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Abstract Art: Painting Without a Road Map

How to create abstract art by 'going with the flow' when you're painting.

By Martha Marshall

Abstract art created by pouring paint onto a canvas.

Abstract art created by pouring paint onto a canvas.

© Martha Marshall

I've always loved taking unfamiliar side roads to discover wonderful things that are impossible to see on the main highways. When I was a little kid, my big sister would take me out driving in the country with no real destination in mind. I would say, "Are you sure we aren't lost?" She would laugh and reply, "So what if we are? Isn't this fun?" It was always a big adventure for me. I thought my big sister was so brave.

Likewise, in my art making process, I enjoy not knowing exactly where I'm headed. I find that in order to get to a place where I can create freely, I have to just begin without a destination in mind, unencumbered by wondering what the results might be. I don't want to have to worry about making a mess -- getting paint in my hair, or on the floor, or on my clothes (all of those are a given already!)

I make sure there are plenty of drop cloths around (visqueen from the hardware store is good, and also old discarded shower curtains are a favorite of mine.) I have to crank up the music du jour, which can be anything from Tom Waits to Chopin.

I'm not even worried at that point about spoiling a pristine white canvas. In fact, I like to completely cover that white as fast as possible, in order to get that fear out of the way. Sometimes I apply a single even tone over the entire canvas; other times I apply multiple pours.

Suitable Tools for Painting Abstract Art
Then I look for as many ways as possible to apply paint to canvas, and have the tools at hand. Those could be rollers, various sizes of brushes, squeegees, (I have an old car window washing squeegee, which has the nifty sponge on the opposite side, both sides of which are great for this) a wallpaper brush, rags, and an assortment of faux-finishing tools.

I love using almost anything except the usual suspects to get something interesting started. I pick one, apply some paint, then pick another, apply some paint, then pick a third, and apply some more paint -- all the while moving to the rhythm of the music du jour.

At this point I might typically be combining colors that I think are ugly together. After all, if I didn't, then I might miss an exciting, fresh new color combination.

As the wet paint sits there, I may scratch through it with various mark making tools, or create marks over it with a long stick dipped in another color. I may or may not choose to add texture. I often do. I may then scrape, sand, and scour through some areas.

Go With the Flow
Sometimes, if the rhythm is right and the flow is good, I will be gifted with a painting right out of the seeming chaos. On other days, I may have to work at it a little more to bring things together with a single unifying color, or some organizing structure. Or on still other days, I may put the whole thing aside and look at it again later, deciding what to do next. This part of the process is something of a mystery, but as I say, I like adventure.

About the Artist: Martha Marshall (view website) is an artist based in Tampa, Florida, in the USA, who works primarily in an abstract style. Her blog, An Artist's Journal chronicles her "life as a working artist in the real world" and the day-to-day influences. Note: This article was reprinted from An Artist's Journal with permission.

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