Sometimes you’ve gotta mix it up — especially when it comes to making art. If you’re itching to experiment with abstract painting, you’ve hit the inspiration jackpot.
1. Make an Abstract Background
There are a few ways you can approach this. You can start with by drawing your subject in waterproof pen or another medium that won’t be ruined as you layer in watercolor, then blend colorful washes around it for an abstract background. Or you can create those colorful washes first, and use the natural shapes that appear as inspiration for your subject.
For the chameleon above, we created an abstract blend of pigments and drew an image out of what we saw in the colors. It’s an easy and fun practice for everyone, even if you’ve never made an abstract painting before!
2. Splatter It On
Embrace your inner Jackson Pollock and use that splatter power! Splattering gives your painting an almost chaotic energy, but the act is more deliberate and controlled than it might look. There are many methods for splattering paint, so find the way that works best for you. You can make an entire painting just from splatter, or simply use it as an accent in a larger, more complex painting (like in the tutorial below).
3. Create Texture With Everyday Objects
Think beyond your brush and turn to tools that might be a bit more… unconventional. Try applying your paint with sponges, scraping pigment with a pocket knife or defining texture with an old cut-up credit card, as shown below. If you’re looking for something a bit more basic, sprinkle salt onto your wet painting — it’s a simple technique that makes all kinds of cool effects.
4. Use Masking Fluid
Masking fluid can make your watercolors more precise, but (surprise!) it can also be a fun way to experiment with abstract art. The secret? Splatter! Use an old paint brush to flick on some fluid, let it dry and paint over it. When you’re done, peel the masking fluid off the paper and see the flecks of white space beneath.
For something really funky, lay a wash of color first, then add the masking fluid and paint over everything with a contrasting color. When the fluid is removed, instead of white space you’ll have a cool color combo. Learn the basics of masking fluid in the tutorial below.
5. Let It Bloom
Blooms happen when your brush holds too much water, which causes the water to surge into the pigment, leaving a mark. It’s a big annoyance for watercolorists when they’re laying even washes, but if you’re going the abstract route, blooms can be a secret weapon. Just load up your brush with water and start dabbing the pigment that’s already on your paper. The water will flood and expand, making an interesting effect.
6. Bleed the Colors Together
Break the rules of wash application and let those colors bleed. Like when you’re laying a flat wash, you want a bead of color at the bottom of every line you make. But instead of using that line for a seamless transition to another row of pigment, keep dropping in more color until your line starts to run. Tilt your paper to manipulate that drip of pigment as it runs across the paper.
This creates an awesome look on its own, but feel free to add blooms and more abstract elements (like in the photo below) until you’re satisfied with the look.