Learning how to paint an abstract print requires more than just knowing the right type of paint and canvas to use. An ape throwing paint at a canvas is not creating an abstract artwork, rather it is creating a lot of confusion and head-scratching. Not everyone holding a paintbrush is an artist.


One – Study the history

The abstract artists broke away from the traditions of the past and forged their way into a new way of seeing the world, which created a new movement of art—abstract art. They didn’t begin their careers as abstract painters but studied the history of the form for a long time. Ten years before Piet Mondrian began creating his iconic geographical composition paintings, he painted landscapes, as seen in Woods Near Oele (1908).

It’s foolish to think you can master a medium without study. All the best painters past and present know their art history. Not every inch of it, but a decent amount they can fall back on for inspiration, guidance, and other knowledge. The internet makes all this knowledge easily accessible.


Two – Experiment

Art is all about experimentation, so be sure to be open to new ideas and experiment with your palette, canvas, and ideas. Ask questions like, how can you express emotion without relying on figures? Many artists had notebooks where experimentation took place.

Mark Rothko attempted to convey emotions in his large-scale colour field Abstractions. This is seen in paintings such as Orange and Yellow (1956) and Orange, Red, Yellow (1961). He was interested in the “basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on” and how people interacted with them. It was important to him that the viewer rid themselves of the desire to intellectually interpret or understand the painting and instead be moved by the artwork, like one would be moved by a sublime sight of nature, without the need to intellectually interpret it.


Three – Chaos doesn’t equal art

It’s vital to understand and have experience with the medium and tools at your disposal. How can you effectively convey an idea or concept without knowing how the paint moves or which colours blend well together? As abstract art doesn’t represent solid figures, it is under the impression that abstract artworks are a smorgasbord of these elements rather than a controlled exploration of an idea.

One artist who has copped this unjust attack is the artist Jackson Pollock. While his personal life may have been a series of ups and downs with a touch of chaos, his work did not suffer the same way. Jackson Pollock never created his paintings with chaos in mind. He was a strategic painter whose work mistakenly looks accidental. Pollock’s method of painting his famous abstractions was in the drip-style, where he carefully poured can after can of house paint across a canvas that lay flat on the ground. But Pollock understood his chosen tools, how they poured, and what was required to execute the artwork he conceptualised.


Four – Unskilled painters, beware

Abstract painting has a bad reputation for being the movement for unskilled painters can call themselves artists. This is an unfair assumption. Possibly because abstract painters don’t paint any subject matter based on reality. For example, you will not find a dog, cat, human—basically anything figurative—in the abstract works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, or Piet Mondrian. What they’re attempting to achieve is something difficult in its own sense, with very limited means.

The Russian artist Kazimir Malevich didn’t paint a black square because he struggled to paint figures. Malevich was a skilled artist long before his ground-breaking work in abstraction. He painted works like Cow and Fiddle (1913) two years before his black on white painting Black Square (1915) made a huge splash in the art world.


Five – Have a lived experience

Artists need to have an opinion on their work, and one way to achieve this is by having a lived experience. This is a pretty vague statement, but what this means is living a life that has you paying bills, learning a new skill, failing and learning from that failure, live in a foreign country, navigate yourself through new locations, and more. There isn’t a list you can tick off that will mean you reach the goal of becoming an artist at the end, but these experiences will add layers to your art, even if it isn’t figurative. There are only so many people who are interested in the experience of an artist who has grown within the educational system, starting from primary school and ending in a Masters. Yawn.


What kind of paint do you use for abstract art?

There’s no limit to what kind of paint you want to use. It depends on the style you’re hoping to achieve. That said, acrylic is most flexible for an artist and the water-based paint is quick to dry and allows the artist to layer quickly. Oil-based paints take infamously longer to dry, and this opens up opportunities for you to move the paint around your chosen canvas. After years of practice and study, you’ll know how far you can push paint, how much you can peel back and layer on without overworking it.