Tips to improve your abstract painting

Abstract no.1 – Original Framed Work

Artists – how many times have you heard Karen say “ohh abstract art is easy, I could do that!”. I don’t know about you but it really prickles my bones when I hear that. Well my friends, today is the day that we put Karen in her place, and tell her that there is far more to creating an abstract than meets the eye. 


Abstract is notoriously one of the most difficult forms of art to get right. In order to excel in it you need to be an EXPERT in drawing, scale, colour theory, depth and line. It’s why we were not allowed to practice abstract in my course until we had the fundamentals of drawing and mastery of oil painting in the bag.


Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for a good old experiment, experiments are a fantastic way for us to explore new textures, material, lines and even composition. But experiments should not be considered art. Instead they should be treated as part of your journey to creative success.


Now enough of my rambles, here’s what you came for – my top tips to improve your abstracts! 


Always have at least 5 fields of depth


This can be achieved with tone, colour temperature or texture. What do mean by this? Well, think about your painting as a landscape. You will have flowers and bees jutting out in the foreground, then maybe a grassy field, some trees dotted at different focal points, and just beyond that a beautiful mountain, towering in front of an enormous sky. It is a layered perspective and you have different levels of depth. This is exactly what you should be trying to achieve in your work. You want to draw the person into your work. 

The rule of thirds 


It’s one of the most basic rules in art, and yet time and time again we see artists slapping their focal point smack bang in the middle of the canvas. Naughty artist. The rule of thirds is a more basic approach to the golden ratio, a mathematical phenomenon that is found throughout nature and is scientifically proven to be pleasing to the eye. It is in everything, from the dimensions of visually pleasing people, to shells, flowers, animal patterns EVERYTHING. So get yourself at one with nature and use this stunning form to your advantage. Your painting will naturally feel pleasing to the eye once you do. 


No floaters! 


Whilst it may be tempting to put random splashes of paint, objects and lines all over the canvas, not touching anything and floating in space – try not to. Everything should ground in your painting. One line may go off the side of the page, one may sink to the bottom of it. One may be touching the other, but everything is connected. This will make your painting appear more satisfying to the viewer. Think of it like a good movie, no one likes a cliff hanger ending, and by leaving objects floating you are doing the visual equivalent of a cliff hanger.

Have a colour story


It doesn’t matter what colour story it is, so long as it fits into the rules of colour theory. So look at a triadic or complementary scheme that will make the work feel harmonious. Try and avoid rainbow effects because these can get messy. 


Use at least 5 different types of “line”


I don’t mean squiggly, straight, pink or purple. Think about the thickness of the line, the instrument that you have used to draw it. Is it thin and precise? If it is, try using a thicker brush to balance it out elsewhere in the painting, or use more fluid paint to get a more transparent effect. This creates interest in your paintings, and there is SO much you can do with this. Take some time in your sketchbook first to experiment with different line types and see how many you can make. 

Mix up those textures


If you are going to use texture in your painting, then mix them up! If you are using something really thick on your painting, make sure there are thinner areas. Again I like to work in 5s and make sure that I have at least 5 different textures coming through my painting. Even if you are not about to whip out the modeling paste on your next painting, you can create texture using collage, spray paint, and playing with transparent and opaque paints.




I advise you to take on the 100 painting challenge. This is where you create 100 paintings over the space of three days. They don’t have to be big, they don’t have to be accurate, BUT PLAY. Use different materials, experiment with different lines, different colour stories. Don’t take too much time over them, don’t over think them. But I can guarantee at the end of it you will find some fantastic new techniques and even be able to use some of them as a study for your next abstract.



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