How to make good Abstract Art

Abstract Art may seem outrageously free, but in actual fact, it always has a firm rationale.

What can hold everything together?

  • A composition, what we can call a formal foundation. Some types of composition include an overall design (be careful here as this design can get repetitious and visually boring)
  • a radial design (everything radiates from the center)
  • a grid in any axis (for example, horizontal, vertical and diagonal)
  • a triangular design (the scalene triangle is easier to work with because its sides are all different lengths)
  • the bridge design (something connects one side to the other)
  • the cruciform (cross-shape); the rectangle within a rectangular frame
  • and many designs based on the shapes of letters (L, S and Z, H and T designs are some of the more common ones).

Choosing a format, square or rectangle

A format is just another word for shape, and this comes down to personal preference. From squares, rectangle, panoramic. The easiest shape to create a balanced composition
is a rectangle, just like an A4 piece of paper.

The rectangular format: this is an absolute classic and extremely flexible format. When a rectangle is displayed with its shorter side across the top it is known as ‘portrait format’ and with its longer side across the top ‘landscape format’.

The square format: This can work extremely well or very badly. You very rarely see a square old master painting. This is because it is harder to balance a painting that has lots of elements within, for example, a collection of figures in a landscape within a square format. It can look awkward very easily. However, using a square format for a more contemporary subject, an abstract or a minimalist seascape, can be very effective.

3 is the magic number

  • Composition is about variety just “don’t make any two things the same”
  • The “Rule of Thirds” can be key to creating balance in landscape painting
  • Make sure the shapes, spaces and gaps between objects are all different.

What to look for in “good” abstract art

This refers to the consistency within a painting as well as the consistency of an artist’s portfolio. If a portfolio is all over the place with a few stunning pieces mixed with low quality work, the artist is either still developing or doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. Same goes for within a single painting. The flow must be consistent from one side of the painting to the other with planned and precise strokes.

Colors that don’t mesh well together are a dead giveaway that the artist isn’t a professional unless of course it’s done deliberately in which case it has to be obvious.

Most of the time, good abstract art is compiled of layers. There’s typically and underpainting and these layers often create texture.

All great art has some sort of meaning behind it. Some type of emotion, whether positive or negative gets thrown onto the canvas. There’s thought and planning put into it. You’ll know when an abstract piece is done at random. It lacks personality.

As an artist completes more and more pieces, they grow and learn new techniques, which is evident in their work. In contrast to what you may think about abstract art, the techniques used in this style (by a professional) cannot be easily replicated.

Uncomfortable paint strokes will tell you right away that the artist is an amateur. Experienced artists are confident and produce every mark with intention. Paint splatters may look random but they’re put there for a reason.

 Designs that work

1: The Horizontal Grid

"Obsessive and Compulsive 2" (transparent watercolor on paper, 22x30) by Mark E. Mehaffey

2: Geometric Abstract Art

This type of intellectual abstract art emerged from about 1908 onwards. An early rudimentary form was Cubism, specifically analytical Cubism – which rejected linear perspective and the illusion of spatial depth in a painting, in order to focus on its 2-D aspects. Geometric Abstraction is also known as Concrete Art and Non-Objective Art. As you might expect, it is characterized by non-naturalistic imagery, typically geometrical shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and so forth. In a sense – by containing absolutely no reference to, or association with, the natural world – it is the purest form of abstraction. Geometrical abstraction is exemplified by Black Circle (1913, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) painted by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)

3: The L-shape

"Random in Orange" (acrylic on canvas, 36x48) by Mark E. Mehaffey; article on how to paint an abstract painting

4: The Cruciform

"Visual Layers in Blue" (mixed watermedia on Yupo, 26x20) by Mark E. Mehaffey; good underlying structure in cruciform design

5: The S or Z

"Visual Layers: Red Rectangle" (mixed watermedia on Yupo, 26x20) by Mark Mehaffey; how to create abstract art

5: The Overall Arrangement

"Loot" (mixed media collage, 12x12) by Mark E. Mehaffey how to create a good abstract design