Here we are in Week 4 of the ORC , and we are starting to (blissfully) see things being put back. Here’s where we’ve been so far
Week 1: Before and The Design Plan
Week 2: Demo and The Design Details
We are still squarely inside the Boring Middle Part of the renovation, but now things are visibly starting to come back together. We have:
Finished the rough plumbing
Finished the rough electrical
Moved the toilet
Framed in the new water closet
Installed drywall and cement board
While all of this progress is very promising, it is not admittedly the most interesting to look at. SO we’re going to think ahead to some pretty things and create a custom piece of art for this new room!
You may or may not know that earlier this year we launched an online art shop, Humble Abode by TLD. Our main motivation in opening the shop is that the majority of our clients need access to beautiful, affordable art for their homes. There is a time and a place for original art that speaks to your soul, but sometimes you just need something pretty to look at in your bathroom, amiright?
Today I’m going to walk you through my process for creating abstract art. There is an art to this (I know, bad pun, I’m sorry) but with a little trial and error, it’s possible to create an abstract that you love. And the plus side is that you can totally customize it to your space AND the materials are so affordable that if you just hate it and give up, there’s not a lot of harm done. But that’s not going to happen to you! Here we go.
For all the art in our shop, I create each piece very small (typically 8x10 or smaller) and we scan it at a very high resolution and then print it at a larger scale. You can use this same process though to paint directly on a canvas at the size you want to wind up with.
Stretched Canvas – I like to buy a multi-pack for psychological reasons. That way I don’t feel like I have to be perfect because I have spares, and the safety net usually means I do better out of the gate!
Paint Brushes – I use these inexpensive ones. If you do a larger canvas, you might want larger brushes
Paint mixing surface – I tend to use disposable dinner plates
Cup of water
Hairdryer - optional
STEP 1: PREP
Most likely, you’ll want to gather some inspiration photos to give you something to work towards. There are infinite varieties of abstract art – geometric, graphic, splattered, brushstroke-y (very technical terms here), subtle, textural poured, bold – it goes on and on. I advise gathering 4 or more in a style you like, rather than just 1, so your final piece ends up looking like a cousin of your inspiration images, rather than an imitation of one. Here are some images I pulled for our Master Bath art.
We’re going for more subtle and ethereal, rather than anything bold or in your face. We want it to be relaxing after all. A combo of light and airy, but still a little moody.
When we’re creating art for Humble Abode or for a specific client, I pull out materials to help inform the color palette. We’re using whites, grayed blues, marble, and warm wood in this bathroom, so that helps me know what colors will work well in the space. Don’t be afraid to throw in a richer accent color or two.
The last part of the prep work is going to be a bit controversial – pour yourself a glass of whiskey (or wine, or whatever). Not because I want to make you a day drinker, but because to do abstract art well you need to LOOSEN UP and get out of your head. You need to understand the process will go like this:
Crank up some music, have a ‘Lil drink, and just let loose. Relaxing will help you get from step 2 to step 6 much faster. We have to mitigate the self-doubt here.
OK, you’re ready.
I did a time-lapse of creating this piece from start to finish. It’s fun to watch, but not totally helpful without knowing what’s happening at each stage. So here’s the step-by-step that you can read, then at the end check out the time-lapse to see how it unfolds. You can also see my whiskey glass get emptier as we go, which is fun.
STEP 2: FOUNDATION
Squirt out all of your main colors that you plan on using on a palette. And before the environmental police come calling, here’s why I use a disposable Styrofoam plate. When we create art for HumbleAbode, we want to create an entire collection using the same color palette. By using a plate similar to this I can let it dry rather than cleaning it, and then use it over and OVER again for each piece, mixing colors that closely match the last piece I created. So yes while it’s a tiny bit wasteful, I only go through like a dozen a year. Rant over.
I like to trace a 5x7 rectangle VERY LIGHTLY in the center of my page (think greeting card size). That way I can spill over the edges with my art, but generally, know where my boundaries are. Ignore this if you’re working directly on the canvas.
What you’re going to want to do here is lay down a base layer of color, roughly just blocking out what colors go where. Do not be fussy about this. It is likely that none of this paint will actually show up in your final piece. Think of it like the primer or moisturizer that goes under your makeup.
I used one of my fatter brushes and started dipping it in mostly white with a little gray. Then as it ran out I went back for more but added more gray this time. Then I grabbed a second fat brush with some darker blue with that same gray. Then I took a medium brush with dark blue and some black (a smaller brush because I want less of that dark color overall). I’m just swish-swooshing the brush creating some color blocking and movement, doing a bit of blending, but mostly just layering color over color.
This is Stage 1 of the creative process, you’re thinking “this is awesome!”. Yay! We’re having fun! Keep up that positive energy.
I didn’t want it to be all cool colors, so on my “white” brush, I grabbed a bit of my warmer colors. I didn’t have a khaki color laying around, so I mixed white, sage, brown, and mustard.
I’m just laying some warm color over the white and gray. Getting close. I drug over my paint swatches to be sure my color tones were in the right family.
At this point, you could let your base dry, or blow-dry it to speed up the process, or just keep going. Since I’m going for muddier and muted, I was fine to keep going. If you’re doing a piece that has lots of different colors that you want to be vibrant, or they would look gross if blended, then go ahead and let your base dry.
You’re likely at stage 2 of the process where you’re thinking “this is tricky.” Yes, it is. But it’s going to be fine. Press on.
STEP 3: LAYERING
Now we’re going to start putting on the paint that you might actually see in the end result. We’re going to add depth to that base layer using more blends of the same colors and start working in any accent colors.
Here I’m using my medium brushes and adding in some more color. You see a bit of brighter blue running through the middle. I’m adding darker and lighter tones right on top of my base layer. Rather than a big swish-swoosh I’m doing more of a dab-dab-dab (are you laughing at this description?! I hope it’s helpful). If I add a little too much, then I take my bigger brush with some white or gray on it and blend it out a little bit. I’m also adding some accent “blobs” in areas that were just neutral before (like the bottom left there).
I’m not totally feeling it yet. It isn’t coming together. I only kind of hate it, so I’m about midway through the creative process.
I grabbed a blush pink and dropped a bit of that in there as well. I’m a SUCKER for blush, and I thought this might pull me out of this funk. It compliments this palette so wonderfully, but I’m using it sparingly since the Husband of this master bathroom may not appreciate a big pink piece of art. The blush didn’t work as I’d hoped.
We are now arriving at Stage 3: "This is shit. It’s not, actually shit."
Truly it’s not. We’re simply not done. Just keep swimming. When you hit this stage, try rotating your canvas 180 degrees. Looking at it from a new angle often helps.
I’m adding in more neutral now, and absolutely hating this piece with every fiber of my being. I have all the self-doubt and question all of my life choices. I am in no position to run an art shop. I am a phony artist imposter. I have ruined it. It’s too stroke-y and too stripey and it’s AWFUL.
Welcome my friend to Stage 4: "I am shit."
Now, my friend might be time to step away if you’re totally hating it. You probably need a break and to come back with fresh eyes. You are not shit. Have another sip of whiskey.
STEP 4: FINISHING
After your pep talk, you’re ready to finish this piece up. I keep rotating the piece around. I now realize I don’t like that the blue is connecting from the 2 opposing corners. I layer some of my neutral colors in the middle. Now instead of a stripe, I have a big blob and a small blob. I like the bigger blob on the bottom, rather than on the top where it started. This makes me feel much better.
I have arrived at Stage 5: "this might be okay."
Just a few more tweaks and it’s ready. I have arrived at the Promised Land, Stage 6: This is Awesome. It is light and moody. It is masculine and feminine. It has movement and depth. And I love it. Also, my whiskey glass is empty so it’s time to stop.
A question I get asked all the time is “how do you know when to stop?” When is abstract art done? It’s a tough one. Sometimes it just CLICKS and you know it’s right. Sometimes you just need to keep walking away from it and coming back to it. And if your heart is just not in it, you can abandon it. That’s why I like working in a sketchbook rather than a canvas because it’s less pressure. But most of the time the art is salvageable. You just need to repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times until it feels right.
I hope this tutorial has been helpful, or at the very least entertaining, and inspired you to grab some paintbrushes and paint and create some for yourself!
Or, if it hasn’t inspired you at all, but you still want a piece of abstract art like this, you can buy a print of this exact piece for $15 over at Humble Abode! Ha! Either way, you win. I'm all about making your life easier.
That was fun! I can’t wait to see how this piece looks in our ORC Master Bath. Here’s what we have left to do first before we get there.
Done / In The Works:
Build-back with drywall and cement board
Install vanity, finishes, and fixtures
Trim out windows, baseboards, install new doors, and order window treatments
Art and finishing touches
See you next week when we’ll share more progress and share some tips on the art of mixing fancy + inexpensive tile for a high-end look.