Abstract Painting Tutorial - Smudging

Abstract Painting Tutorial - Smudging

Abstract Painting Tutorial - Three Smudging Techniques

In this abstract painting tutorial series I will introduce you to smudging. This is a fabulous expressive drawing and painting technique that, in this case, will setup using linear interest along with other skills. I will give you three examples of how you can implement this using charcoal, acrylics & lastly crayons.

So, What Is Smudging?

The basic idea is to apply an area of charcoal, acrylics, or any medium to a surface. Then use a cloth, paper towel, your hand, or any means to smear it into the surface. This will soften the darkness of the charcoal and/or hue, and smooth out the hard edges. I consider this action of applying a medium and then smearing it smudging.

Great! Now What?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what smudging is we can start to apply it with a variety of methods. I will give you three examples but the sky's the limit here. Use your imagination and feel free to explore.

Charcoal Smudging - Start Here

You can use just about any type of charcoal but I recommend a softer variety. For my example I decided to use chunky charcoal. This is basically a hand-size chunk of charcoal. The reason a charcoal example is included in this lesson is because it's the easiest way to understand & apply smudging. I recommend you start here as well before going into the other methods.

Once smudged it creates a somewhat smooth block of color. It also dulls the color a bit so I can add linear interest over top that will stand out. The smudging technique will help add interest to any drawing or painting. By adding the smooth smudged block of color first and then apply the intense lines over it will create a subtle yet dynamic layer to the art.

Need to purchase chunky charcoal? If so, use this link.

Acrylic Smudging - Next Step

In this lesson I will demonstrate the smudge technique using acrylics.

  • I start with a block of color created with yellow iron oxide & allow some time to dry before I add the subsequent layers described below. Let's call this layer one.
  • I add some burgundy strokes to loosely create the wine bottle shape.
  • Layer two begins by adding some strokes that clearly go outside the edge of the bottle. I then use a napkin to smudge the color(s).
  • Again, this smudging will smooth out the layer which is setting up the next stage.
  • I allow layer two to dry before moving forward.
  • Also note before I add layer three I take a long look at what's in front of me. This processing allows me to make confident decisions. Kind of a big deal yet many artists simply paint to paint without taking the time to fully understand what their intent is.
  • I use a #6 outliner brush to create the first batch of lines. Check out my material list if you are unsure what that is. Be sure to load your brush with paint - more than you think is needed is the best rule to apply here.
  • Note you can use a medium, or large size brush to create linear interest. It doesn't always have to be a thin line, it can be a thick one as well. Fun to experiment with both.

Crayon Smudging - Being Creative

In this version I will use crayon combined with acrylics for the smudge technique.

  • The idea is to follow the same steps as the acrylic version to set-up the crayons.
  • Let's assume layers 1& 2 and the painting is dry at this stage.
  • Once I start adding the strokes of crayon you can see how the smudged area gives it a backdrop to showcase the hard lines.

Give Smudging A Try

  • It's important to practice these techniques in order to make them your own.
  • Start with charcoal and progress from there as you understand the technique.
  • The smudge technique is just one of the tools an artist can use to create dynamic loose artwork.

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