How To Paint Watercolor Abstract: Hacks Every Artist Should Know

Abstract painting of a mountain scene done in watercolor
Abstract painting of a mountain scene done in watercolor - Image by
Sparrow Springs

Watercolor presents a unique challenge to abstract artists. The technique itself can be difficult for beginners because it requires careful planning and patience. 

To help you master these beautiful pieces of artwork, we have compiled some helpful hacks and tips from professional painters.

Tape the watercolor paper to a flat surface to prevent it from bunching and curling. Apply a mask and apply the colors you have chosen from your color palette. Paint in random streaks until you get the desired effect. Adjust the values and tones to highlight the painting. 

What You'll Need

Step-by-Step Instructions

Tape around the watercolor paper.

Use painter's tape or the more delicate drafting tape to fix your paper on a flat surface. Taping is necessary to keep your paper in shape after the watercolor paper is dry.

Apply a mask at the center of the paper to divide it into two sections.

Although applying the mask is optional, symmetrical balance is an excellent starter theme for your abstract painting. The white space between the upper and the lower portions of the painting gives it a dramatic effect.

Choose a color palette for your painting.

Once you have your design theme, choose a color palette. Try mixing the colors on a piece of watercolor paper to see how the color looks on paper. After identifying the colors you want to use, mark them off, so you don't forget your choices.

Paint randomly.

Here, the artist added random squiggles that ended up looking like hills. Add more colors and details, keeping them random to adhere to the abstract style.

Adjust the values of your painting.

Unlike other art mediums, watercolor is more forgiving even when dry. Adjust the tonal values of your watercolor painting by lifting some of the colors to lighten the painting where needed.

At the same time, you can glaze your abstract watercolor painting to give it a smooth look. Wait until the painting is fully dry before adding new layers for the glaze.

Watercolor Abstract Painting Ideas

Pouring Watercolor Paint

Watercolor abstract in red and blue

Watercolor abstract in red and blue - Image by Scott Swinson

Always start your painting with a plan or a reference image but don't forget to experiment. Abstract painting may be a challenge at first, but it's for most artists. It means freedom and expression.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape one side of the paper on a flat board.
  2. Using a large flat brush, wet the watercolor paper using steady single horizontal strokes.
  3. Apply a second coating of water in vertical strokes until the paper gets a sheen.
  4. You may also wet the board to help the paper stick to it.
  5. Add a few strokes of red and blue watercolor paint to the paper.
  6. Spray more water, then pour some diluted watercolor paint over the painting. Tip the board to spread the paint.
  7. Once the paper is loaded with watercolor pours, use a craft blower to spread the watercolor.

Using Salt

A seascape abstract using salt for details

A seascape abstract using salt for details - Image by Karen Rice

Salt is a simple but excellent supply a watercolor artist can use to enhance the effects of the watercolor as a medium for abstract art. The artist did this lovely seascape abstract using salt and granulating colors to add depth and texture to the painting.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the watercolor paper around the edges to keep it secure and avoid buckling when the watercolor dries.
  2. Wet the watercolor paper until it looks shiny. Remove any excess water from the paper with a paper towel or flat brush.
  3. Apply watercolor on the paper until you get the colors you like. Sprinkle some fine salt over the wet watercolor.
  4. Mix some of the Schmincke Super Granulating Colour on your plastic palette card and add water until it becomes a smooth, creamy consistency.
  5. Spread the granulating colors on top of the watercolor with a palette knife.
  6. Spray water over the wet watercolors to spread it until you get the desired result.
  7. Scrunch up a plastic bag and dab it on white paint to create the wave effect.
  8. Add more effects by sprinkling some white paint with a round brush.

Tipping & Blotting

Abstract watercolor painting of a landscapeAbstract watercolor painting of a landscape - Image by Michelle Kral

Wet on wet is the technique most watercolor artists use when painting abstracts. The wet paper helps spread the colors beautifully to merge into lovely colors. 

You can manipulate it with a brush or a paper towel. Tipping the painting also helps in the abstraction.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the watercolor paper on a piece of board.
  2. Wet the watercolor paper using a flat brush.
  3. Apply watercolor in the middle of the paper to simulate the background. 
  4. Tip the board to spread the watercolor. Blot off some of the watercolors with a paper towel.
  5. Continue adding colors, then tipping and blotting until you get the best results.
  6. Add a soft wash on the lower part of the painting for the lake and behind the hills. You may also add a few drops of water using a plastic pipette to lighten the wash.
  7. Add some trees using the blunt end of a needle or a toothpick. Pick up some wet paint on the painting and draw trunks and branches.
  8. Sprinkle some salt over the trees to simulate the leaves.

Using Watercolor as an Ink

A Chinese-inspired watercolor painting

A Chinese-inspired watercolor painting - Image by Coco Bee

For better control of the movement of the watercolor, this abstract painting uses the wet on dry technique. Instead of treating it as paint, the artist used watercolor as you would calligraphy ink. The result is a dramatic Chinese-inspired art composed of random shapes and elements.

What You'll Need


  1. On dry watercolor paper, start by painting bold shapes, controlling the movement of the brush. Be sure to remove the excess water on your brush by wiping it on a paper towel.
  2. Control the color intensity by adding more water to your watercolor.
  3. Let the layers dry before adding more layers to preserve the distinction of the colors.

Mixed Media Abstract Watercolor 

Abstract mixed media watercolor painting

Abstract mixed media watercolor painting - Image by Susanne Rose

For this abstract watercolor painting, the artist used a mop brush to make large washes on the watercolor paper, using the color palette from her collection. It helps to duplicate her using a spiral-bound sketchbook to keep your color swatches and palette for easier reference.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the watercolor paper to maintain its shape.
  2. Using a mop brush, add colors on the paper using a chosen palette, making random shapes.
  3. Add more layers without letting the colors underneath dry.
  4. Once all the colors are in, let the painting dry.
  5. Add metallic watercolor for highlights using a fine round brush. Let dry.
  6. Draw details on the abstract painting using fine-tip paint pens.
  7. Finish the painting by sprinkling some metallic gold watercolor over it.

Using Two Colors Only

A landscape painting of bamboos

A landscape painting of bamboos - Image by MoonMoon Artwork

Can you paint an abstract using only two colors? This artist challenges your imagination with this lovely abstract landscape. 

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the paper to a board or easel.
  2. Draw a faint outline of the trees on the watercolor paper.
  3. Wet the paper using a hake brush.
  4. Using at least a 1/2-inch flat brush, pick a light wash of quinacridone rust for the sky.
  5. Build the cluster of trees using indigo blue.
  6. Paint the rest of the painting with pure colors or combine the two to get a new shade.
  7. Spritz some water onto the painting to spread the paint.
  8. Add details using a #8 round brush.
  9. Drop some water into the painting to blend the colors using the round brush.
  10. Finalize the details and let the painting dry for framing.

Using Rubbing Alcohol

Watercolor painting applied with rubbing alcohol

Watercolor painting applied with rubbing alcohol - Image by AhmadArt

Using rubbing alcohol is an interesting way to paint abstract using watercolor. It has almost the same effect as salt. However, since rubbing alcohol runs, it creates patterns that salt cannot achieve on the watercolor painting.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the paper on a piece of board or glass.
  2. Fill the watercolor paper with random lines and curves.
  3. While still wet, spray some rubbing alcohol over the watercolor.
  4. Let the alcohol run or tilt the board so the alcohol can run a longer course.
  5. Let the painting dry. Do not add layers once the alcohol is in, as the paper won't absorb the paint anymore.

Using Blendproof Pant

A painter shown adding finishing touches to an abstract watercolor painting

A painter shown adding finishing touches to an abstract watercolor painting - Image by Debra Lyn Rosenbach

An artist makes mistakes and if you don't want to junk what you've done so far, try the Blendproof watercolor. It is an opaque white watercolor that you can use to correct your mistakes. 

For this example, use at least 300lb paper since this technique will need a lot of water, and you'll want paper that's absorbent yet strong.

What You'll Need


  1. Wet watercolor paper with a hake brush until it achieves a sheen.
  2. Apply the first layer of color with a paint scraper, putting pressure on the scraper, so only the edges get painted. Let the colors bleed freely.
  3. Add more layers of paint using both the granulating and regular watercolor over the first layer. If you have pressed enough, you'll find white patches on the watercolor paper that won't absorb the watercolor.
  4. Tilt the paper as you add more water until you get a good wash. Catch any excess paint or water with an absorbent towel to avoid the mess.
  5. If you ever make mistakes, apply a good layer of Blendproof white watercolor and wash it off with water from a spray bottle.
  6. Let the Blendproof dry before adding more colors.
  7. Add final touches to your abstract painting.

Doodling on Abstract Watercolor

A watercolor abstract with gold paint and doodle details

A watercolor abstract with gold paint and doodle details - Image by Creations CeeCee

Doodling on abstract watercolors is another way to amplify the painting. You can doodle with a pencil or pen. However, you could also use materials such as pastels and chalks to create your abstract watercolor art piece. The simplicity of the doodle over the abstract theme gives a sense of structure and depth to the painting.

What You'll Need


  1. Tape the paper on an easel or board to secure the paper.
  2. Start by painting random shapes on watercolor paper using the #8 round brush. You may apply a liquid mask before painting if you want to leave white spaces on the paper.
  3. Enhance the colors by applying more layers. To spread the colors, gently tap the board on the table.
  4. Once the paint is dry, take the micron pen and doodle on your painting.
  5. You can also use a metallic gold watercolor to add more effects to the abstract art.
  6. You may apply multiple layers of paint if you want deeper colors in your piece.
  7. Use a white gel pen for bolder highlights or gray marker pens.

3 Cs of Watercolor Abstract Painting


Abstract watercolor paintings tend to use colors more than traditional watercolors. Watercolors blend and acquire an ethereal quality, allowing them to convey a sense of transience and change.

Because it does not have a definite form, abstract watercolor paintings rely on color to convey their message. 


Contrast is another feature that abstract watercolors employ. By creating contrasts between the paintings, the audience can feel the painter's emotions.

For example, white against black or a light yellow against a darker blue helps to separate the elements of the painting while blending them in one seamless artwork. 


A geometric motif with this form will evoke a universal response of visual enjoyment and dramatic interest.

Try not to focus your attention on the center of your artwork to improve the composition of the painting. In negative paintings, the artist focuses on the background details rather than the positive image in the foreground. 

Decide on what you want to highlight in the painting and then work on it to improve its composition. For more tips on composition, try these simple hacks. 

Pro Tips for Better Watercolor Abstract Paintings

Symmetrical balance

One of the easiest ways to create an abstract watercolor painting is to go for symmetrical balance. Divide your watercolor paper into two. 

You may draw the lines freehand and opt for white space (or a darker shade) or just a single line to divide the upper and lower portions of the paper.

Build your artwork by painting in solids or graded colors on the upper and the lower half. Use complementary, monochromatic colors or contrasting colors for your abstract painting.

Lift colors where needed.

You have more control of the outcome of your watercolor painting since you can reactivate the paints and lift them off with a brush or paper towel to lighten the values of your painting.

Make use of the watercolor's movement.

Allowing the watercolor to do its magic on wet paper is an excellent way of creating abstract art, Especially when working wet-on-wet. 

The movement is more confined when using a wet brush on dry paper, but it blooms just the same.

Let the colors blend.

Blending the colors creates not only new colors but also creates interesting effects on your paper. Tilting or tipping your paper will scatter the colors and let them blend.

Paint one color over another to create a single mix that is more vibrant than the original two.

Watercolor Abstract FAQ

How do you watercolor an abstract?

  1. Simplify your designs. Using abstract shapes in your painting will help you create interesting patterns and connections within the work. By playing with the composition, line, form, and tonal values of your painting.
  2. Decide what the central themes of your narrative are, and concentrate on them. Make them larger, more prominent, and brighter. Fascinatingly, play with perspective and size relationships.
  3. Experimenting with new methods is a chance to stray from the norm. Break away from the normal and try something new. Mistakes are necessary for every great journey. When you explore, there are no blunders; instead, there are happy accidents.
  4. Distorting shapes is one way of creating abstract art. Stretching forms and shifting colors is one way you can create an abstract painting that is unlike others. The shapes in your paintings should make up a logical relationship with each other to establish harmony.
  5. Use symbols to create sophisticated and complex forms in your abstract paintings. Abstract painting is the perfect form to create a symbolic work of art that means something personal or universal.
  6. Colorful backgrounds are an excellent addition to any abstract painting.

How do you paint abstract watercolor landscapes?

The strokes must be consistent across the painting, with planned and accurate movements from one side to the other.

Colors should mesh together, so your painting doesn't look ordinary. Also, use texture and layers to create depth in your paintings.

What makes an abstract painting?

Abstract painting may appear simple, but it can sometimes be more difficult than traditional or classic painting.


From the color of your paper to how you handle paint, many variables can affect what your painting will look like. We've compiled some helpful hacks and tips from professional artists so you can master this beautiful technique in no time.

Who has tried their hand at a watercolor piece? What is your advice for beginners looking to learn more about abstract art techniques?

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