Intuitive Abstract Art | A Step-by-Step Demo

Cathy Woo coaxes a dialogue between organized structure and organic disarray in adventurous, acrylic abstract art. The following is a free demonstration from the June 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Abstract Art Demo by Cathy Woo
Rose Hip Moon Over Alki (acrylic, 36×36) by Cathy Woo

Arising from methods born of years in the studio, Cathy Woo’s paintings glow with convincing authority. The sophistication and intuition of her craft lie in the manner in which she manipulates color and plays with the sequence and size of shapes.


Cathy Woo Abstract Art Demo image 1

1. Painting the Grid
I began my piece by drawing a grid with Caran d’Ache red watercolor crayon and then painted over it with a wash of zinc white thinned with acrylic gloss medium. Although most of my grids eventually disappear during the process, they serve as my organizing layer for future random organic layers and remind me that my painting process will naturally fall into alternating rhythms of structure and accident.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art  Demo image 2

2. Animating the Grid
At this point I’ve jumped in and begun to animate the grid with dots of paint of varying sizes, values, colors and densities. Because slightly mixed color is more interesting to me than an homogenized hue, I mix the pigments directly on the surface of the painting.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art  Demo image 3

3. Adding the Scaffolding

I added some black “bones,” which began to divide the space and create some larger shapes. I did this by squirting black fluid acrylic paint directly out of the bottle onto the surface of the painting. Then I squished and flattened the lines into random marks using plastic wrap.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art Demo image 4

4. Adding the Red
To keep the eye engaged, the red color layer I added in this step is actually a combination of hues: cadmium red light and dark, cadmium orange and alizarin crimson, quinacridone crimson and magenta. At this point, passages begin to flip back and forth between positive and negative shapes, and the painting begins to take on its identity, rather than being just a bunch of dots.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art Demo image 5

5. Letting It Sit
The painting reached a point where it could be considered finished, but I wasn’t excited by it. Because I wasn’t yet sure what to do with it, I let it sit for a few days and waited for it to “talk” to me and let me know what it needed.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art Demo image 6

6. Listening to My Muse
When the muse finally spoke, my painting process resumed, pushed along by intuition and instinct. I decided to make the grid more subtle; painting out much of the black line gave way to more gradual passages of color and shape. The final white “moon” appeared out of nowhere and connected Rose Hip Moon Over Alki (above; acrylic, 36×36) to my inspiration in nature.

Cathy Woo Abstract Art Demo image 7

This photo shows some of the materials I used for my demo painting. The yellow board in the background is the wood painting support that has been prepped with sealer and yellow gesso from Holbein. A piece of shiny plastic wrap hangs on the board.

Read the entire article, “Between Chaos and Serenity,” by downloading the June 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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