In conversations around art and skill, often we assume the focus is realism. We aim to achieve realistic effects in our art. But, what about our abstract artists? How can artists who enjoy and focus on abstraction build their skill?

How can artists who enjoy and focus on abstraction build their skill? #mixedmediaart #mixedmediaartist #abstractart #abstractartisttips #abstractartlessons #artiststrong

Hi, my name is Carrie and here on Artist Strong I help artists build their skill and develop their unique voice. Today let’s dig into the question: what skills do abstract artists need?

I want to begin by defining abstraction so we can make sure we are on the same page. Abstract art is a genre of art that usually distorts images and objects around us through simplification. A coloring book is a great example of abstraction: they are often filled with animals and people, which we recognize as such, however, they are not realistic. They are made of simple shapes and lines. 

Generally, abstract artists simplify forms inspired from the world around us. But, there is another more extreme form of abstraction called non-objective art. Non-objective art is a kind of abstraction where there is no obvious or intended connection to images, objects, or forms from real life. Jackson Pollack and his drip paintings are a perfect example of this. 

So, if you don’t really need image references and thus aren’t concerned about things like likeness or proportion, what can an artist interested in abstraction focus on?

One of the most important areas of focus for an abstract artist is their use of composition.

Strong understanding of composition

Composition is how we arrange the marks, colors, textures, etc. we make on our substrates (the surface we work on).

JK Bleeg was part of my program called The Circle and you can clearly see a strong understanding and use of composition in her work.


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In this painting, she uses the elements and principles of art to create an impactful composition. The work exhibits a wonderful balance because of how she arranged her complimentary colors and also played with value.

You can see more of her work here.

When you work in abstraction, we draw viewers in with these artistic decisions. Which is also why the element of art color is so important, too, and our second area of skill. Abstract artists generally need to be confident with color.

Confidence with Color 

You can see confident use of color in community members Langley Tolbert’s work:

I absolutely love her use of color. In this piece she manages to pair a lovely hue of orange and pink that stand out more because of her use of blue. This is an excellent example of harnessing understanding of color theory and composition.

You can see more of Langley’s work here.

One of the biggest problems I see facing artists working with color is they don’t always see the value (steps of gradation of light and dark) within their color choices and how that impacts the final product. 

If color isn’t quite your thing, you aren’t sure whether you are working with your value when it comes to color, or you would generally like to build your confidence when it comes to color I have a course called Color with Confidence, which you can learn more about here.

My last suggested area of focus for abstract artists is a bigger one, it’s having knowledge and understanding of how to use the principles of art.

Knowledge of the principles of art: balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, and unity/variety 

Each one of the principles could use it’s own full description and example, but I want to discuss them in terms of thinking about the finished artwork. 

It’s so valuable when we make art to take breaks where we step back and spend time just observing the work. These principles can be a great checklist to help you assess your work and make better decisions about your artistic process.

We can see this clearly in Val Deas’s work with her clear use of movement, pattern and rhythm in these works:

Val’s work feels full of movement and energy because of her rhythmic shapes, the repetition of colors and line, and how she has filled the space.

You can see more of Val’s work here.

Lastly, understanding the medium we work with AND the tools we use as makers can really bring abstract art to a whole new level. And my friend Holly Dean not only does this with her work, she teaches it too!

Know how to use their materials well and be willing to use nontraditional tools

Holly Dean often works with tools other than paint brushes for her mixed media paintings. Something she encourages in her community all about creative play called Artsy Life. 

In this work you can see she adds and removes paint, prints, draws, and works with assorted tools to achieve different kinds of mark in her work:

This is a great way to explore a variety of textures in your work and add more visual interest to the finished product.

You can check out Holly’s artwork and community here.

Let’s pause here a moment to thank today’s sponsor. This post from Artist Strong is brought to you by The Artist Strong Studio, our community of patrons who believe in and wish to support this community. You can become part of the Artist Strong Studio for a small monthly commitment as low as 1 dollar a month. To learn more visit

A special thank you to current patrons, I couldn’t do this work without your support.

Now that you have 4 skills that are integral to an abstract artist’s success, I encourage you to look at your art and reflect. Are you making the most out of these four skill areas? What could you explore more? Or, is there another skill you find invaluable for your abstract process? Tell me more in the comments below.Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time on Artist Strong.

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