• Melissa Goodenough

7 Steps Before Starting an Abstract Painting

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

There's a reason people seek out original art and not a generic print. There is magic there, and it can be felt. It's the difference between computer generated beats and a real human pulse on a drum kit. It's the difference between a microwave lasagne and fresh ingredients put together with passion and love.

A lot of my clients are interior designers, so the art could easily become decor-centric, focusing on the general aesthetics of the space and all the nuts and bolts of colour swatches, dimensions, pricing etc.

After all that is agreed upon, and whomever the piece is for, it still ends up with me, staring at a blank canvas, and I'll be damned before I just spew any old thing on there. Damned!

So what do I do? How can we bridge the gap between intuitive painting and something a computer can do?

I've broken my process down into 7 steps, so whether you want to paint more mindfully or are just hitting a blank on where to start, I hope you find something useful in this post.


Firstly, and probably most importantly, I make it a practise to write (almost) every single day. I know it seems unrelated to painting, but if you've ever read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (and you absolutely SHOULD!), it will make complete sense to you. The practise allows a flow of low-stakes creation and a truly honest overview of your internal world. A mirror. To create from within, you first have to LOOK within. Writing is the best way I know.


Close your eyes, take a few deep, slow breaths and ask yourself / the universe / the Tooth Fairy what wants to be created THROUGH you. Maybe you get inspired on the spot (it has happened to me many times), or maybe, with that question and surrender in your heart, you open your eyes and just see what unfolds next.


Write down 50 words that come your mind in that moment, rapid-fire style. Any words will do. You're trying to CAPTURE and ARTICULATE in words a very fleeting, ethereal idea or entity, and interpret it on canvas in a way that can be felt by others. This step helps to quickly identify what this idea sounds, tastes, smells, looks and FEELS like.


Put together a mood board to articulate, now in images, the mood evoked through the words you wrote down. Look for colour and composition inspiration in photography, outside, in magazines...EVERYWHERE! What images are drawing you in? What are the common elements that tie them together? What patterns emerge?


Time to get the paints out. Finally! Start mixing some of the dominant colours that came through on your mood board and test them out on some scrap paper. Experiment with different tones and combinations. How do they respond to one another?


Pick 3 main colours (light, medium and dark in value) and 2 or 3 accent colours (ones that pop). This will be the basis for your colour palette, but it's not rigid. Always keep space open for new ideas to enter. I do find though, that there is something special about limiting your colours and using other elements (line, shape, form, value, space and texture) to convey the mood as well.


If you have an art journal, now's the time to use it. If not, you can play on some watercolour paper or whatever you have laying around. The operative word is PLAY. Using the colours you mixed, sketch out some mini paintings. Test out different compositions and layouts. Do as many as possible!

*Pro Tip: Once you have settled on your colour palette, mix up a batch of the colours in small air-tight containers. This will save you time and materials down the road!

CONGRATULATIONS! By now you should have a few rough mini paintings that are begging to be put on canvas and dripping with charged possibility!

I will be doing another post on what comes next, the steps I take to create an abstract painting, start to finish. If you'd like to be notified about that and other tips and insights, please subscribe below.

I hope this helps you to create beautiful, heart-felt pieces of art that can only be created by you, with your unique voice, even if it is just for you. If it does, I would LOVE to see!

Be kind. Be Patient.

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