Get Started with Abstract Acrylic Painting: A Step by Step Tutorial


Learn how to master acrylics from beginning to advanced techniques. It's one click away.

Are you interested in abstract acrylic painting but don’t know where to start? This step-by-step tutorial will show you how to get started. In this tutorial, I’ll be walking you through the process of creating an abstract acrylic painting from start to finish. Along the way, I’ll share plenty of abstract acrylic art examples that will help inspire your next masterpiece!

In this article we will cover the following topics:

  • What is an abstract acrylic painting
  • Example of abstract styles
  • How to begin abstract painting for beginners
  • What materials do you need to paint abstract acrylics
  • Step-by-step abstract tutorial
  • That was fun, what next?
  • Easy abstract painting ideas for beginner
  • Conclusion

As you can see, we have a lot to cover. So, let’s get started!

What You Need To Know About Abstract Acrylic Painting

Below you will find plenty of abstract acrylic painting examples, details on materials you’ll need, the difference between objective and non-objective abstracts and a step-by-step tutorial.

What is an abstract acrylic painting?

An abstract acrylic painting is a type of painting that uses abstract shapes, colors, and brushstrokes to create a unique work of art. Abstract paintings can be created on any surface, but are most commonly created on canvas for experienced professionals, and sturdy paper for those getting started.

Abstract paintings are often seen as being more expressive and open to interpretation than traditional paintings. This is because abstract artists often strive to create paintings that are evocative of their emotions and experiences, rather than copying the observed world.

8 Examples of abstract painting styles and subjects (representational & non-representational)

There are many different abstract painting styles that an artist can explore. Some of the most common abstract styles include:

abstract acrylic painting still life
– Abstract acrylic painting

Abstract expressionism example

In this painting, the subject is a still life, but it’s interpreted very loosely. What makes it work is the high contrast of the yellow tablecloth against the darker background. To make it interesting, smaller and medium sized shapes are added. These would be the tea cups, pitcher, bottle and chairs.

Source Simple, But Challenging Acrylic Projects

Abstract American football art
– Abstract portrait of Tom Brady in-action

Action painting

In this abstract painting example, you see the figure as the lone subject. What makes this work is the loose is the ability to draw a convincing football player. If the drawing was bad, then it just wouldn’t work. The play on light and shadow, especially in the white pants, work well in making it more realistic. It’s balanced between abstract and believable.

Abstract acrylic seascape painting
– The Harbor, by Robert Joyner

Colorful seascape abstract painting

The design and composition make this abstract acrylic seascape work perfectly. Because it’s interpreted so loosely, almost anything goes. But, the design and drawing skills make it register visually. If it didn’t have good bones behind it, the painting wouldn’t work that well. That’s why it’s important to have a good painting foundation that includes excellent acrylic techniques and quality drawing abilities.

Abstract acrylic painting with geometric shapes
– Geometric shapes, Source Acrylic painting ideas

Geometric abstracts with acrylic & collage

This is a very beginner friendly project. It’s simple. scalable, and versatile. It’s created collaging and acrylics as well. You can use up any scrap drawing paper, too. Just take some darker hues and paint the scrap paper. Allow this to completely dry. Then cut out the geometric shapes. Glue them to the canvas, or paper, and paint the background a neutral color.

abstract acrylic cityscape painting
– Abstract acrylic cityscape, by Robert Joyner

Abstract cityscape acrylic painting

In this example, you can see how abstract art styles work in a cityscape scene. The palette really helps this pop, as the yellow contrasts with all the neutrals surrounding it. All subjects are painting very loosely, yet still recognizable. Not an easy one to pull off, but certainly fun to try. Landscapes make great abstract subjects.

abstract Abraham Lincoln acrylic painting
– Abstract Abraham Lincoln acrylic painting, by Robert Joyner

Abstract portrait of Abraham Lincoln

When dealing with an abstract portrait, you really have to understand drawing the face. Without that, all else fails unless you are painting a random person. Historical figures and celebrities need to be accurate enough to the viewer, it doesn’t work.

Abstract Joan Mitchell painting
– Joan Mitchell, source SFMOMA

Non-representational abstracts

In this style nothing literal is painted. Is complete abstract that includes emotion, color and expressionism. Although this may seem like a child’s work, it’s very difficult to pull off well. There’s balance in all aspects of the art including color, value, composition and design.

Cy Twombly abstract art
– Cy Twombly, source FAD magazine

Non-representational abstract

Another example of a non-abstract painting by Cy Twombly. It illustrates the importance of color, contrast, large and small shapes, values and more. A great artist to explore if you prefer this style.

How to begin abstract painting for beginners?

Take it very slow! Try not to become the next Cy Twombly overnight. There’s more to it than slinging paint, so learn some color harmony basics, design and composition, and explore simple ideas. Below are a few that would help you break the ice with abstract painting.

Abstract Acrylic Painting exercise - Basic Shapes sketch Get Loose
– Start abstract painting with basic shapes

Step #1: Start with simple shapes

If you’re a beginner, the best way to start abstract painting is to find some simple abstract shapes that you can copy. Once you have your shapes, you can then experiment with different colors and brushstrokes to create your unique abstract painting.

Use simple objects and shapes when learn how to paint abstract with acrylics
– Create tight versus loose studies

Step #2: Use before & after studies

Try drawing with your paintbrushes. On one side, draw a tight object, in this case it’s a coffee cup. Once you have the tight version done, draw a looser version on the left. You can do this over-and-over.

To make it more abstract, draw the first ‘tight’ version even looser and loser. And no matter how abstract it is, make the second version even more expressive.

In the example below, the version in the left is tight, and the right is loose.

Start abstract painting with simple subjects
– Start with simple subjects

Step #3: Explore expressive mark-making with same subject

Start with the same coffee cup as a subject. This time add color to the inside of the cup and to the background. Even explore using mixed media by add some charcoal scribbles. Use a limited palette of colors and only focus on putting down loose, carefree brushwork.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Because at this point, there aren’t any! Exploring is all about building up the physicality it takes to paint loose. It’s also about vision and allowing yourself to see how you respond to certain results. After a while, you will begin to say it’s okay to let go. You will find beauty in the chaos 🙂

Go bigger with the abstract qualities over time
– Go bigger with the abstract qualities over time

Step #4: Go bigger as you gain confidence & momentum

As you become more confident, add more information and details. Explore more with colors and subjects, but keep it simple. Don’t take on too much. Allow it to grow slowly, this way to don’t become frustrated.

Step-by-step abstract acrylic painting tutorial

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time for us to start painting! In this step-by-step abstract tutorial, I’ll show you how to create an abstract acrylic painting from start to finish.

Follow along with the tutorial below and you’ll be able to create your own abstract painting in no time!

abstract acrylic painting tutorial
– Abstract acrylic painting, Source Acrylic painting ideas

What materials do you need to paint abstract acrylics?

To get started painting abstract acrylics, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Sturdy paper – I recommend Strathmore mixed media
  • Acrylic paints – Use heavy body artist grade acrylics by Liquitex, or Golden
  • Brushes – Make sure you have a good variety, Really large, several medium, a few flats and a few small liner brushes
  • Water reservoirs – Have two on hand. One to clean, and one to mix with paint

To help you get started, I’ve put together a simple step-by-step abstract tutorial that will show you how to paint an abstract acrylic painting from start to finish. This tutorial is designed for beginners, so don’t worry if you’re not familiar with all of the terms or techniques. Just follow along and you’ll be able to create your abstract masterpiece in no time!

Add the drawing using only contours
– Add the drawing using only contours

Step One

Begin by sketching out some simple shapes for the table, kettle and cups. If you’re not sure where to start, try watching the video at the top of this article.

Paint the background
– Paint the background

Step Two

Once you have the drawing in place, start blocking in the background with cool gray hues. Add as pop of yellow just to balance it out.

Paint yellow napkin
– Paint yellow napkin

Step Three

Paint a yellow cloth napkin using lemon yellow and some ultramarine blue. The is an important part of the design as it breaks up the big rectangular shape of the table.

Paint brown tea cups
– Paint brown tea cups

Step Four

Use raw umber and some red to paint tea cups. Try to leave some of it unpainted! Just indicate them, and avoid making them look perfect.

Paint the pink tablecloth
– Paint the pink tablecloth

Step Five

Paint the pink tablecloth but make sure it isn’t too saturated. The overall palette theme is more tonal. This means color choices are more gray, less intense.

Use collage for tea kettle
– Use collage for tea kettle

Step Six

Use some scrap paper to add tea kettle. You can lay the paper over the artwork and sketch out the shape with pencil. Then use scissors to cut it out. If needed, use an exacto knife to shape the kettle.

Draw-in details with 4B graphite pencil
– Draw-in details with 4B graphite pencil

Step Seven

Use 4B graphite to scribble in some details. This is a great way to add loose linear qualities and experiment with mixed media.

Add details to tea cups
– Add details to tea cups

Step Eight

Use some white paint and add details to cups. This can be any pattern or design you wish. Don’t over-do it! Keep it light and suggestive.

Add finishing details
– Add finishing details

Step Nine

Perhaps a few more details with the pencil if needed. By now the abstract acrylic painting should be complete.

That was fun, what next?

If you want to explore abstract acrylic painting, here are some amazing courses you can check out.


I hope you enjoyed this abstract acrylic painting tutorial! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy painting!

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