12 Tips for Fun and Freedom with Watercolor Abstraction

Surface, Dominance, Power and Freedom

Everything about watercolor that I love involves fun and freedom. It is such a pleasure to feel paint slide across my paper surface.

I love how bossy the medium gets. It reminds me of myself! With watercolor, abstraction becomes the language that defines beauty, power and chaos.

I’m definitely not alone. I’ve brought together three artists into watercolor abstraction who also know how to hone fun and freedom for their own ends. Here are a few tips from them so that you can get into the same groove. Enjoy!

Painting in Full Bloom with Jane Jones

Watercolor abstraction: Full Bloom by Jane Jones, watercolor painting

Full Bloom by Jane Jones, watercolor painting

Combine the real and the abstract

I drew poppies with an extra-fine Sharpie pen then added the abstract image on top with a 2B pencil. Next, I wet both sides of the paper with a natural sponge and laid it on a smooth Formica board (also called tile board), flattening out any bubbles in the surface.

I left the paper untouched until the shine was off, then I used a tissue to absorb the water from the edges so I don’t get bleed-backs.

Start Loose

Using a 2-inch natural-hair flat, I applied the paint loosely using analogous colors of yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, red and red-violet, as well as the complement of the middle color, which is blue-green.

I also used a discord on either side of the complement, skipping blue and green and using yellow-green and blue-violet. For the underpainting, I made sure not to go over a No. 3 value.

Lost and Found

While the paper was still wet, I found the abstract shapes by painting around the forms that were losing their edges. Using the dominant red-orange color, I painted areas of the main flower, but completely covered the buds and middle-ground flower to bring the large flower forward. I pushed the background back by graying it with blue-green.

Creating Dominance

I began integrating the background colors into the flowers, careful to leave lights in the main flower and keep the center of interest very dark against the lights. I separated each shape, abstract vs. real, with gradations of value and color.

Using only pure hues, I worked wet-into-wet, layering each color; I never mixed colors on my palette. In the end, I wanted the realistic image to be dominant, and the abstract subordinate.

Floating Images Over Reality with Carole Kauber

Watercolor abstraction: Emerge I by Carole Kauber, mixed media

Emerge I by Carole Kauber, mixed media

Sights and Sounds

This painting is based on the sights and sounds of Morocco. I based the imagery on some of the photographs I took while vacationing as well as sounds I heard there.

When working abstractly, it is key to take inspiration from all your senses and push them into your painting. Sounds have a look and feel, even a specific color–use that!

Geometry to Abstract

To start I floated watercolors over a thin layer of water that defined specific geometric shapes. I then placed a geometric piece of wax paper over that colorful wet shape. The wax paper, if kept smooth, helps to define a geometric shape while adding hints of textural effects.

Once that area was dry, I added new shapes and colors. Other applications of color were allowed to merge with existing shapes and forms.

Out of Control

Spattering paint to several areas created an earthy textural effect. What emerged were unexpected colors and forms. It’s great to let this piece of chaos into your work.

Unknown Ways

The exciting aspect of painting is the experimentation. It leads us into the unknown and forces me into new territories. Once forms have been sufficiently resolved and the desired landscape images take shape, I refer back to the photograph to add details that add to the overall image.

Marie Renfro

Acrylic and collage lead to abstract art

My Blue Haven by Marie Renfro, acrylic and collage

Big Brush

For abstract work, more impact comes with larger marks and overall look and feel as opposed to lots of detail. To begin this painting, I generously wet the paper with a large brush, Robert Simmons Big Daddy, and then began to apply color starting at the top right corner of the paper.

Lots of Color

The most fluent way an abstract painting can speak to a viewer is through color. I did washes of pale yellow using Golden fluid acrylics Hansa Yellow Light, and decided on a cool color scheme, so I introduced some pale Ultramarine Blue and some pale washes of Phthalo Turquoise.

I also laid in some small areas of Raw Sienna and Naphthol Red, as well as Alizarin Crimson. That’s a lot of color, but it works.

Add Texture

After the colors were dry, I get started with layering, gluing on some collage paper that I colored with acrylic colors in the same color family as the underpainting.

I used a Japanese fiber paper called sekishu, which I purchase in white and then color with leftover paint in my palette. I also glued on some textured rice papers, as well as a few strips of marbleized bookmaking paper.

Purpose with Pattern

My composition was to be a shapes-within-shapes format, a framed-in rectangle with dark edges around the outside and the center of focus in the lower left, leading to a secondary point in the top right.

I always try to design a pattern with my light values as well as my dark values that will carry the viewer’s eye into and around the painting.

Possibilities of Abstraction

Color, contrast, line, pattern and more! These are the possibilities of abstraction–and that is just for starters. Discover all the creative possibilities of painting abstract art with Abstract Painting on YUPO®. As learning artists, we can have fun with our painting while learning the techniques that will make our artistry grow in leaps and bounds. Enjoy!


A version of this story first appeared in Watercolor Artist magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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