Abstract Art: A Step-by-Step Painting Demonstration

Getting Into Abstract Art

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

Abstract art is not the kind of art Karen Day-Vath (view personal website) had foreseen herself creating, but her painting has developed in that direction and the results have been well received. Here Karen provides insight into how she creates one of her pieces of abstract art, entitled Universal Ties. In her own words:

"I am a self-taught artist and have been painting with oil on canvas now since 2002. I never thought I would do anything in conjunction with abstract painting. I painted mostly florals, landscapes, and I guess you would call it self expressionism. I played around with a couple of paintings, using bright colors, different forms and swirling shapes and I thought that they came out quite well. They were also well received by my peers.

"When I start an abstract I never know where it will take me. It depends a lot on the mood I am in at the time. I love to play with color and forms, it seems to bring out my inner self and the creativity which I was born with and never knew about until I started painting. I love the freedom it gives me; to create something from nothing is a total high. Writing this step-by-step article was a challenge because I'd never thought at the steps in a painting, I just painted. But it's been a great learning experience."

Follow Karen's explanations through the various steps involved in creating this piece of abstract art, called Universal Ties. Go to next step...

Starting the Abstract Painting with the Colors

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"My first step is to get the colors down. I am somewhat untraditional in my painting; I follow no rules but my own. I paint with water-soluble oils. I do not mix my colors ahead of time. I just squeeze out the colors I want onto my palette and dip my brush into them as I go along and then if I have to mix I usually do it on the canvas. I am partial to the blues, purples, reds, yellows, sunset colors, and colors of the universe.

"I have no direction right now, I put on my classical radio station and I dip my brush into water, blot it and start painting with light yellow mixed with a touch of white on a diagonal in the center, then adding just the light yellow on the outsides. I mix the yellow with red to get orange so that it gets darker as I go along.

"I then add some ultramarine blue along with alizarin crimson to fill in the rest of the canvas. I use my arm and paint with wide strokes enough to get the canvas covered. I add some wavy lines in Prussian blue to see in what direction I want to take this... Not much form or presence right now just color."

The Abstract Painting Begins to Develop

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

Something is beginning to happen. I start to feel energy and emotion, and really start to play with my colors. I begin to use just a touch of the linseed oil that can be used with water-soluble paints. I dip my brush into the water, blot it on a rag, add just a touch of oil, then blot that on a paper towel. I put my brush into the white paint on my palette, mix it into the paint to get the consistency I want while still trying to keep the layer thin. I add more of the white to the center of the yellow.

"I mix a little Prussian blue in with the ultramarine blue to make the surrounding areas darker. I mix some alizarin crimson right on the canvas into the blue areas to get a purple hue here and there, then I add a touch of white to that. I decide to remove the blue wavy lines and do something else instead with alizarin crimson. Oil painting is very forgiving; colors can always be changed or gone over.

"I decide to make some lines and curves with the crimson around and through the yellow–orange area and over the blue surrounding areas. I also want some softness, so I start to add some white to the blue. I curve my brush strokes so that I can get a swirling form. I am still undecided on where I want this to go, but I am beginning to like what I see.

"I usually leave my canvas for a day, so that the layer I just painted can dry somewhat before I put on another layer. If I start painting again on it too soon I can pull off the previous layer of paint while putting on the new one."

Defining the Center of the Abstract

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"At this time I feel I need to define the center as this will become my focal point. I take lemon and white and continue to go over it in layers until almost all of the blue wavy lines are gone. I mix red and light yellow to make orange and start forming the outside of the center.

"I need to clean my brush quite a bit, and try to be careful when going over the blue areas with my oranges. I can get green and/or a muddy-looking color with the orange which I do not want. I know I will miss here and there but the little spots can always be gone over later.

"I move my brush with wide strokes and slight curves. I continue around the canvas in the blue areas, I add more Prussian Blue along with ultramarine blue to see what hue I like the best. I then add in some alizarin crimson and a touch of white for my purple. I see that I like the mix of the ultramarine blue and the crimson better for the purple than the Prussian blue. But I also like the Prussian blue for its darkness and will leave it in certain spots for now.

"I like the dark background with the colors coming up and out of it. I use more alizarin crimson and decide to add more lines with curves. I do the same with the white. The white mixes with the blue and gives the curves a bit of transparency along with lightening the colors. At the bottom of the painting I take a large round brush and dip it in a touch of white and dab or stipple to texture it to see how it will look. I like to add some texture here and there."

Stepping Back to Evaluate the Abstract

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"I step back and look at what I have done so far. My painting is beginning to evolve, I see waves of emotion. I see the purity of the soul surrounded by the different roads it can take. I see the spirit rising up and out of the universe.

"I decide I have too many wavy white lines. I want it a little darker. I go over those areas with some Prussian blue. I continue to layer my center with lemon, white and orange to cover the blue lines and to make it brighter. I know I want the center to "shine". I continue playing and experimenting with the colors.

"My canvas can change many times while I am painting. At times I have started in one direction and have ended up in a totally different direction.

"I try bringing some of the yellow-white out of the center to see what that effect will be. I get a dark blue-green color I am not sure whether I want or not. I add some purple to line the orange areas on the lower half as it goes into the blue. I continue to fill in the background with strokes of Prussian blue, white, and ultramarine blue.

"I am now undecided as to what I want to do next. I try some texturing here and there within the blue areas. I think perhaps it may be too dark now. I like it but there is something missing, it is not 'there' yet. I finally decide that I should take a break and stop for awhile."

Returning to Paint With a Fresh Eye

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"I come back to my painting with a fresh eye and ready to make changes. I decide it is too dark. I take some ultramarine blue and go over the upper right hand area and remove the violet purple. I use wide curvy strokes and then I add a touch of white to the blue to bring it out more. I then bring it through to the bottom left hand side.

"I take out the pink lining the alizarin crimson and make that darker. I decide I do want purple in my painting, but where? I paint a wide and curvy line down the middle with the purple; yes I like that look. I keep on going and add a touch of white to the purple. I add a curve of alizarin crimson to the top.

"I now feel the excitement of knowing exactly where I am going. I cannot explain it, but I can feel it. It’s starting to rise inside of me, like an ocean wave coming up and out of the water or a star jumping up and out of the universe.

"I continue on and I texture in between the darker areas with my large round brush, dabbing in Prussian blue, purple, and some white to soften the colors and to give it the effect I am looking for. I brush in some light yellow to bring out the bottom part of the center to see how it will look. The colors are beginning to 'pPop' and the shapes and curves are being brought out more."

Adding to the Abstract

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"I feel as though I am 'tied to the universe' that vast area of nothingness behind me, I am floating up and above from it. Seeing and being a part of the beauty of it. How we are all a part of it, how we are all tied together by it. I feel the emotion rising inside me. I use my brush to continue on defining areas, adding more color, more texture. I am really feeling the excitement now.

"I keep moving my brush over the purple area adding a touch of white as I go along. I keep defining my mid point of the white/yellow orange area. I decide to bring more white into my blue. As I continue on I remove the alizarin crimson and add more yellow to that area to make it more of a red orange, the fiery color of the passion I now feel coursing through me. I then line it with some lemon to bring out the color and that flow I am looking for.

"I do some more texturing and I add another ribbon of the purple. I continue to add white to different areas to lighten some of the blue and purple and also to outline them. I also add more Prussian blue to darken the blue areas just a touch more. I really like what I see, ribbons of color coming from the vast unknown, and most of all how I feel deep within my being. That feeling of being free, spiritually and emotionally, to be able to create through my painting, the ties that connect us all to the universe. I am giving birth to my emotions and my soul."

The Completed Abstract Painting

Abstract Art
Abstract Art © Karen Day-Vath 2004

"My project is completed. I stand back and let the colors take me away. I am feeling spiritual in a sense of being one with the world. My labor is over and Universal Ties has just been born. I like the name. It describes exactly how I feel about it. How we are all universally connected in some way.

"When I first started I had no idea what would come out of it. That is usually how it works for me with abstracts, as it evolves it starts to take on shape and form, and I start to feel it. I can feel it when it hits me. It could come right away or almost towards the end of the painting almost like a bolt of lightening and there it is.

"The feeling of having created something gives me a great sense of joy and satisfaction. Then there is the “letdown” or the feeling you get when the creation part is over. But fortunately that doesn’t last very long as I get out a new canvas and pick up my brush and go on to the next one."

Another Painting Demo by Karen Day-Vath: