Abstract Watercolor: Color, Textures and Composition for Beginners | Laurence Plouffe | Skillshare

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Abstract Watercolor: Color, Textures and Composition for Beginners

teacher avatar Laurence Plouffe, I like to paint

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Color Selection and Swatching


    • 4.

      Exploring Textures


    • 5.

      Create some Compositions


    • 6.

      Let's paint! Base Layer


    • 7.

      Let's paint! Strong Colors and Texture


    • 8.

      Let's paint! Contrast, Texture and Composition


    • 9.

      Finishing touches: Adding some Details


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Have you been struggling with trying to create a beautiful and well balanced abstract watercolor painting? I know that I have and this is why I want to share with you some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

In this course, you will learn how to create a textured abstract watercolor, from the research stages to the end result. We will explore color selection, practice different ways to create texture and talk a little bit about composition. We will then incorporate these new skills in our own abstract watercolor painting.

Abstract painting is interesting because you can use colors, values, textures and brush strokes to represent feelings and subjects in an abstract painting. It forces us to let go of the control and accept the unpredictability of watercolor. Each viewer sees something different in an abstract painting. Providing this kind of experience with a painting is super rewarding!

This class is for anybody who wants to learn more about watercolor. Whether you are a beginner and you want to learn some techniques or you are intermediate to advanced and you want to discover a new style, this class is for you! It is for all skill levels. You just need to have the basic watercolor material such as: watercolor paint, watercolor paper, paintbrushes, salt, plastic wrap or any other clear plastic bag, nail polish remover and some pens and pencils.


Meet Your Teacher

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Laurence Plouffe

I like to paint


I think it's safe to say that I'm obsessed with art. I am passionate about exploring new styles, techniques and mediums and documenting my journey. Art is a form of therapy for me, a way of expressing my creative side. I have a full time job unrelated to art and painting allows me to unwind, to relax, to meditate almost. I hope it does the same to you.

I use mainly watercolors and gouache, although I love trying out new mediums. I am trying (and I say trying because I have NOT been super successful so far) to paint with oils. I also sometimes draw, use oil pastels and paint digitally. 

I decided to start teaching because I learned so much from others. I want to give back and maybe we'll share a passion and develop our styles together! 

I hope you... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: [MUSIC] Have you ever wondered how to add texture and dimension to your abstract watercolor paintings? Hi, my name is Laurence and I'm a self-taught artist. I've been painting everyday with watercolors for four years. My goal is to always explore new textures and styles, and most importantly, to have fun. My latest obsession has been creating these beautifully textured abstract watercolor paintings. In this class, we will create an abstract watercolor painting together. We will talk about color selection and swatching, which is always so much fun. We will explore different ways to create textures in our paintings, and we will talk a little bit about composition. In the end, you will be able to use these new skills in your own paintings, abstract or not. I am excited to share this painting style with you. I feel like every painting session is a new idea of something different to try next. This is an ever evolving in this defined process. This style is super interesting because you can use colors, values, textures, and brushstrokes to convey a feeling or a subject in your abstract painting. This class is for beginner to intermediate painters. You only need some basic watercolor supplies. Some watercolor paints, watercolor paper, some brushes, some painting tape. For the texture, we will use salt, nail polish remover and plastic wrap, and if you have some acrylic inks. We will also use some white or colored pens and pencils. You will create your own texture watercolor painting, using the skills we learned in this class. 2. Project: The class project will be creating your own textured watercolor painting. We will follow some specific step, but just like watercolor, you're free to do your own thing. You can choose your favorite color combo, you can explore with textures and add the ones you prefer, and you can take your inspiration from a person, an object, or a feeling. I would love for you to share with us your final painting and all the different steps that you take to get there. It would be super interesting and inspiring to see your creative process. Take your colors out and let's start swatching. 3. Color Selection and Swatching: It's hard to know exactly what colors your paints are just by looking on the tubes or the paint palette. That's why it's super important to swatch all the colors that you have on a separate piece of paper. This is what I did here. I wrote down the name of the colors and their properties so that when I need to pick a color for a painting I have a better idea of what the colors that I have to me look like so it's easier for me to make a decision. For my painting today, I feel inspired by the ocean and I really want a soothing color so I'm thinking of using a blue. I have a couple of options here, which I'm going to swatch on my paper. I'm thinking also of using a paler color which will offer a good contrast, something like a beige. I'm thinking of adding a pop of yellow because I really like this color combo. I'm going to take all of my blues and yellows, I'm going to swatch them on a separate paper and see what color mix I like the best. Here are my blues and my yellows. I also have two Buff Titanium, which I'm thinking of using as my pale colors. Let's start swatching. I'm going to swatch all of my colors on this side here, pick maybe three color combos that I'm going to test here and then choose my favorite one for the painting. [MUSIC] First, we have Van Gogh turquoise blue. It's more of a green than a blue so I'm not sure. Then we have Van Gogh cerulean blue Phthalo, then we have Van Gogh Phthalo blue, Van Gogh cobalt blue ultramarine, then we have Daniel Smith blue apatite genuine, followed by Daniel Smith Indanthrone blue, and Daniel Smith Mayan blue genuine. I'm also going to swatch Daniel Smith Buff Titanium because it's a bit more yellow than Van Gogh Buff Titanium but I think I'm going to use the two of them as a pale color. I'm going to write down all the names of these different colors because I'm going to keep this sheet because this can still be useful in the future when I want to explore different color combination. I'm doing the work now, so I'm going to keep this sheet for later use as well. Now is the time to look at the colors you've swatched and try to think of different color combinations we can make. In this case, one thing that I find super interesting with some colors is that they are granulating. If you mix them with enough water they create some texture in themselves. We can see it a little bit with this one, turquoise blue. We can see it with the Daniel Smith ones right here, we can see it with this one as well. These are characteristics that I really like, especially when I'm trying to create a textured abstract watercolor painting. First, I'm going to use this blue apatite genuine. It's not as vibrant as some of the others. This is just a personal preference. I think I'm going to mix these two, blue apatite genuine with burgundy yellow ocher. I think it's going to be very pretty. Then maybe let's try a more vibrant mix. We could try cerulean blue with the Cotman cadmium yellow hue and maybe a mix of vibrant and less vibrant. We could mix the turquoise blue with the yellow ocher. But this one is not blue enough. I think it's more on the green side but now that I think about it, maybe green could be good as well. Let's try this mix and then we'll just pick our favorite. What I'm going to do for my swatches is that I want to make sure that I still create a good enough contrast. I'm going to use my paler colors with every mix. Let's start with Van Gogh turquoise blue and yellow ocher. I'm going to start with a pale color and then I'm going to add the more vibrant colors. [MUSIC] I think it is a very pretty mix, but let's look at all the mixes and then I think we'll have a better idea of what everything looks like. Let's try now cerulean blue with the cadmium yellow hue. Then let's try our final mix right here, the mix that will be a bit less vibrant. [MUSIC] Since I'm planning on keeping this sheet for future reference it's even more important to write what colors you use because you're going to forget over time. At first glance, I think that there's two color combos that are very interesting to me, which surprisingly are this one with the turquoise blue and this one with the blue apatite genuine. I feel like this one really looks like the beach from the Caribbeans or some warm place like this. But this color combination is a bit more soothing, which was a feeling I was aiming towards. We're going to pick this one for this painting but in the future maybe I'll do a painting using these colors. For your painting you can choose whatever color you like. You don't have to pick blues and yellows, you can pick whatever color combination you find appealing and then when you're done we can move on together and do the next step. 4. Exploring Textures: Now is the time to explore with textures using common household objects and some art materials. We will use salt, nail polish remover, cling wrap or plastic wrap, and if you have some acrylic inks. Don't worry if you don't have everything at home, you can still follow the class using what you have. You could even use different materials and what we're going to use today. If you do please share it in the class project, because everybody would love to know how it turns out. First of all, we're going to start exploring with some salt. You can use different types of salt. Here I have a big grain of salt, but you can use some finer ones as well. It's going to create a different effect, which is going to be super interesting for you to try. To see all of these effects a bit better, we're going to use the darkest color that we have selected, which is the blue. Let me just add a first layer of blue. Then we're going to put some salt on top and see what happens. I'm going to need this part darker than this bar just to see if there's going to be any difference in the salt effect, if the color is darker or lighter. To use the salt to create a nice effect, you want the paint to still be wet. You don't want it to be super wet, but it can be dry. I'm going to put a little bit of salt on the paint and we'll see what happens. [NOISE] As I was saying here, you could also do another square with a finer salt and just see what the difference is, but here we're only going to try this one. To see the full effect, we really need this painting to be fully dry, so while it dries, we're going to work on other textures. This rectangle here, we're going to work with nail polish remover. What is going to do is going to remove the color from the paper, but it's going to create some interesting round shapes. Like with the salt, the effect that you're going to obtain with the nail polish remover will vary depending on the color that you use, and on the paper. Then I use the cap here, and I'm going to pour a little bit of nail polish remover in it, and be careful not to spill the bottle. I use these Q-tips, and you could just apply the nail polish remover directly on top of your paint, like this, or you could splash it. You have a bit less control, but it creates smaller shapes as well. This is a very interesting effect that you can create, but let's wait for it to dry completely. On this square, we're going to test another technique, which is to apply some cling wrap or plastic wrap on top of the paint. What it's going to do is that the paint underneath will move, and we'll take the shape of air bubbles that are trapped underneath the plastic, and it creates a very interesting effect. The only thing with using this technique is that you can't control it too much, so you really have to accept that the result that you're going to get is the result you're going to get. Well, let's use two colors. Let's use the blue and the beige just to see how the colors flow together. This technique works well if you use a lot of water. [MUSIC] Now, let's put the plastic on top. You can try to move it a little bit to create different shapes, but that's pretty much it. Then what you could do is you could just move your page a little bit to make the colors flow. You could even move your page like this and add some colors to the side and just wait for them to flow, following the shapes of the plastic. [MUSIC] It's spilling on this side, but it's okay, it's just for tests. Now we're going to wait for it to dry. On this last page, we're going to test another technique, which is adding some acrylic inks to the paint. Again, we're going to add a first layer of glue and then we're just going to drop some drops of acrylic ink in it and just see what happens. Then shake it, and then see what happens when we put a drop of acrylic ink, see how it spreads. [MUSIC] I find that it does this effect when the page is very wet, when it's drier, the acrylic ink won't spread as much, but it's still a nice effect. Now we're going to wait for this page to be fully dry, and then we're going to see the final results of our test. I will wait at about half an hour, the sheet is mostly dry. If it was a real painting, I would have waited even longer, because I really want to make sure that it's completely dry before I remove the salt,. But I think it's good enough for us to remove it now since it's just a test. Let's start with the salt. How I remove it is I take a palette knife, but you could use anything. You could even use your fingers and just remove it like this, it's just that I find it a bit cleaner to use a palette knife. I just go over it. Usually also, I go on top of the sink, but I'm going to show you how I do it. I just scrape it off like this. [NOISE] Then once I'm done, I take a fan brush like this and I'll just go on top to make sure that no salt is left. You can see that maybe it wasn't completely dry because you can see the direction in which I scraped the salt, which also is an effect that you could create on purpose. It's not the effect I wanted to create in this instance, but it's good to know that it's something we can do if we want. Here we go, I removed all the salt. Now let's have a look at this side with the nail polish remover. I really love all the little, it looks like a drop of water on top of a lake or something. It looks like this drop effect, which is very pretty, and see something that we can use in our painting. The effect is going to be more intense on a darker color, such as this, but you could also try it on a lighter color and see what happens. I think I did a mistake. You can see that this part is very flat, so not much has happened compared to here, we have a lot more texture. This is a more interesting effect I feel like. In my painting, I'm going to make sure that I create more texture in my plastic than in this section. This is what I mean. You can see that here in this flat section, nothing happened. In this section here, there was a bit more folds in the plastic. You can see that the paint follow the lines created by the plastic. Same thing with this line right here. When I paint, I'm going to make sure that I create folds and crevices where the paint will be able to flow and mixed together in this interesting way. Finally, we can see here the texture that we created with the ink. We spread, and it's very pretty. I think that using these four techniques together, we'll be able to create a very pretty painting. We can see a bit of similarities maybe between these two techniques, but the difference between these two is that the nail polish remover removes the ink but it adds a color. In this case we added white, so that's why it looks similar because here we can see the white of the paper, but I could have had it yellow or red, whatever color I want it. Let's just take up this tape and you will keep this page for future reference. Here, I realized that I used the wrong color for these tests, and this is the color that I'm going to end up using in my painting as well. I wanted to use Daniel Smith, Indanthrone Blue, but I ended up using Mayan Blue Genuine. I'm not sure how this mistake happened, but I'm not mad at it. 5. Create some Compositions: Now that we have chosen our colors and that we've played around with texture, it's time to think about composition. Even if we're doing an abstract painting, it's important to have somewhat of an idea of where we're going. What I like to do is create a few thumbnail sketches in my sketchbook and pick my favorite composition to base my painting on. So let's start working. You don't have to use a sketchbook, you could also do this on a separate piece of paper. But I'd like to have all my sketches in one place, so I use a drawing sketchbook. So what I do is I create a couple of different rectangles representing my paper. Right now I'm really thinking about the flow of my painting, which is something that will guide the eye throughout the painting. I want to create a movement in my painting. So as I said, I'm inspired by the ocean, so I really want to create some wave-like shapes. So let's say that I want my paint to work from this direction. So you can see that we have a flow like this. I'm going to paint some waves or something that to me represent waves, they don't have to be legible waves. At this stage, I'm also thinking about contrast. So I'm going to draw on the darkest shapes to identify where the darkest and where the lightest areas are. The darkest here will represent the blue that I chose, and the lightest will be the beige and the yellow. By now I'm inspired by the ocean, but you can choose anything to be inspired of and try to create a couple of compositions with that in mind. As you can see, this process is really quick. I really tried to draw loose shapes without overthinking it. So let's do three more and then we'll choose our favorite. [BACKGROUND] I like this one, I like its simplicity. I feel like both the dark and the lighter colors have enough space to breathe in this painting compared to other ones which are darker. I still am going to keep all of these other thumbnails for future paintings because I still like them and I think I can modify them and adapt them for future uses. Now let's start painting. 6. Let's paint! Base Layer: [MUSIC] Now we're ready to start painting. You can use whatever type and size of paper that you like. If you have different types at home, I suggest taking the thicker one because we're using a lot of water with our techniques. The thicker the paper, the less we're paying and buckling will happen with the water. I'm using a watercolor block, which prevents the paper from warping with the water, but if you don't have that, you could just take your paper to your working station to prevent its warping to the maximum. This first layer is going to act as a base layer. We will try to do some loose shapes that resemble our composition that we chose. We're going to add a little bit of texture using salt and nail polish remover, and then we're going to let it dry completely. I'm going to start by putting my paint in my wells. I like to use my biggest paintbrush that I have because it allows me to create looser shapes. We're going to do a pair first layer. I also like to start with the pale shades first to create some shapes that look like my composition. [MUSIC] Don't be scared of using a lot of water. Also, you don't have to cover the whole canvas. It's okay if you leave some white spaces. Now let's add the blue and make sure that in-between colors you really wash your brush. [MUSIC] Now before this first layer dries we're going to add some salt on top. [MUSIC] Then we're also going to add a little bit of nail polish remover. [MUSIC] Sometimes the nail polish remover does a really big effect, sometimes, not so much, but it's always fun to use because you never know what to expect. Now we're going to let it dry and once it's completely dry, we're going to remove the salt. 7. Let's paint! Strong Colors and Texture: Now our first layer has dried and you can see all the beautiful texture that the salt has created. I have removed it, by the way, so we have some nice texture, which is very good. The second layer is an opportunity for us to fix the composition. If there are some things that were not satisfied with, it's the time to fix them. We're going to add more colors, we're going to add some ink, and then the plastic on top. When I look at my composition here, this blue part here, it's thicker than here, so I think I'm going to add more blue. I really want to have like a central piece in the middle, maybe a little bit here, and accentuate this shape here. That's what we're going to do first. But one thing before I start, I always like to add the palette colors first, so, let's wait before adding new blue. Let's add our pale colors, and we could add a touch of yellow. I'm going to add some pale colors. I like to go over some colors that I already put. Your colors may reactivate. That's normal. It's okay. They're accepted. Now let's add a little bit of yellow. [MUSIC] Now let's add the blue [MUSIC]. I like to add the colors in a darker way, so we're going to accentuate some areas. Now we could see what happens if we add a little bit of white ink in our painting. I want to be careful to add it in areas where it's already pale because I don't want to add a big zone of pale color in the middle of what I plan to be a darker color. Sometimes I do lines like this. [NOISE] I just add a little bit here. Maybe before we add the plastic, we could add just a little bit of gold [MUSIC]. Now I'm going to add the plastic. When I did my texture test, I found out that the plastic that I put, but it was too flat. Now I'm going to try to create a little bit of textures in it and I'm going to add two pieces and then hope that is going to do something a bit more interesting. Let's put one here and let's put one on top right here. Now, I could just move this around so the paint flows. Let's use our salt on this [NOISE] right here so it can stay at an angle. Sometimes I lift a little bit of the plastic and I add some color here so it flows. [MUSIC] I add a lot of water and a lot of color. My goal is for it to flow and follow the lines that the plastic created. I can spend quite some time doing this because first of all, it's very fun and it gives you even more control, well, to an extent. You can try to fix the composition while adding a little bit more paint and color and you can try to add a bit more of interesting elements. You can make the paint flow in the direction that you want. Well, you can try to. Now I'm going to put it on the other side and I'm going to add some blue paint on the other side. Sometimes I do that with the pale color as well. [MUSIC] But I think I'm satisfied with it now so I'm going to put it flat and let it dry. Once it's completely dry, we're going to remove the plastic. It's always better to wait until it's completely dry before removing the plastic. Sometimes I even wait the whole day before I take it off. I often work on different paintings at the same time because while one dries, I can work on the other and switch between the two. But for the sake of this class, we're going to remove it now. I've waited maybe half an hour. Let's look up this plastic and see what's underneath. [NOISE] This is super interesting. If I look at my composition, I can see that my painting is on the wrong side so let's have a look this way. So beautiful. We can really see all the lines that the plastic created. The paint flowed through these lines. It created some texture that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to create by ourselves just with the paintbrush. Well, at least it would have been really hard to create. Now we're going to wait for it to dry completely before we move on to the next step. We're almost finished. Only two steps left and then we will be able to say that we created a beautiful abstract watercolor painting. 8. Let's paint! Contrast, Texture and Composition : Now we have completed a very important step, which is doing the plastic layer. We have thought about the composition. We have thought about the flow of the painting, which in this case, it's like a wave going that way. We have made sure to leave enough space for the pale colors and the darkest colors. But sometimes I like to add one more step, one more layer of paint before working on the tiniest details. In fact, I could add as many layers as I wanted. I tried to keep the layers to a minimum because I don't want to hide what I've created. But sometimes I need one more layer just to accentuate some shapes to add a bit more contrast. If there's anything to fix with the composition, that's when I do it. I'm quite satisfied overall with this painting. Maybe I would like to add a bit more blue here because this white spot is quite wide and then I would like to accentuate some areas. Let's start working with the blue. In this step, you can really do whatever you like. I'm just going to do like one big wash of blue right here is going to be super pair, but still it adds a bit more blue. I would like to accentuate this part right here. It's fun. This step is really fun because you draw on top of what you already created so you can try to see shapes in your painting and just paint them. Make them a bit darker, make them pop. I'm keeping in mind to flow of the painting in order to have the eye go in this direction that I chose. But really at this step, it's really trial and error. You can do whatever you like and it's possible that you end up with a painting. You don't like that much. But you will have learned something and you will be able to apply what you learned to your next painting. Sometimes at this stage, I even add another layer of plastic. Let's say there's an area that I don't like. Well, I could put a little bit of colors there and then put just a tiny bit of plastic. Sometimes that's what I do. In this case. I don't think this painting needs it, but I could do it if I wanted. I also like to add some fill colors sometimes. It could just add a bit right here. [MUSIC] I can even add a bit more yellow because I feel like we don't see it too much. [MUSIC] So you could work on your painting for a long time. I am going to choose to stop here, let it dry, and then we're going to add some tiny details. At this point, you could spend a long time working on your painting. I'm going to choose to stop here and let it dry completely. We will see each other in a couple of minutes to add the final details. But in the meantime, don't forget to share what you did so far. 9. Finishing touches: Adding some Details: Now that everything is dry, it's the time to add the final details. What I like to do is use either a white pen or a white pencil. Sometimes I create lines that go in the same direction as the flow of the painting. I put some dots, some little Vs, so I do some mark making. Sometimes I even create my own shapes. I add some circles and stuff like that so you can really do whatever you want at this stage. It's your time to relax and create some texture, even more texture than what we have now. Today, I'm going to use a Gelly Roll pen in size 0.8 because I find that it's fine, but it's not too fine. We can see it well on the paper and I also like to have a sheet of paper on the side so I can just make sure that my pen works well. Sometimes you can get a little bit of paint on it so you can just clean it and then use it again. I want to accentuate maybe this shape so let's create a line like this. I often go on top of my lines a couple of times just to make sure that we can see them a bit better. You could also do some other media as you could add some gouache if you wanted. You can do whatever you like. You could add a different color. I'm using white in this case, but you could add black or whatever color you like. [MUSIC] This step is very intuitive. You don't have to think much. You just go with the flow. [MUSIC] Some paints apply better on different paper. Right now I'm using a hot press paper and I find that this kind of pen, it rolls really well. The paint goes on the paper very well and when I use it on cold press, it's a bit harder. I have to go over my lines a bit more, but still, the effect is always nice either way. [MUSIC] I'm just following some shapes that are already on my paper without thinking about it too much. When I work on a bigger size, I have to say that this step is very intimidating and sometimes I think about my lines a bit more in that case. Sometimes I do this last step and sometimes I don't, you don't need to do it. But sometimes I feel like my painting is complex enough that it doesn't need any more lines or anything else so I don't do this step. But most times I find that adding these little lines and marks, really add something to the painting. [MUSIC] [NOISE] One other thing that I like to do is grab a white charcoal pencil or even a watercolor pencil and white and add more white to some areas where I feel like it could be beneficial. I draw on top of areas and then I use my finger and I spread it. [NOISE] [MUSIC] You really don't have to do this, it's just another way of creating more texture. [MUSIC] [NOISE] Sometimes I can even use this technique to hide some areas. Let's say I didn't like this blue spot here. I could just put a bit of white on stuff. It doesn't make it disappear, but it's less intense. You don't notice it as much. I think we're done. [MUSIC] 10. Final Thoughts: You did it. You created your own textured abstract watercolor painting. In this class, we talked about the importance of color selection, of color swatching. We had fun with texture, and we created our own painting. You can do whatever you like with watercolor. Sometimes watercolor does its own thing, but if you learn to work with it, it becomes your partner in all of your creative explorations. Don't forget to post your process in this class project. I would love to see it. I encourage you to go check out your fellow classmates projects and to interact with them. I'm sure you'll learn a lot from their creative explorations. I hope you had some fun in this class. I sure did and I can't wait to see your projects. See you soon.