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7 Exciting Exercises in Abstract Art

May 16, 2010

abstract art exercisesWant to get in touch with your abstract side but not sure how? Here are a few different exercises to get you thinking about form and space, shape, emotion and composition.

1. Paint with Feeling

Many abstract works are expressive, as in they express something, often an emotion. Practice making marks on a page. What would an angry mark look like? Now a happy mark. Experiment with different kinds of lines and marks that express some kind  of feeling. Then, pick a feeling and focus on creating an expressive painting. Think about the types of shapes you will use, the types  of marks and the colours.

2. Paint a Word

This is similar to the first exercise, but here you’re choosing an abstract word that you can “illustrate.” Challenge yourself to make a drawing or painting that refers to your word without using explicit pictures. A good example for a word is time. How can you represent time without using the image of a clock?  What would it look like?

3. Repetition

Another common element of abstraction is repetition. Choose an image or a shape to repeat throughout your piece. Draw the outline of your image and overlap the edges. Some questions to ask yourself are: do my shapes touch the edge? are they all the same size or are they different? Start filling in the resulting shapes in your chosen colour palette, but don’t stop there. Re-work some of the lines and edges, focus on creating a cohesive image.

4. Give Yourself Rules

A random set of arbitrary rules will give you a starting place and provide you with a guideline for your abstract work. For example, you could tell yourself that you must draw 100 dots. They can be any size, they can be any colour, they can be all the same or all different. You can draw whatever else  you want, but you must somehow incorporate 100 dots. Give this a try and let your creativity go wild.

5. Collage

Collage is  another great way to let loose and experiment. In this situation, you’re using an existing image (either your own work or from a magazine) and abstracting the image beyond recognition. Tear up your image and glue it down to your paper, using the shapes and lines to guide the composition. The great thing about this is that you know the colours already work, now you’re just re-arranging them. Again, don’t stop there! Re-work your collage with some drawn or painted elements.

6. Crop it Down

This exercise also uses a found image. This could be a photograph, an image from a magazine, or your own work. Cut two L-shaped pieces of paper to form a frame and use these to find a composition that you like. The key here is to crop the image so closely that it becomes simply a combination of line, form and colour. Now you have a reference to draw from. You can be as faithful, or unfaithful as you like with the colours. The example above was taken from a photo of many houses, cropped right down so that it’s unrecognizable.

7. Step-by-Step

If you’re still stuck, you can try these step-by-step instructions for abstract art. It’s meant for kids, but don’t let that deter you! This is a cool exercise to loosen you up and make you think outside your box. You can always come up with your own instructions and see what happens.

The important thing in abstract art is that you open yourself up to what is possible. You may need to let go of some of your prejudices about what is and isn’t art, but when you do, you will discover a whole  new world of art!

Also check out my article about understanding abstract art.


From → Art General

  1. As an abstract artist, I would also say to throw away any preconceived notions about what you want your finished art to *look* like. Create from the present moment, cut out paper or put down paint according to what it *feels* like while you’re doing it. Let your art present itself to you, let it be *born*. Latifah Shay

    • You’re absolutely right, Latifah! Doing abstract art should be more of a re-active process, meaning you react to what you’re doing each step of the way. Instead of trying to plan the entire thing out beforehand, let yourself respond to what you see. After doing so much realistic drawing, this was a very hard concept for me to accept! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great exercises, thanks so much for always being here to motivate to loosen up and be less obstinate:)
    Have a wonderful week

    • Haha, I like that word: obstinate. It’s very fitting! Thanks for stopping by, Andrea, I always appreciate hearing from you!

  3. Erika permalink

    This article is great! I LOVE abstract art, but sometimes feel lost and not sure how to begin. I truly over think things. I will definitely be trying some of these exercises.

    Amazing Site!


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