The Abstract Art process: From Sh&t to Hells yeah!

First phase: I can only speak for acrylic paints since that’s what I use. So the following is based off acrylics and my own experience. Not everyone’s process will be the same. Now, let’s get into it!

‘Strings Attached’- Get your Digital Download on Etsy!

Ah, staring at a blank canvas. I know some people get blank canvas anxiety but I don’t. I love seeing a blank canvas, it’s full of possibility, and I have no issues just putting down marks or splashes or whatever may be. So, step one is all about getting marks down and getting the blank canvas started. Start laying down lines, colors or anything really. Just get the canvas started. It doesn’t matter what, at least with acrylic paints, which I love, see post about why i love acrylics HERE, because you an always cover it later.

Second phase: Getting into it. This step is where you start getting into the painting. For abstract art this is where you start to be more intentional. Getting a feel for your color scheme, or you may have planned that out in advance. If you did plan it out, you’ll be in one of two camps: first one-stick with the plan, second one- follow the plan until you don’t want to. Ha. The second one is a more intuitive approach. If you feel you wanted all blues but as you start going you just want to add orange or red or green, then you do. This is my approach. I sometimes plan out colors ahead of time but I always end up relying on my intuition to guide me. There are times when I stick with my plan but that’s because my response to the painting is in line with the colors I already picked. I like where it’s going.

As you start getting into the painting you have at least two layers, you’re base layer and these layers you’re doing. Though this really depends on what type of art you’re making so take this loosely, but here is where you may start having areas of interest that you’re seeing and want to work around or highlight.

Sometimes for practice and just to see what comes of it, I’ll stick to a plan whether I like what I’m creating or not. It’s an interesting way to force yourself to make something that maybe you wouldn’t ever make. Conversely, not planning anything and just going at it all on intuitive whims is an interesting practice. Just trusting your gut responses and being free and loose with your lines and colors can create pieces you wouldn’t have ever created also. These practices and experiments are really good because this is where discoveries are made. Either cool-now I’m gonna paint one with that color combo or marks- discovery OR Ew!- I want to remember to never put that color with this over that and these, it’s just ew! Both equally good discoveries. So play around. I’d say 80% of my painting time is play and experiments and 20% is calculated. But that’s me, find what works for you.

Third phase: It’s ALL SHIT! So, as you progress with your abstract painting you’re going to get feelings of beauty and excitement and the feeling it all looks like shit! Somewhere along the way, a lot of time, it’s all shit takes the driver seat. This is where you do NOT want to give up! This is the middle of the painting and every painting whether landscape or portrait or abstract has ugly middle layers. It just is what is. In this phase you may have started highlighting your areas of interest, trying to arrange colors next to each other to make certain areas pop, or you may be adding thin layers or glazes to keep building up colors and textures. Again depending on how you create art will depend on how many layers and how long you’re in each step but don’t stop where-ever you are. 99% of paintings that look like shit are saved by one swipe of a color or a line or mark or something that just comes. There are the occasional, this must go in the trash bin paintings; but most of the time by putting the painting aside and leaving it for a day or two or however long and coming back to it, creates fresh eyes and fresh opportunities that weren’t in your vision before. Just keep going and know it’s all part of the process for any and all paintings. There’s always a SHIT stage.

Fourth phase: The next step is seeing your painting and being super happy with it but feeling like it needs a little of this or a little of that. So this is the ‘adding’ details stage. In this stage you may want to add a few pencil marks or glue something on or do anything really that adds details and emphases areas you want emphasized. Sometimes this stage is straight forward and small details are added to bring it all together, sometimes what happens to me at this stage is I’ll see something and change it and then it changes the whole composition of the piece and I’m back in stage 3, working through the shit. And that’s okay! Sometimes that happens! Then you just keep going. It wasn’t meant to be the other way and you’re heading for something new to explore. Other times this is where you sure it all up and it all just comes together beautifully and your heart glows and you get butterflies and you step back to admire you’re work.

Fifth phase: Thank it. Be grateful for the creative divine connection. Bask in its magic and wonder. Oh, it feels SO good!!!

Sixth phase: With acrylics you don’t have to seal the top if you’re keeping it for yourself and you don’t mind it won’t be archival (last a super long time) but it’s best practices to seal it if you’ll be selling it to someone. Also if it’s for yourself but your surface has different sheen in places and you’d rather it uniform, the top coats would fix that.

For acrylics you’ll want to put down an isolation coat first. So a gloss, satin or matte medium would work. You have to be careful not to overwork it though or it looks streaking. I’ve stopped using brush ons due to this reason. I have started using sprays and for an isolation coat I use a UV spray and a gloss Spray before my Varnish. I’ve heard you’re suppose to Varnish spray before your UV spray so am I doing this right? I do not know but it works for me because I don’t like the brush on mediums and as long as the painting is getting protected I think it’s fine! You can use brush ons or sprays for your Varnish coat which goes on top of your isolation coat. I’ve already stated I use the sprays. I was only able to transition to this when I was able to clear out some space in the garage to spray and have the door and window open and buy a proper mask so I wasn’t inhaling the spray. You need to be careful with sprays, so if you don’t have this space then practicing brush ons is your best be; and some people seem to do just fine with them so have at it.

Seventh phase: Hook it up Buddy! Get your saw tooth hangers in the back if it’s a small one or get your D-rings or smaller screw rings evenly spaced on either side of your painting and then get your medium weight wire and run it from side to side, pulling through your ring and twisting the excess up and around your wire running side to side for extra support.

Eight is great: Hang it baby! Hang it! Ahhhhh. Doesn’t it feel good. Take it all in. That might be one of the best feelings one earth! Savor it. Bathe in it. You done good. 🙂

Please share with me your process or paintings, I would love to see! Or let me know if this process break down was any help to you. I’ll be adding pictures so check back.

From my heart to yours,


For super great artist deals on canvas, paints or all your art needs head to Blick Art Materials for your purchases. I personally get all my canvas and some paints from Blick!

P.S. Please note this post contains affiliate links that may give me small commissions on purchases when clicked through, at no additional cost to you ever! Thanks for supporting my site and Art.

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