How to start an abstract painting


An artist friend asked me the other day: How do you start an abstract painting? I didn’t give her an answer yet. Now here is a series of photos that may tell a part of the story. But it is the story of these particular works. It may be quite different with other paintings I do or how others artists design their process. There are so many ways to start a new painting. Not all ways are invented by now.

How do I start an abstract painting?

When I was starting my painters journey about 20 years ago – after some very few lessons in working figurative – I was so lucky to visit a painting workshop by an Austrian artist. Her name was Fria Elften-Frenken. She lived in a beautiful kind of farmhouse on the Neusiedler Lake. She had studied in the academy of fine arts, Vienna and was well known. One of her remembered sentences was: “It took years to forget about what I learned and to start doing my own art.” Consequently she would provide us with materials but not with lessons and ideas. She was always ready to consult when we were stuck. But we had to find our own way.

I am lucky that I had this kind of start. That was what I was looking for in art. It is this kind of freedom. It allows you to do what you want. In a way, there is no right and wrong. If it is appreciated by others is a second questions. Art is a lot about expressing yourself. Of course there are many of things to be learned. About ways you can take, materials you can use and thousand other things. But what you do, how you get there and what result comes out of it, that is your own art.

At the beginning another sentence was in my head about something artists experience: “the angst of the white canvas”. I don’t know where I had heard it and why it stuck in my head. But influenced the steps I took. My very first act in that lovely farmhouse garden was „to paint it black“. No more angst of white canvas that might have ask for perfection. From this move I learned a lot!

70 way – no, some ways – to start an abstract painting

One beginning is to start with paint that has been left over from another painting. I turn the painting, to change perspective and to build a new harmony from another angel. This helps me to open up my view and to leave ideas that occur too early. I make a photo to see it from a greater distance, to see what is strong and what is weak. Sometimes I take a larger brush and some paint and close my eyes before I make a bold movement. This way new discussion point is evolving. Something new has to be handled. A new crossing on my way to somewhere.

What really matters at the beginning

Now I use many different ways to start a painting. However most important for me at the start is to do what ever my body and my intuition is telling me. Brain is stopped, judging is stopped, its just acting out what comes to me. With my black canvas I learned that everything is possible. You can turn a black canvas back to a white one. Nearly every mistake will be forgiven and can be a starting point for a new fascinating move.

As an example the featured three paintings are rather “straight forward” . Others undergo much more dramatic transformation. Look here to find out how that looks like: Wonder of transformation – from old to new!

When to finish an abstract painting ?

Great question, not only mine: how do I know that an abstract painting is finished. That’s another question to reflect about. But not today!

I hope you liked the little insight into my painting practice! Would be lovely to get some feedback!

Now after all see here the rather full process of the development of a painting. For large paintings like this one (160×140 cm) I like to build the frame myself and prepare all the steps. It feels like I am already building a relationship with the painting to come. My energy and my attention is already familiar with the canvas. There is a lot of magic in painting. What is your experience?

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This is a new start. I wonder what comes next! Find out and stay tuned!