Tutorial: Make an Expressive Abstract Painting in 5 Steps

Abstract Paintings are such a wide variety that it’s hard not to find someone who loves something. Some people love color, others textures, and even are drawn to the painting for its mood. How do you find abstract painting ideas for you and your home? One of the best tips is to create your own! You can pick your favorite styles, expressions, techniques, and colors. It makes a great personal gift or conversation piece with guests. SO how do you know what painting techniques to use when creating an abstract painting? Well this tutorial will walk you through it. In just 5 simple steps, you can create a one of a kind unique piece that speaks to your home and your passion. Let’s start!

Abstract Painting Step 1: Gather Supplies

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Supplies

The first thing you need to do in any painting tutorial is gather your supplies. This project will call for the following:

  • A canvas (any size, but try starting small for new experiments. This canvas is 9 x 11.)
  • Paint (Any colors will do, pick your favorites! I chose some blues for this piece.)
  • Brushes (You don’t need many, maybe 1 big brush for large covering and 1 small for detail work.)
  • Spackle (This provides us texture. You can get it at any hardware store.)
  • Putty Knife (This tool applies the spackling.)
  • Tools for Texture (This is where you can think outside the box! I chose chopsticks, combs, and some old lids for circles.)

I was able to gather all my supplies for my abstract painting in an afternoon. A hardware store, a craft store, and my kitchen for the tools.  Check out the full gallery of photos here.

Abstract Painting Step 2: Add Texture

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Spackle

Here we go! Start with your clean canvas and begin applying the spackling with your putty knife. The focus here is to cover your canvas. The spackling dries hard and provides a much thicker, chunkier texture than a regular canvas. How thick you apply it, what type of strokes you use, and how smooth you use the putty knife will determine the finished texture. Don’t get too hung up in this second step though, we will cover this part with more texture in a minute.

Naked Eye Studio Apply Spackling

When you’re satisfied with the spackling and the canvas is covered, it’s time for the next step with texture. This is where your tools come in! Spackling takes hours to dry so you have plenty of time to dig into it, move it around, and experiment with shapes and sizes.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Add Texture

I started with a big circle in the corner. I had a plan ahead of time to use the combs to provide lots of circles, mimicking space or water rippling. Using the first circle as a guide I dragged my comb through the spackle to create a series of lines and circles. Easy-peasy! Then I just repeated with various sizes to fill in the rest of the canvas. One thing to note: if you don’t like the way something turned out or made a mistake – just use a flat surface (like your putty knife) to smooth it out and start again! You have until the paint dries.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Texture

Once I have the texture how I want I go in with a chopstick to add small fine lines, correct details and fix any little areas that my other tools were too big to address. Now we wait for it to dry!

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Textured Canvas

Abstract Painting Step 3: Add Paint

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Colors

Wait until the spackling is dry before starting the paint. Depending on the thickness, this could take anywhere from a few hours to overnight. Go slow and don’t rush!

When you’re ready start squeezing out the paint onto an area to mix. I have a palette – but you could use a plate, wax paper, or if you want you could apply directly to the canvas.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Blues

I knew I wanted to stick with my space/water impression, so I used a few different blues and mixed them together on the canvas. One thing to note is that if you’re covering with polish using step 4 the painting will come out darker than your paint so adjust accordingly! I kept my blues brighter and lighter and tried to avoid dark heavy blues because I figured the polish would make it appear almost black.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Closeup

My paint is acrylic and dries pretty fast, so I tried to work fast. One thing you’ll notice is that your brush might cause a few bits of spackling to come off – that’s totally okay because we’re going to cover them with paint and polish eventually. Just work that paint into all the little cracks to cover all the white.  Check out the full gallery of photos here.

Abstract Painting Step 4: Cover with Polish

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Polish

To add depth and drama to the painting we’re going to use some polish. I use regular black shoe polish. This will stick in the recesses of the design and provide extra dark areas to contrast the colors you applied.

Take your brush and start covering your canvas with the polish. Really make sure to get in all those little cracks and crevices! Again you might come across some tiny flaking off – don’t worry we can cover those in the details bit of Step 5. The polish mainly oil so you don’t have to worry about it drying on you. Take your time with this step and think about the bigger idea of the painting.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Rub off Polish

Once all the polish is applied, you’re ready to rub it off. Grab plenty of paper towels and begin gently wiping away at the piece. This part is the most delicate as your hands are much more forceful than the brushes, so you can pick off the spackling much easier. Work slow and gently and try to work with the direction of the spackling.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Paper Towels

You’ll end up with lots of paper towels with shoe polish all over them – but the end result is worth it!  Check out the full gallery of photos here.

Abstract Painting Step 5: Add Details

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Details

The last step in our expressive abstract painting is the details stage. This is where you can go in and address any white bits you see that might have flaked off. Get your little brush and either dip it in the polish to keep it dark or go in with more paint to bring some bright colors back into your painting.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Details

If you find that it ended up darker than you wanted it, you can always add more paint and continue to layer. Just make sure to let the paint dry in between each stage.

Naked Eye Studio Abstract Painting Varnish

I finished filling in the little white bits with my polish. After I wanted to give it some shine so I added a coat of varnish over top.

Your mind is the limit when it comes to abstract paintings. Explore different options, experiment, and be proud of your work! This painting that I’ve created shows lots of drama and displays a dark spooky atmosphere that would be perfect in a study or entryway of a home. Set the mood, capture people’s eyes, and make them think! That’s what art is for.  Check out the full gallery of photos here.

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