How To Paint Abstract Backgrounds: Must-Know Tips & Techniques

Watercolor abstract background

Abstract backgrounds are an excellent addition to many creative projects. They help create the mood and setting of artwork, and you can use them to focus on specific elements of a design. In this article, we will go over some tips on using different colors, textures, and brush strokes in your paintings to make them more appealing.

There are several ideas you can explore to paint abstract backgrounds. You can create textures with a cellophane wrap, make mottled designs, or a Van Gogh-inspired background. Aside from brushes, you can also use a palette knife or sponge or activate your acrylic paint with water.

Creating Textures with Cellophane Wrap

Creating abstract textures on canvas

Textures are great to paint on, but it is also interesting and challenging. Let the paint dry before painting over it. This abstract background is best for acrylic or oil impasto paintings.

Things You'll Need


  1. Prime a canvas with black gesso, or buy a black cotton canvas.
  2. Paint the canvas with white acrylic, covering the canvas with thick layers.
  3. Cut 5-6 portions sheets of clear cellophane wrap, wrinkle it, and put it over the canvas.
  4. Cover all the canvas while the paint is still wet.
  5. Let the wrinkled cellophane stay for a while, then carefully remove it from the canvas.
  6. Add more textures with the plastic wrap if you want.

Blending Acrylic Backgrounds

Blending acrylic backgrounds

Blending acrylic backgrounds - Image by Ashley Picanco

This muted abstract background is excellent for abstract or still-life paintings. Although you're painting on pre-primed canvas, you may also work on raw canvas. On the third coating, though, work on this background painting.

Things You'll Need


  1. Apply small globs of gesso on pre-primed canvas.
  2. Add a few drops of acrylic paint to different parts of the canvas.
  3. Mix some acrylic medium to acrylic paint color to make the paint runny.
  4. Drop the watery acrylic paint on top of the gesso, so the paint blends with the gesso when you spread the gesso.
  5. Use your hake brush to apply the gesso over the canvas, picking up some color.
  6. Go over the paint and gesso back and forth with the brush until you spread the paint evenly on the canvas.
  7. Use a mop brush to soften the colors.

Van Gogh-Inspired Abstract Background

Van Gogh-Inspired abstract background

Van Gogh-Inspired abstract background - Image by Ginger Cook

Van Gogh is known for his impressionist paintings. You can use the Van Gogh method of painting for the background, adding stippling strokes with a flat brush instead of a round brush commonly used for pointillism.

Things You'll Need


  1. Tape the paper on a piece of flat board.
  2. Paint the watercolor paper with dark acrylic paint and let it dry.
  3. Add a few drops of acrylic paint all over the watercolor, then scatter it on the paper using the brush and dabbing motion.
  4. Another way is to dip the tip of the flat brush on the acrylic paint, then make stippling motions on the watercolor paper.

Mottled Acrylic Background

Mottled acrylic background

Mottled acrylic background - Image by Art Apprentice Online

Create a mottled acrylic background with a flat brush and mop brush. The gray background is very neutral, so you can use it to paint both light and dark paintings over it.

Things You'll Need


  1. Paint the canvas with white acrylic paint.
  2. Mix some gray acrylic with white, then apply the light gray over the white without drying.
  3. Dip the flat brush on another acrylic paint color, then dab it lightly on the still-damp paint.
  4. Smooth the paint with a dry mop brush.

Abstract Background on Wet Canvas

Creating abstract background on wet canvas

Creating abstract background on wet canvas - Image by Aduke Art

You can spray water on your canvas to activate the acrylics and give it a splatter look on the canvas. This background is perfect for working on a fair day or sunset sky painting. You can also use this technique for watercolor abstract backgrounds. 

Things You'll Need


  1. Lay the canvas flat on a table.
  2. Spray the canvas with water until it is wet.
  3. Using a hake brush, apply the colors you want on the canvas.
  4. Let the water do its magic on the canvas.

Graduated Background

Creating graduated background

Creating graduated background - Image by Silver Studio Creek

To make a graduated background, you can either paint directly on the paper or use a cellophane wrap to blend the colors. This technique allows you to blend colors seamlessly in the background to paint directly over it once the background is dry.

Things You'll Need


  1. Tape the watercolor paper on a flat surface.
  2. Add a few random drops of acrylic paint to the paper.
  3. Cut a piece of clear cellophane wrap.
  4. Place the cellophane wrap over the paper, then move the cellophane wrap to blend the colors.
  5. Remove the cellophane wrap and retouch any missed parts with it. You may add textures or lay the paint flat on the paper.
  6. Let dry before painting over it.

Tips on Painting Abstract Backgrounds

Creating texture with a sponge

Keep the contrast high

When adding paints, use light acrylic or watercolor washes on your canvas to make it more suited for your painting later. However, if you're working on light colors for your painting, use darker colors for your background.

Leave some portions of the canvas white

While you may want an abstract background, you don't have to splash paint all over the canvas. Spread the paint over the canvas with a wide brush, leaving some areas unpainted.

Work with multiple colors

Instead of working with two colors, we encourage mixing more colors to discover what you prefer. Keep them within the color wheel relationships. Some artists love adding dark backgrounds before adding colors using the wet-on-wet technique.

Use the painting knife

Don't be afraid of a streaky background from painting knives. It's a good way of creating texture and interest in your background. Try the technique on canvas scraps before using it on your canvas.

Use different techniques

Add the abstract background using various techniques. Stippling and cross-hatching are techniques you can use to paint abstract backgrounds on canvas or paper. Adding a stroke of color on the canvas is a fun way of working on your art project.

Dry brush over your background

Dry brushing over an abstract background creates texture or smooths the paint, depending on the timing. On damp acrylic, you get texture. On a dry-to-touch acrylic, it smoothes the paint on the canvas, giving it a slight smoky or hazy effect.

Add textures with a sponge

Add several acrylic paint streaks on the canvas, then lightly spread along the edges with a painting sponge. Dab the sponge between the overlapping colors to blend them lightly.


Abstract backgrounds are a great way to improve the mood and setting of an artwork. You can also use them in design projects to focus on specific elements, such as text or logos. If you want your paintings to stand out from others, try adding colors with different textures and brush strokes until it feels like something truly unique. What other tips for creating abstract backgrounds do you have? Leave a comment below.

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