Use Your Imagination: Painting Abstract Flowers in Mixed Media

Some artists work from reference pictures, others work from their imagination, many use a healthy mix of both. No matter your usual preference, sometimes it is nice to be able to paint without a reference picture.

Follow along to learn a technique for painting mixed media flowers, starting from an abstract background.

Abstract mixed-media painting

“In Osaka”, mixed media by Sandrine Pelissier

You will need:

  • A blank canvas, or panel (apply a layer of gesso before painting), or like here paper mounted on board.
  • Fluid acrylics in selected colors and white
  • A pen (to use with ink or fluid acrylic)
  • White acrylic
  • Watercolors (optional)
  • A selection of brushes
  • Varnish to finish
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Workable fixative if you used watercolors


adding drops of fluid acrylic

1. Start by adding a few drops of fluid acrylic on your canvas or board or paper. Use a few colors, I find I get best results when I limit the colors to a maximum of four or five. Here, I worked in a continuous color scheme of yellow, blue and green.

Mixing paint colors

2. Spread the paint onto your support, trying  to mix colors as little as possible, as you still want variety in the colors.

Adding texture with rubbing alcohol

3. You can add more texture by dripping a few drops of rubbing alcohol on the fluid acrylic while the wash is still wet. I usually just put my thumb on the bottle opening to partially close it and let the alcohol fall onto the wash. Let dry for a few hours or overnight.

Drawing details

4. Then with a graphite pencil or charcoal or pastel, look at the textures on the background and think about a particular theme, try to see shapes in the textures that would fit that theme.

Outline those shapes with a pencil (or pastel, or charcoal), which will make it easier to paint around them.

Outlined shapes on an abstract background

You can see here how I outlined a few shapes on the abstract background.

painting the negative space in white

5. Then using a small brush for the smaller areas and a big brush for bigger areas, paint everything around the shapes you outlined with white acrylic or another color of your choice.

Abstract painting in process

6. After this stage, your painting will look something like the image above. Let it dry.

Painting with acrylic

7. If you want to, you can paint over some areas with acrylic or fluid acrylic. Here I chose to paint over the vase with Payne’s grey acrylic.

Adding white inky detail

8. At this stage, I usually like to add a few designs in white ink. You can use a pen for that and white fluid acrylic or, like I did here, White Copic Ink.

Flower center abstract detail

Using your pen and ink, you can rework the shapes you painted around and add a bit more complexity to them. Above, I added detail to the add a center part of a flower…

Leaf detail with white ink

and details on a leaf.

Adding abstract lines as leaf detail

9. But don’t feel limited by “normal shapes.” Designs can be made with stripes…

Adding shapes for abstract details to flowers

dots, or more complex designs. You can look at zentangle patterns for inspiration.

An abstract flower painting in progress

10. Keep on adding details and painting over areas of the painting until you are satisfied with the result.

Geometric design card inspiration

I made a series of flashcards filled with zentangle designs that I use in my paintings when I’m in need of some design inspiration.

Using teal colored ink

11. Try mixing up the colors! You can use different colors of ink: here, I chose to use Speedball Teal Green.

Make free-form grid design

12. For some geometric designs, you might need to draw a grid before. If the grid is part of the design, draw it with ink; if the grid has to be removed after the design is drawn, use a removable medium, like pastel.

Adding geometric designs to the grid

If you like more organic looking patterns, you can hand draw the grid, or if you like more precise looking designs, use a ruler.

Abstract geometric design in acrylic

Here is the design I chose for the vase.

Adding interest with abstract ink detail

13. Keep on working on elements in your painting, either with pen and ink or by painting over designs once they had time to dry.

Painting over designs with watercolor

You can use fluid acrylic or watercolor to paint over designs. If using watercolor, you will need to use fixative or spray varnish.

"In Osaka" Mixed Media Flower Abstract Painting

The finished Painting, “In Osaka”, by Sandrine Pelissier

Have you tried painting without a reference picture? What did you like about it?

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