0 comments / Posted on by Erin Gates

A few of you have mentioned being curious about my tips for creating your own art for the home as I have for some of the rooms in my house.  Creating art, especially abstract, is challenging.  I have trouble with it and my bachelors degree is in painting and fine art!  Abstract painting is really hard; harder than painting a still life, in my opinion.  You have to find the balance of a feeling of randomness with a carefully planned and purposeful composition.  It’s SO HARD! I have such respect for artists who paint this way!

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means you need to have patience!  Here is a shot from my book that shows a large canvas I painted for my guest room. This took me a while and a few tries.   I let a couple versions dry before painting over them and trying again!  I like to use acrylic paint for this reason, it dries rather quickly and is easy to clean up if you get too into it and make a mess.
Bedroom 8

The layers of paint actually make for a more interesting canvas! Texture is important in abstract art, so think of the trial and error period as just creating a better canvas on which to paint your final work!  See how the black shows through the what areas a little bit. That makes it more interesting and creates depth, where as just flat white would feel a little dead.  So you can start but applying black (or any darker color) all over the canvas, let it dry, then paint white over the color in a somewhat uneven application. Let it dry, then try to add detail on top of that.


This one took me forever.  I had been working in blush and grey tones and was HATING it and started painting with white over it and then all of the sudden I was liking it!  I kept going, using paper towels to rub the white around, more opaque in certain areas and sheer in others. Another way this can look cool is by applying painters tape over your painting in a cool pattern, and then painting over it.  Once dry peel the tape off to reveal what’s underneath.

Bedroom 3

There wasn’t enough going in for me so I grabbed a pencil and just started scribbling.  And then all of the sudden I loved it!  Another technique I love using with acrylic paint is having a fork and palette knife (or regular butter knife) on hand to scrape away sections of wet paint and reveal the underneath layers.


Another medium I like to work in is watercolor and gouache. It’s less forgiving, but really fun to work with.  I quickly created these two small pieces for my master bedroom:


Using heavy watercolor paper I just did some quick big strokes, making sure they weren’t solid and too wet and then splattered a little, sqiggled a little and then topped with a little oil pastel scribble.  Hardly my favorite thing ever, but totally fine for now!




You can also create simple three dimensional art too- I found a bunch of old brass keys at an antique shop and wanted to find a way to display them.  I had some leftover grasscloth from my dining room so I got some box frames and hot glued the keys to the grasscloth and voila!




– Start with a good foundation- I like to use pre-stretched canvas panels with thick stretcher bars (the thinner the stretcher bar and the larger the canvas, the more apt it is to warp!)  I like these 1 3/8″ depth ones from Dick Blick.

– Have a variety of brush sizes to use- a very large flat brush, about 2″ wide ( or wider), one that is about 1″ – 1.5″ wide and then a variety of smaller brushes.  You can buy student grade brushes, no need for anything fancy!

– If your canvas is not pre-primed buy gesso and apply two coats to the canvas before painting (letting it dry in between coats). This is also an opportunity to add a little texture to the canvas by putting it on thickly and exaggerating your brushstrokes.

– Acrylic paint is the best to use for beginners (oil paint requires turpentine and a somewhat finer understanding of painting techniques).  Get a pack of basic colors, a palette (or use an old melamine plate) and then any specialty colors you specifically want if you feel you can’t mix it yourself.  You also may want bigger tubes of white and black as you will use them a lot.

–  Find a nice, open clean and quiet space to paint.  Put on some music. Pour yourself a glass of wine if you want.  Make it fun and don’t put pressure on yourself. The looser you are the better.

– Don’t try to copy an abstract piece exactly.  You should absolutely look at a group of works you love for inspiration, but trying to meticulously copy abstract art is counter-intuitive.  Be open to whatever happens on the canvas. Sometimes mistake turn out to be the best thing!

– If you feel frustrated and hate what your doing, step away. Let it dry and come back to it later.  Or channel your frustration and just attack the canvas, mess it up and go crazy- sometimes that is when the genius stuff happens. :)



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