Abstract Still Life Painting Tips - 4 Steps To Success

Abstract Still Life Painting Tips

Abstract Still Life Painting Tips

You're about to learn some abstract still life painting tips. Sounds like fun, right? I'll cover a variety of ideas to loosen you up but most importantly I'll teach you how to develop the right approach. To paint anything abstractly you need the right combination of skills and fearlessness. But here's the thing. Fearlessness is developed from experience and confidence, not recklessness. It's important to experiment with your subject so you can focus on what's important - finding the abstract qualities. Developing a connection to how you can emotionally express the subject with your medium.

What You Need To Know

Most artists bypass experimenting with their subjects because they only want the finished masterpiece. This approach is a recipe for a lot of disappointment. And this attitude is exactly why so many become frustrated as they hit a brick wall trying to paint a lovely expressive still life painting. It's simply because they do not deserve, or have yet earned, the right to be rewarded with an expressive masterpiece. The more time you invest in the exercises below the more abstract your work will become so long as that's your intent.

The Common Misconceptions

Here's where many artists get it wrong.

  • Too often artists find an image, or discover a scene in real life, put it up on the easel and start creating a final piece of work. So, they are training themselves to only paint what they see. This will typically result in an uninspired painting and usually comes up short of their expressive (in this case) expectations.
  • Understand that just because you see something that would make a beautiful painting doesn’t mean it will translate well in the studio. The artist needs to make the necessary connections to the image/scene and discover how they can express it through their style and medium.
  • This connection is often overlooked as the artist ignores the golden opportunity to make the scene, or subject, their own. It just takes a little bit of time and effort to make this happen. If you get this part right the subject will take a back seat to your style and interpretation. Time well invested if you ask me.

The Four Steps To  Success

How To Paint Expressive Still Life Paintings - Charcoal Demo

Step One - Experimenting With Charcoal

I like to connect first by using the simplest of mediums; charcoal and paper. My focus is to interpret the details using a simplified medium. By simplifying the media you can focus more on expressing the details. Note I said details and not the whole subject. This means I'm spending time extracting certain elements of the coffee cup and playing with them to see if there's an artistic interest. If so I continue to explore it, if not I move on to the next detail.

Here are a few important tips:

  • Interpreting is more important than painting
  • It’s not about getting it perfect - be loose and expressive
  • Use a simple drawing to break the ice with the composition/subject
  • Focus on the details and not the entire composition

How To Paint Expressive Still Life Paintings - Acrylic Sketch

Step Two - Acrylic Sketching

It's time to explore some details of the subject as with the previous lesson but this time with a more challenging medium - acrylics. Painting with acrylics presents more challenges like brushwork, colors, understanding layers, and so on.

When you spend time experimenting with colors and brushwork you will be rewarded in many ways. As I mentioned in the video it doesn’t just help you create an extraordinary still life. What you discover here will trickle into all of your subject matter because you develop a different mindset - a new sense of freedom with painting in general.

  • The idea with this exercise is to connect to details and features of the cup. Spend time doodling and experimenting versus painting the entire composition - this is very important. Time spent experimenting will loosen you up and allow you the freedom to discover interesting ways the use color and how to express the subject.
  • Avoid painting or representing the colors you see. Instead use some arbitrary colors to see what you can get away with. You will be surprised at how much freedom this will give your art.
  • Learn to express the details and shapes. It doesn't have to be perfect. Be sure to try out a variety of brushes. This will help you paint shapes and details in a unique way versus getting into ruts that make your art predictable.
  • When sketching with acrylics you are in a free state of mind - willing to take risks
  • The physical aspect of learning - you have to train your body too, not just your mind
  • You need to physically try techniques in order to use them in finished paintings
  • This experimenting will develop into naturally and trickle into your finished art
  • The more you experiment the more you learn to paint loose
  • This doodling & experimenting will continue to reward you the more you do it
  • You should dedicate a large portion of your time to experimenting - not painting

Understanding Layers Demo Image

Understanding Layers

What you need to know about layers;

  • Layers are one of the basic qualities of acrylics. This is stacking one layer on top of another dry layer. This is how you build depth in your artwork. Once you understand how acrylics work in this manner you can start to master your extraordinary still life painting.
  • Patience is the key with acrylics. Allowing layers to dry and then add a layer of opaque or transparent paint depending on your desires.
  • Painting in layers will help you create loose art once you know how to manipulate them.
  • When you understand adding one layer over the next it can help showcase your loose brushwork if you use understand how to use transparency.
  • Acrylics dry quickly so layers are easily achievable.
  • Stacking one layer over the next will help you chisel and shape your subjects when working with opaque qualities.

Three Main Areas Demo Image

Three Main Areas & Why They Are Important

This is an important lesson for the expressive artist. Here are the three main areas that you need to understand and why they are so important.

  1. The body of the subject
  2. The edge(s) of your subject
  3. The background

Here's what layers can do for you;

  • Layers are an essential element you need to paint loosely. How you interpret these areas determines the overall looseness, or tightness, of the subject. If your edges are too tight the painting becomes rigid.
  • Allow your edges and colors to roam freely to create a loose quality to your subject(s). As you become free with color the three main areas will start to merge with each other. This gives the painting a loose feel.
  • Interpret and apply colors arbitrarily. Avoid getting too attached to the colors you see in the image. If you want to create expressive art you need to become experimental by allowing the colors in the background and body of the subject to mingle even though your image say otherwise.
  • The key to maintaining this looseness once you discover it is to allow them remain once you start adding more layers. The common mistake is to start loose and then paint over these free flowing colors as the painting progresses.
  • Once you practice and master the opaque and transparent qualities of acrylics you will have the skills to manipulate and control your colors and edges, or the three main areas.

Note: This is the free version. If you would like access to the Premium Video Tutorial Version it's available via SkillShare

Get a premium Skillshare membership for 30 days for only 99¢. This gives you access to this class plus over 30 others (with plenty more on the way) that are currently available. In addition to my classes you can access all premium SkillShare classes by other amazing creatives. An incredible offer!

You can cancel your premium membership at any time. If you cancel before your three months are up, you’ll still have access to all premium classes on Skillshare for the entire three month period. The best 99¢ you will ever spend!

Join over 3000 artists that are loving Robert's advanced painting series on SkillShare. Hope to see you there!