How to Make an Easy Abstract Painting Using String and Oil Crayons

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In this exercise, you will learn how to make a beautiful abstract painting using the string exercise as a starter, see my post “Be Random – Make and Easy String Painting

In the above post you will see where to stop the process and continue here with this exercise.

Allow 2 hours for this exercise. Find a quiet place, set time aside for yourself, just relax and enjoy the process.  To be unconcerned about the outcome will bring out your best work.

You will need:

  • good quality watercolour paper, at least 180gsm
  • a box of oil crayons (childrens’ quality is okay)
  • an inexpensive set of watercolour tubes, (you can make all the colours you need with red, yellow, blue, black and white)
  • rags for spills
  • a container for water
  • a palette, (I used an old kitchen plate)
  • a large brush (I used a new household paint brush)
  • string
  • acrylic paints, (red, yellow, blue, black.)
  • a board and tape if you have them, this is helpful but optional only
  • scissors
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This is similar to what you will start off with. I actually pressed the string a second time with this one using a lot more paint on the second application.  I did not pull the string through as with the first pressing,  I just laid the string down, pressed it and lifted the paper off. Make sure to allow the string pressings to thoroughly dry before proceeding.  This should take from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the weather.

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Proceed to colour in the shapes using oil pastels. Try to choose either red, green and yellow, OR blue, yellow and green.   See if you can isolate some shapes (in this case I imagined  fruit, cut oranges or similar.)  If you can see shapes, colour them in and in some places go over the original colour with another to make it interesting.  In the background follow the lines made by the string using parallel strokes every which way and that.  Try to leave lots of white space if you can.  This is called “repetition with variation”,  a very powerful tool when making art.

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Continue to colour in the work and you will notice it start to look interesting.  Make sure you leave lots of white spaces for the surprise step that comes next!

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Next, absolutely flood the paper with a watery watercolour paint mix (see image below.) To make a watery wash see below * Remember it is not wise use paint out of the tube directly, always make sure there very small amounts of the other primaries e.g. red, yellow and blue to make a beautiful tertiary colour.  It seems best to  choose your wash colour as the opposite of the main colour you used in the isolated shapes. For example, if you have used mainly yellow in the isolated shapes, the opposite is purple, mainly orange, the opposite is blue, mainly red, the opposite is green and vice versa.

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Here is the finished work!  See how the oil pastel marks have resisted the water colour to make a lovely abstract painting.  In the right frame with a colourful matt board this work could possibly look fantastic! :

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This image shows how to use horizontal strokes to flood the paper using a large brush.  Make sure to always put the wash down and leave it!  It is best to let the paint run in its own way.  Then magic happens!

* To make a watery wash blend about 1/2 cup of water with small amounts of pigment. You may need to use a small flat plastic bowl for this.   Always test on a piece of paper first to check the colour.

How did you go?  Did you have fun and enjoy the process?  Inbox me your work if you like at  I would love to see it!


An Easy Paint to Music Exercise after Wassily Kandisnky


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Allow 2 hours for this exercise.

Kandinsky was a Russian artist and musician.  He believed abstract art could express just as much feeling as music. In this exercise you will create a colourful and beautiful abstract composition to the tune of your own music.


  • Good quality watercolour paper
  • 7 tubes of watercolours, blue, red and yellow (both cool and warm) and one tube of black or very dark grey/blue if you prefer.
  • Container for water
  • Board and tape (optional)
  • Rags for wiping up spills
  • 1 medium sized watercolour brush with a good point.

Ask at your art supplier if you are not sure about what you will need.

Choose a favourite track from your CD collection.  In music, a motif is a part of the tune that is repeated over and over again (there might be more than one).  Listen to the track with your eyes closed to establish the motifs.  This is important when completing the following artwork.

TIP: With watercolour, it is best to work while the paint is completely wet or completely dry.  Working into damp paint may cause some frustration. 🙂

Step 1

Tape your paper to a board if you have one but this is not necessary.  You can work on a paper pad if you wish.

Kandinsky Music Exercise

Step 2

Put out a generous amount of cool yellow into your palette with a small amount of cool blue.

Add water until the colour is pale and clear yet vibrant.  Test on a piece of spare paper first. This is how my mixture looked with water added (mostly yellow.)

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When you have the colour you are happy with, drag it across the paper in horizontal strokes working quickly while the paint is wet.  I placed a bound book under the top of my board so all the drips would run to the bottom of the page, where I mopped them up with a damp brush.  Don’t be timid, your marks will be perfect according to what evolves organically.  Take a break and allow this to dry.  Depending on the day, it could take 10-20 minutes.  I tested it on some scrap paper first, this colour should be a light lime green.Kandinsky Music Exercise3
Step 3

When the work is dry, mix up a small amount of black, load a thin brush with the mixture and close your eyes.  Put on the music and paint or draw a line that suits the rhythm of the melody.  Perhaps a swirling line for a smooth rhythm and a zigzag line for a jerky rhythm.  It is your interpretation only and whatever you put down will be perfect.  It is best to start and end off the edges of the page.

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Step 4

Mix up six colours ready to start the next process.  Use some light colours and some dark ones.  Colours directly from the tube tend to be boring so mix a little of an opposite colour to make your colours jump off the page.

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Along the line, paint a shape each time you hear a motif in the melody.  Make the marks different sizes, colours and shapes.  Use other shapes if there is more than one motif in the melody.  The music will inspire you to keep painting so use your feelings to add different shades of colour around the shapes and along the black lines.  When the track is finished stop painting, that way you’ll leave some restful areas.

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My music was happy so I used a lot of yellow, it also was quite romantic and soothing so I used pale blue and pink.  There are joyful melody motifs all over my painting!  Try to rinse your brush with water in between making these marks and drag the colour over the page to create depth.  Don’t worry about spills and drips, that’s what makes the work so very special and unique.

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If you want some soft watery edges as I have, wet a clean brush with plenty of water picking up some wet paint, drag the water across the paper a little way.  Make sure the brush is filled with water and no colour.   This is my finished painting, can you see the water marks, I love them!Kandinsky Music Exercise8

You may also like to paint after the great master, Wassily Kandinsky in acrylics.

Related articles:

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Naturally

In this lesson, I will show you a fantastic non-toxic way to clean oil paint brushes.

Bristle brushes are used for oil painting and are rather inexpensive.  Many artists toss the brushes out after a few uses.  However, cleaning the brushes is easy, especially when no chemicals are involved.  Here is the process.

Wipe all excess paint off the brush with a disposable kitchen cloth.

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Grind the brush into some newspaper, a paper towel or something disposable.  Make sure you get right down to the base of the bristles to remove as much paint as possible.  Wipe clean with a disposable kitchen cloth.

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Stand the brushes in a jar with Eucalyptus Oil over night.  I use a water soluble solution which I obtain very cheaply from the supermarket.

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Repeat the above process again, wiping the brush, grinding it into the paper towel and standing in the Eucalyptus Oil over night.

The next day, wash the brushes in hot water using pure soap and voila!… they are like new again.

Tip: If you are in a hurry to use the brushes you can skip the second overnight soak in the Eucalyptus oil if you wish.  However there will still be a small amount of paint in the brushes.

Clean Your Paintbrushes – Secrets From a Brush Recycler

This post is meant mainly for artists but could apply to other creatives such as writers, photographers or potters.  In fact, it applies to anyone who uses materials to create.

As a novice, I seemed to be eternally buying paintbrushes.  One day it dawned on me that perhaps I could save myself some money by making sure they were really clean after I used them and perhaps they would last longer.  And guess what, it worked!  I keep my brushes for much longer now and I have brass in pocket to boot.  I urge you to realize that your materials have energy and an intelligent life of their own.  They contribute greatly to your craft so love and respect them and they will do likewise for you.

Here are some tips to help you do the same.

Nylon brushes are best to use for watercolour, gouache, tempera and acrylic.  To clean them, firstly, use warm water and pour a little dish washing liquid into the palm of your hand.  Swirl the wet brush around in the soap right down to the base of the bristles (called the ferrule).  Rinse the brush off in clean warm water under the tap and dry off to a nice point. If you do this your brushes will last for ages!  I urge you to now lay them out in your organized studio ready for the next day.

Next post I will show how to clean oil brushes, now that is a little more complicated!

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9 Tips to Help Get Your Studio Sorted


I am not sure if you are like me but I really struggle to keep my studio tidy.  I seem to sometimes work in a crazy frenzy of creativity and throw paint and materials all over the place.  At the end of the day the area looks like a disaster zone!  So in an attempt to improve slovenly habits which may creep in, I share a few tips with you.

Firstly, and to get into the vibe of it all, we need to know that a true professional keeps his studio tidy.  A messy studio indicates a messy mind, despite what you have read about other artists (some of them famous.)

  • Simplify your possessions and keep only what is necessary.   Go through your old brushes, used tubes of paint and paper, getting rid of what is not needed.  A clear mind is a creative mind.  
  • Do all your tasks slowly and deliberately in true Zen like fashion.  Rushing around doing random things will only dissatisfy and distract you.  Multi-tasking is out, one task at a time is best; this keeps you in creative mode.
  • Designate a daily time and place for creating.  That way, other daily tasks fit in with your creative time.  If a task is important enough to do regularly, it is important enough to lock in a time for it.
  • Leave a space of time between your daily tasks, that way, you can relax if one task takes longer than you imagined.  The whole idea is to free up stress for creating!
  • Make it a ritual that you clean up and prepare your studio for the next day.  A studio in chaos is quite disheartening the next day and can put your creative time in question. We all have experienced the dilemma of whether to get started or give in to something else that is tempting us.
  • When he is finished for the day, a true professional  lays his tools of trade neatly out ready to start the next day, the floor is swept, brushes cleaned and everything put back in its place.
  • He would lay out tubes of paint, brushes, rags, mediums etc.   With a new work, the canvas would be primed ready and the concept confirmed in his journal with sketches and ideas noted over time. All is ready to inspire him to start keenly the next day.
  • In the case of a half completed work, preparation for the next day ideally would also include journal work.  That means writing thoughts of your progress in your journal with some sketches to inspire you.
  • It is also helpful to write ideas about your intentions for the next day.  What do you hope to achieve?  Where are you at with this work?  Are you happy with your progress?  What would you like to do differently?  This helps so much the next time you working.

If you are a hobby artist just wanting to have fun, a tidy work space would still apply and the journal work would be not be necessary.

This all sounds a big harsh, I know, but the difference in your creativity will amaze you!

Here is a picture of a messy studio, how could anybody work there?

Artist's Studio

Thank you to David Eastwood for the following photograph:
Casa Morandi, 2012
paper, cardboard, foam core, wood, plastic, wire, glue, ink and paint
25 × 32.2 × 36.8 cm
Photograph by David Eastwood

Artist's Studio2

Courtesy the artist and Robin Gibson Gallery

This picture shows a studio which is just begging you to get started!  I know it is not possible to always store your things out of the way and have a minimalist work space like this, yet  I believe these  two pictures show how we can be motivated and keen to get started or otherwise.

Look out  for Tutorial 2 in our Master class Series, coming soon!