
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Take the Plunge Into Abstract Drawing