Do you know what I do when I’m not writing? It’s rare, but once in a while I drop writing for a short time—even I can get tired of producing new texts and need a break. My favorite way is to travel, but that’s a demanding hobby, what with the cost, the time it requires, getting lost and so on. So, when leaving home isn’t possible, I take a break by painting.
You can find some of my art on Pinterest (see the boards marked “my works”). Some of my paintings decorate my atelier, where they look great in the winter sun. Others have been used to make a bonfire—they really deserved it (they sucked—badly). I used to paint landscapes and still lifes, but these days I prefer abstract painting, which is relatively easy—at least as far as its technical demands are concerned. So today I want to encourage you to paint your own abstract work of art with me.
We’ll be working on something called “color field painting.” This style was created by American artists who analyzed the influence of colors on viewers and who sought to create an impression of movement, light, and weight, solely by using appropriate colors. What’s represented figuratively in the painting wasn’t as important to them as how they used color. So, in the end, they gave up painting “something” and switched to color fields, usually applied on large canvases. Let’s be color field painters for a while.
What you need
To create your own color field abstract painting, you’re going to need the stuff in the photo below. Print it out or save it on your smartphone—this is your shopping list. A short description follows.
I recommend that you buy a ready-to-paint canvas rather than preparing one yourself (making a DIY canvas is very time-consuming and a bit smelly). You can get one in any art supply store. It’s good to use a large one, but large size isn’t absolutely required, and working with large canvases can make your hands ache (really). I picked a 50 cm by 70 cm one, which is small by my standards—I usually prefer at least 100 cm by 100 cm. But my home isn’t big, so I need to tame my tendency to paint big.
Ask the store staff if the canvas has been primed. If it has, that’s good. If not, ask for a ready-to-paint one.
The best brushes are the ones with soft hair—they allow you to evenly distribute the paint. Don’t pick very fine ones if you’re planning to paint something big! And while one brush will do, I have dozens of them—I’ve been collecting brushes for ages.
When you’re done with painting, always wash your brushes with soap right away and dry them with a paper towel. If you take good care of them, you can use your brushes for ages.
This paper tape is used to cover places you don’t want to paint while you apply paint within the borders made by the tape. You can get it at any store that stocks building materials. Choose the width you want—I’ll explain how this works in a moment.
We’re going to use acrylic paints. They’re easy to work with and they mimic the behavior of oil paints fairly well, without some of the flaws of oil paints—like smell, toxicity, slow drying, and a high price.
Acrylic paints are almost odorless. They don’t require using solvents because they’re water-based. If you need a paint that’s more liquid and transparent, you can just add some water, but for this particular project we won’t need to do that—we’ll use the paint exactly the way it is when we squeeze it out of the tube or scoop it out of the jar. What we want are bold, intense colors.
Acrylic paints are also completely safe for people and pets. They can be used by kids (I tested this and the kids are still alive), and they’re easily digested by dogs (Rafa once ate some blue acrylic paint and he’s fine). Even so, for your safety (especially if you tend to get headaches), air out the room where you paint after you’re done.
You can get acrylic paints at any art supply store. Choose whatever colors you like. I have a huge collection of paints, but you can literally get away with having just two or three tubes. Don’t worry too much about your choice of colors. If you decide that you don’t like what you got, you can always cover one color with another. And you can do it pretty quickly—acrylic paints dry in an hour or so (as long as the layer is thin).
Acrylics prices vary depending on quality. All the brands you see in the photo are generally okay.
No explanation needed.
No explanation needed. Shorts are good too. It’s possible to wash acrylic paint out of clothing, but it’s not easy.
This must not be wooden—wood will absorb the water from the paint. Use something made of glass or plastic. Paint can be easily washed off these materials, even once it’s dry.
These can be expensive. If you don’t have one, you can use a table, but watch your sleeves!
A jar of water to wash your brushes.
Paper towels to dry the brushes after washing (always dry your brush before proceeding to another color, otherwise the new color will be diluted by the water that’s in the brush).
Prepare the canvas
Apply masking tape to the canvas so that the pieces of tape separate the color fields you’re planning to create. The width of the tape will be the width of the white line between the fields. See the pictures below.
Put some paint on your palette. Don’t use too much since acrylic paints dry quickly. If you need to stop painting for a while, put the palette into a plastic bag and seal it. That way the paint will stay wet.
Put your colors on the canvas. You don’t need to be overly careful—the masking tape will prevent the colors from mixing. And even if your hand shakes and something goes wrong, don’t worry—painting is an imperfect art and it’s often the imperfections that appeal to the viewer.
If the colors seem bleak or muted once they’re dry, add another layer, but always on top of a dry layer of paint—otherwise you’ll get a bumpy surface.
Leave the painting to dry. To check it, you can gently touch the surface with your finger. If you touch it and accidentally leave a mark on the canvas, just paint the spot over again.
Once your painting is dry, gently remove the tape.
Now we have to take care of the sides. You can either use a frame or paint the sides. I actually never use frames for my paintings, just painted sides—I like them that way.
How do you paint the sides? More or less in the same way that you painted the color fields. It might be a bit more difficult, because the sides are pretty narrow, but if you take your time and go slowly you’ll be fine.
Now you need to take care of your studio. Close all the paint tubes and jars. Place them in a cool, dry place, away from heat and sun. Wash and dry your brushes and palette. If you have paint left over, spray it with water, put it in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and put in the fridge—it can stay there for a couple of weeks until you’re ready to paint something new.
And varnish! This isn’t mandatory, but you can use it if you like. It’s a bit toxic and very smelly, so if you don’t feel like applying a varnish, don’t worry about it—just don’t do it. If you have a garden or balcony, do it outside. I recommend using aerosol varnish, which is similar to hair spray. Put on one thin layer and wait for it to dry (the drying time will be stated on the can). Then put on another two, always leaving time to dry. All three layers must be very thin.
Now your color field abstract painting is ready. How does it feel to have a finished painting? You can comment below if you want to share your experience.