Ideas and techniques for abstract painters



This idea has worked very successfully for a number of different painters.

Paint your canvas in one colour for a background. Then create rounded rectangles or stretched circular shapes by tearing up cartridge paper. When your background is dry, position the shapes over the canvas. You can use a few or as many different shapes as you like.

Think about your colour palette as well as the composition and layout of the pieces. When you have moved the shapes around and experimented, brush over the edges of the pieces in a contrasting colour to create line around the shapes. Remove the shapes and allow to dry.

The shapes can be re-used several times so you end up with layers of line and shape over each other. You can build up successive layers using different colours to create an intricate web of lines. Experiment with filling the spaces with different colours or covering areas with washes to create an interesting work.

Loosen up! Try painting with a long stick.

A lot of people get caught up in the little details when painting. By concentrating on exact and precise details you can be missing out on freer, more expressive strokes and paintings can end up being leaden and lifeless.

How to overcome this…

One way is to make yourself have less control. Try taping your paint brush to a firm, metre long stick, a metre ruler or piece of dowel is ideal. Tape the brush on firmly with masking tape and then apply the paint to your canvas with the brush, you will not have the same control, your works will be freer. Using a flayed twig is another good way to loosen up your mark making. Try using a different size brush, larger or smaller brushes so there is variety in your mark making. Happy Painting 🙂

How to Skin Paint

‘The New Bridge Stretched Out Across the Bay’, Jane McKay, 75x75cm, 2010

Art Inspiration 13 – How to Skin Paint

Paint skins are areas of flat, dried paint that can be used as a collage material in your painting. They allow for flexibility and movement of the shapes in a composition. See Art Inspiration 13 How to Skin Paint for more details on creating paint skins and how to use them.

Having difficulty finishing that painting?

There are a few common mistakes that beginning painters make that will make it difficult to complete a work. Check out the new page on painting mistakes and how to fix them and see if you can finish that painting.

OHS for Artists

I often get asked why I only paint with acrylics and not oil paints. I used to paint in oils but will never do so again. See this article on Occupational Health and Safety for Artists from NAVA (National Association for Visual Artists) in Australia and find out why.

Make Your Own Rules

‘An Endless Sea with Orange Sky Stretched Out Before Me’, Jane McKay, 100x150cm, 2010

Art Inspiration 12 – Make Your Own Rules

Painting by a formula or a rule you have created can produce some wonderful results in your work and it gives you a framework or guide to work within. Making a rule can limit the colours you use or how the composition is constructed. See Art Inspiration 12 Make Your Own Rules. for more details on painting using a formula and for an example to try.

What has mask making to do with abstract painting?

‘Sunshine Warmed the Six-Legged Cow’, Jane McKay, 75x75cm, 2010

Art Inspiration 11 – Mask making and Abstract Painting

Mask making, (no not the wearable kind), can be done by tearing up pieces of paper and laying them onto your canvas. Tear three sheets of paper from your artist’s journal. Tear each sheet by hand … see Art Inspiration 11 for more information.

Nature doesn’t get it wrong…

‘Rolling Green Hills Flanked the Road As We Departed’, Jane McKay, 80x120cm, 2010

Art Inspiration 9 – Colours from the Landscape

Nature doesn’t get it wrong so taking your colour palette from the landscape will give you a good basis for starting a painting. If you get the colours working together a large proportion of the problems are solved in your painting. A common mistake painters make is to use paints straight out of the tube, in all their glorious brightness. I love bright colours but they don’t all work well together. The colours need to be considered and a colour palette for the work thought through. See Art Inspiration Idea 9 for more details.

A Peaceful Day in the Country

A Peaceful Day in the Country, Jane McKay, 60x80cm, acrylic on canvas, 2010

Lush greens, purples and blue create a feeling of serenity and peace, an oasis of calm.

A Kaleidoscope of Colour Surrounded Me

A Kaleidoscope of Colour Surrounded Me, Jane McKay, acrylic on canvas, 90x180cm, 2010. SOLD

The kaleidescope, a child’s toy, twirling it around and around, watching coloured shapes, multiply and mutate with every turn.

The Red Lamb Danced Happily Across the Meadow…


The Red Lamb Danced Happily Across the Meadow, Jane McKay, acrylic on canvas, 60x80cm, 2010
An element of whimsy makes painting an amusing activity. This work from my exhibition at Elements Art Gallery in Perth also featured the work entitled ‘Sunshine Warmed the Six-Legged Cow’.

Western Australia has the most stunning sunsets…


The Red Night Sky Held Promise of a Glorious Tomorrow, Jane McKay, acrylic on canvas, 90x140cm, 2010
On a warm summer day the evening sky is awash with brilliant colours that stretch across the Indian Ocean out towards Africa. Hues of pink, red, purple and orange stream across the sky, creating a changing landscape of colour as the sun drops below the horizon.

I love BIG red paintings, here is the latest..

Translucent Rain Washed Leisurely Down the Red Glass Windows, Jane McKay, acrylic on canvas, 90x180cm, 2010
Something about the vibrancy and immediacey of red draws me back again and again to explore and experiment with this colour. It’s intensity and depth is mesmerising.

Rain has just fallen and washed the leaves into hues of blue and green.


Warm Rain Had Fallen Washing the Dust from the Leaves Jane McKay, acrylic on canvas, 65x100cm, 2010