top of page
  • Writer's pictureRuth-Anne Siegel

How to Paint an Abstract Painting in 5 Easy* Steps

My favorite paintbrush

It's really easy! Just follow my steps below and you could be a world-class painter in no time. (okay, this opening line is meant to be snarky).

  1. Draw. Study the classic foundation of art, drawing. You should take figure drawing classes from various teachers and if possible, go to open drawing times at your local art center. Or you can go to art school. At the Rhode Island School of Design during freshman foundation, I had 9-hour studio drawing classes as well as taking drawing studio classes almost every semester of my 4 years there. To refine my fine art skills as a busy mom, I took continuing education art classes at my local university (which happened to be Stanford University, poor me).

  2. Look. Go to museums, galleries, and art shows. Understand that one movement led to another. Look at Italian baroque artists such as Caravaggio and Caracci. Look at the Impressionists like Monet and Manet; Fauvists like Cezanne and Gaugain. You get the idea. What makes a great modern art piece is what makes a great Renaissance painting, Impressionist painting, or any work of art. Design, form, shape, color, composition, values, etc. You don’t need to be able to paint like Picasso to paint a great abstract painting. You need knowledge.

  3. Design. As a professional graphic designer as well as a fine artist, I have studied many principles of design, color theory, and typography. All of these areas of study influence my abstract paintings. Of course, my paintings don’t need to be legible or please my client. I’m my client! But, they need to work as design just like a book cover Take a design class or find a brochure, logo design, or website that you like. Why do you like it? What color palette did the designer use? Where does your eye go to first? Why is the layout interesting? You don’t need to be a designer to use design principles in your painting.

  4. Work. Paint, paint, and paint some more. You’ll see you work develop over time. Buy inexpensive canvas boards and just start painting. Your first 20 will not be any good. I can promise that, but your 21st may be great If you use acrylic paint, you can go back over the early ones again and paint new paintings. When I paint a painting I’m not too fond of, I just call it an underpainting and paint right over it. With oil, you’ll need to wait until it dries, then go over it. Some of my best paintings started out as other paintings If you are painting on paper, save the artwork and then use it for collage. Either glue right on top or cut it up and use it in a totally different way.

  5. Paint. The best advice I can give is to use high-quality artists’ paints. If you can’t afford a whole palette of colors, buy white (student grade is okay for white), a warm yellow, red and blue; a cool yellow, red and blue plus black or Payne’s gray. You’ll quickly see what other colors you may need or not. I like hansa yellow, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue for the warm colors and cadmium yellow light, cadmium red, and Prussian blue for the cool. I must have 7 or 8 yellows alone in my paint box. My favorite brush is a cheap one that’s 2 inches wide. See photo. You’ll need a large brush to get down large areas of color. It is a brush from an art store, not a hardware store, although hardware stores are great for plastic putty knives, cheesecloth, small rollers, and anything else that can apply paint. Experiment

* My title is deceiving. As you can tell, it is NOT easy to paint an abstract painting (or really any painting). It takes education, hard work, and trial and error among other things. I’ve worked as an artist my entire life and that blank white canvas still intimidates me every time. Post a photo of your art below and let me know how you’re doing. Thanks for reading this far!

bottom of page