Flowers represent so many different things to different people. They can represent beauty, serenity, new beginnings, new seasons and renewal, to name a few — which is why they make an ideal subject for artists who want to work more abstractly. Whether hoping to capture vibrant colors, movement, textures or overall atmosphere, abstract flowers help artists let loose and unleash their creativity in the most invigorating ways.
Below, mixed media artist Laly Mille demonstrates how to create abstract flowers, with a few tips for connecting to your “most authentic self” along the way. Enjoy!
Painting Abstract Flowers
I find freedom in creating abstract art because it leaves so much room for intuition, serendipity and playfulness. Abstracts are a great way to express all of those thoughts and feelings that live within us, in our “secret garden.”
Maybe this is why flowers work so wonderfully as abstract art. They have so many symbolic meanings: joy, growth, beauty and being fragile and bold at the same time. When I paint abstract flowers, this is what I try to express.
- Protected work surface
- Art journal with heavyweight paper, or other substrate of choice (watercolor paper, canvas, etc.)
- Gesso, white (I used Lefranc & Bourgeois Gesso.)
- Paintbrushes, including a flat brush for collage and a mid-sized round brush for painting (Note: The brush size really depends on the size of the substrate. If you’re working in a journal, a size 6 or 8 is good. For a larger canvas, bigger brushes work better.)
- Pencil (I used an HB pencil.)
- Ballpoint pen, black, permanent
- Water-soluble crayons in your choice of colors (I used Caran d’Ache® Neocolor II crayons in a variety of greens, pinks, and reds.)
- Matte gel medium, soft or regular
- Pictures of flowers from magazines or gardening catalogs, various sizes
- Assorted acrylic inks or fluid acrylic paints in your choice of colors (I used Liquitex® and Golden® Artist Colors brands in various greens, pinks, and reds, along with white and burnt orange.)
- Small brayer or plastic card
- Collage papers: book pages, sewing pattern papers, etc.
- Stamps and ink pads
- Heat gun
- Fine-tip white pen (I use a Pentel® Presto!™ Correction Pen or a or Uni Posca pen.)
1. Start with Interest
Working on a protected surface, create an interesting, textured background on the substrate in light, neutral tones. This underlayer adds depth to the painting. It’s also a great way to get rid of the blank surface and get into the flow.
I collaged book pages in my journal. But, stamping or adding sewing pattern tissue are other options, as is working directly on a blank surface.
2. Apply Gesso
Paint an uneven coat of white gesso onto the background. Let it dry thoroughly
3. Journal Your Thoughts
Journal over the background with a pencil and/or a permanent ballpoint pen. Both are perfect for light, flowing handwriting, and they are water resistant. Don’t overthink it; let words flow intuitively to express whatever you are feeling in the moment.
4. Scribble Away
Scribble on the page, using water-soluble crayons in a few shades of green. Start with a focal scribble that will be the starting point for a big cluster of flowers. Then add some smaller scribbles here and there, switching between the different greens as you go and leaving plenty of white space.
Follow the energy you’re feeling. It can be soft and quiet, joyful and lively, or intense and dynamic.
5. Mix and Mingle Media
Mix some gel medium with water to the consistency of fluid paint. Using your fingers, randomly apply the gel medium mixture to the scribbles to move and also seal the crayons.
Some of your marks will disappear, and some colors will blend. The messier, the better. Let dry thoroughly.
Pro tip: Use a heat gun to speed up the drying time, if desired
6. Add More Colors and Sizes
Create some compact scribbles for small flowers using more water-soluble crayons in at least two other colors. I used pink and red. Don’t be tempted to sketch the flowers, just scribble away and watch them bloom. Vary the colors and make sure to scribble directly on the green layer, as well as in some of the white areas.
Pro tip: To capture the spirit of free-flowing, rambling roses, I work spontaneously, keeping my gestures loose and playful and staying open to the unexpected. I often start with scribbles and work mostly with my fingers to create touches of color that evoke petals. I let the composition emerge as naturally as possible. Also, I love to incorporate journaling and a touch of whimsy by adding images of real roses. These will likely get covered, but they are an invitation to look closer and dive deeper into the layers.
7. Move and Seal
Add some watered-down gel medium to move and seal the crayons, as before. Don’t overwork it.
8. Follow Your Heart(s)
Select and tear out a few magazine images of flowers, keeping only the heart of the flowers with all their beautiful petals. Make sure you have some variety in size and color.
9. Trust the Process
Choose one large flower that will serve as your focal point, and place it somewhere in the main cluster of scribbles. Experiment with placement until it feels right. Sprinkle the smaller flowers randomly over the page.
Some will have fallen wrong-side up, so turn them over, but don’t change their natural placement. Take a moment to look at what has emerged. If something feels off, change it, but try to keep most of the flowers where they fall.
Trust the process and let yourself be surprised. Glue the flower images in place with gel medium, applying it both under and over the collage images. Let dry.
10. Finger Painting
Add a few drops of acrylic paint to a palette in a variety of colors, inspired by the collaged images and the crayons you used earlier. I used red, magenta and burnt orange because I like roses in warm tones, but anything is possible.
Add a few drops of water on your palette next to the paint. Don’t mix the paint and water too much. You want a variety of light and more intense tones. Apply paint here and there, around and on the collaged flowers.
I usually start with a paintbrush, but soon put the brush aside and use my fingers. I find that painting with my fingers allows more spontaneity and happy accidents.
Fingertips create lovely little dots that can evoke petals without the temptation to actually paint the shape of the flower. Mark making helps keep the painting abstract.
11. Paint Splatters
Load the paintbrush with the same watered-down paints, then, holding the brush over the page, tap on the handle to create paint splatters all over the page. Repeat with different tones of your chosen colors. The more water you add, the more the splatters will look like watercolor.
12. And Repeat
Add white acrylic paint to the palette and repeat steps 10 and 11. Some white will get mixed in with the other paint colors, on the palette and on the surface, and create a variety of lighter shades. Add some white splatters to the page, too. Allow to dry.
13. Create Contrast
Working in the same manner, using a paintbrush and your fingers, add some green paint mixed with water. Use the darker green tones to create contrast in some areas, especially around some of the flowers.
14. Drip in More Interest
Add water to the wet green paint on the page here and there. Tilt the substrate to let the water run, creating beautiful drips. Then lay it flat and allow to dry. Remove any excess water with a dry cloth, especially if some has run over the flowers.
15. Refine Your Focal Point
Add white paint in places that you feel need more light and to draw the eye to the focal point. Then let everything dry. At this stage you might feel like your page is messy and busy. That’s OK.
16. Soften Areas
Mix white acrylic paint with water to a very fluid, runny consistency. Roll a brayer into the paint mixture, then roll the brayer loosely over the areas of your painting that you want to soften. This quiets things down and adds depth, making some areas look blurry and pushed back, while making the main flowers pop. (Note: An expired gift card or hotel key card can also be used to spread the paint mixture.)
I applied this white veil over a large part of the piece, particularly in the outer areas. Keep working until you’re satisfied, adding more layers of translucent white here and there as needed. Let dry.
Pro tip: Take a step back and squint to see which areas need more white.
17. (Optional) Final Thoughts
I like to start and end my process with journaling. Using a fine-tip white pen, journal very loosely and intuitively over the page, especially in the quieter areas.
Write over the flowers here and there if you like. The writing doesn’t need to be readable; only the flowers will know your secrets…
This process for painting abstract flowers is an invitation to let go and embrace the imperfections and surprises that you’ll discover. Remember to breathe and relax as you paint.
About the Artist
Laly Mille is a French mixed-media artist living in the Loire Valley of France. She finds joy in bringing beauty into this world through her art, and also in nurturing the creative longings of others through teaching soulful online classes. Learn more by visiting her website.
This art and article by Laly Mille first appeared in our sister publication, Cloth Paper Scissors.