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DIY Abstract Painting for Beginners with a Putty Knife

The one rule that I love most about DIY abstract painting, especially when I teach/lead a workshop on it, is that there really aren’t a lot of rules. This DIY abstract painting for beginners with a putty knife is the perfect way to get started and anyone can create beautiful abstract art with this step by step tutorial.

How to paint DIY abstract art Jennifer Rizzo

Abstract art isn’t about having to draw the perfect line with a pencil, or make it look exactly like a tree… It’s about painting what you feel, and what you see, and if you like it or not.  The scariest part of painting abstract artwork is having to get over is putting that first stroke of paint on the canvas. My DIY easy abstract painting tutorial today is more about giving you the direction and guidance, and how to use an abstract painting technique that involves layering paint and experimenting with texture. We are also going to have fun using an unconventional painting tool too on a painted canvas, so pull out your drywall putty knife and get ready to paint!

I’m using a wood framed canvas boards, but this technique could apply to a regular canvas as well which you can easily find at art stores or even craft stores. Just make sure your canvas is pre-gessoed, otherwise you’ll want to use gesso ( that’s a canvas primer) as your base before painting. I have my canvas propped on a easel, but you cal also paint this flat if you don’t have one. Check out how I used drywall compound to create a wildflower inspired impression abstract art piece. For this project, you’ll need:

A large flat brush, a 3″ drywall putty knife or palette knife, paint brush, paper towel, canvas, different colors or different shades of paint of choice, palette or plastic plate

Supplies to paint DIY Abstract Art Jennifer Rizzo

DecoArt Premium Acrylic paint in Titanium White,Warm Grey, Carbon Black, Burnt Umber and Cadmium Yellow Hue,  Extreme Sheen in 24K Gold, and Creme Wax in Deep Brown ( if you are going to stain the frame.) Find supplies on this idea list here.
This project would also be a good way to use this kind of paint and if you want to add a frame in an inexpensive way to your canvas, you can see how to do that here. The type of paint doesn’t matter as much for this project. Craft paints are also ok too if that’s what you have on hand. The benefit to craft paints is the fast drying time. The most important thing is to choose color schemes that are right for you and that you’ll love.

Start by using your paintbrush by painting a layer of Titanium White on your canvas. If you are using a pre-framed board, you may want to tape he edges of the frame off with painter’s tape first. This will ensure a smooth glide for your future paint layers. This is a good idea to do even if you buy a pre-gessoed canvas.

Add abstract strokes of acrylic paint as a base layer.

After your canvas is coated and dried, paint short brush strokes of black, burnt umber, gray and yellow paint colors, covering the canvas. This is probably going to look pretty bad and that’s ok, it’s just a base layer. We are going to cover most of it up, I promise, so don’t panic. This will help give some depth to your painting.

Under layer colors for an abstract painting Jennifer Rizzo

After your base layer is up, use a large brush to make downward strokes towards the middle. A little trick to paint this evenly on the top and bottom is to turn the canvas over when you want to do the bottom edge. You want your strokes to be slightly patchy, and it’s ok if there are some mixed colors. You can use a fan or blow dryer to speed up drying time.

Paint white over the base layer

Once you have the coverage you like with the white paint on your DIY abstract painting for beginners, next use the warm gray and your large brush to paint a line straight across the middle of the painting. Use short downward strokes, moving across the canvas horizontally. Make sure to catch any drips as you paint.

Paint gray across the middle of the painting Jennifer Rizzo

Mix some black paint in with the Warm Gray paint, and brush on some sections of a darker gray over the lighter gray. When I painted on my gray line, I made one side  wider than the other. That was just a design choice. You can keep it the same size if you want all of the way across.

Here’s t he fun part where you get to play with your drywall putty knife!

Apply paint for an abstract painting with a putty knife

Pick up some white paint on the edge, and with a downward motion, apply it to the canvas, stopping at the gray line. To make your paint even a thicker consistency, you can mix in a medium like Liquitex Gel matte, matte medium, fiber paste, texture paste or even sand!

Layer paint with a putty knife from the hardware store. Jennifer Rizzo

You should get a really patchy, organic kind of pattern, and that’s just what we are going for! It’s that look for incompleteness that makes this painting of this DIY abstract painting!  Flip the canvas upside down to work from the other edge. You can also play with different techniques to get different textures like dabbing or pressing your medium onto the canvas.

Add a gold stripe by stippling on paint Jennifer Rizzo

Once your white is applied, take a brush and stipple some gold on over the middle of the gray, using a light, pouncing motion, moving across the canvas. To make the gold even brighter, try adding gold leaf!

Apply gold paint to your abstract art with a putty knife Jennifer Rizzo

Once your stippling is done, use the putty knife again to apply the gold paint in a random way across the line, right in the middle.

Applying gold paint in a DIY abstract painting tutorial Jennifer Rizzo

It almost goes on in a blobby way, and I like that. Once you have your paint on, and you like what you see, let dry. Less is more when adding paint.

Stain your wood with a creme wax

I wanted to give the frame a natural feel, with a little color, so I used Americana Decor Creme Wax. It let the natural wood come through, and gave it a rich finish that paint wouldn’t do.

Using creme wax to finish wood frame abstract art

After applying it with a brush, I used a paper towel to remove the excess and let dry.

Once the painting is dry, just put a sawtooth hanger on the back to hang, and enjoy your artwork! When I staged the picture, I couldn’t decide which lamp to use, so I pulled three different lamps from around my house to see which one I liked best. This pattern reminds me of the dowel rod soundwave art I made. It has that same feel.

DIY abstract painting tutorial from Jennifer Rizzo

I tried a wood lamp first, but I felt it was a little tall, and I couldn’t really see the painting.

Easy DIY abstract painting tutorial

Then, I tried a slightly smaller white lamp, but it still felt tall.

Abstract Painting DIY and plant Jennifer Rizzo

I finally decided on this small black lamp from the kitchen, I felt it showed the painting off the best, and was the right scale.  I hope you enjoy diving into DIY abstract painting! Let me know if you try it, I would love to see your painting!

If you liked this tutorial, you can check out this tutorial on how to paint an agate-inspired painting.

This post is sponsored by DecoArt, opinions are entirely my own.


  1. Hmmm, wish I could see this in action; your painting tutorials really lend themselves to video… maybe a YouTube channel that you could link here? (Would that be easier to share / document? 🙂
    Must be time for you to teach another online class – just sayin’…(since you have all that extra time and all lol).

  2. Girl, this is awesome. I am better at lainting walls, than canvas, but I seriously think I could do this!! I’m going to try it, ifnits horrible, I’m paying you to do one for me

  3. Love this! Would you mind telling me what the pretty font is please? eg You should get a really patchy etc
    Many thanks

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