How to paint an abstract landscape | Clair Bremner | Skillshare

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How to paint an abstract landscape

teacher avatar Clair Bremner, Professional Artist

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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

4 Lessons (37m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Laying down colour

    • 3. Setting the composition

    • 4. Adding in Detail

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About This Class

In this class I will take you through the steps to create an abstract landscape artwork in acrylic using a reference photo as inspiration. I will discuss colour mixing, planning your artwork and show the entire painting process from start to finish. 

We will be painting in a loose, expressive style using a limited palette of colours. This class is suitable for artist with some knowledge of acrylic paint or painting in general but it will also be good information for beginner artists. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Clair Bremner

Professional Artist


Hello, I'm Clair.

I am full time artist based in Melbourne, Australia. I specialize in abstract expressionist landscape paintings. I have been teaching in person workshops to art students for a few years and I am excited to be able to bring some of these techniques and lessons into the online world. 

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1. Intro: welcome to my first skill share tutorial. If you're following me Rbk from Instagram all my newsletter, then you probably already know me, but for those that have stumbled across my video, we by accident. My name is Claire Bremner, and I'm a professional artist. Based in Melbourne, Australia. I paint mostly abstract landscapes in acrylic but also sometimes paint other nature inspired artworks. I have been teaching in person workshops for about two years, but I'm not very experienced it filming myself. So I'm going to start this video with an apology. I originally recorded audio while I was filming this tutorial. However, when I played the video back, I realized that there was a lot of distracting noise going on in the background, which made it difficult to hear what I was saying. So I decided that instead of recording the whole video over again, I would just add new audio on top. This made it easier. He me. However, at the downside is that the audio now doesn't really match up with the video. Hopefully, this is not too distracting for you and that you're still able to follow along with me. All the same information is in the video as it was originally. It's just doesn't quite match up. So I also thought I talk a little bit to begin leave about how to actually paint from a reference photo in an abstract way. Sometimes it's difficult to come up with composition ideas on your own, so working from a reference can help. However, when you're painting in more of an abstract manner, it can be tricky to know what to include and what to leave out. Photos contain a lot of detail, which is something that you want to avoid when trying to simplify landscape into a more abstract representation. A few things that you can do to help before you even begin painting is to first convert the reference image into a black and white. This helps to break the image down into values of light and dark. You can use areas off Lot and Doc to map out your composition and to make sure that your painting has a balance of values in it. Another thing you can do is run the reference photo through a photo editing app to help simplify the image and cut back in detail. The act that I like to use to edit is called Picasso, and I'll put that information down into the notes, but you can use any sort of editing app that you have. Sorry, if you can say this is the fodder, as it stands that I'm using as a reference eso. It's just a photo that I took myself well in a recent camping trip, and this is how it looks. Once I've run it through the photo editing software, all I've done is taken out all the data, simplified it black and white. And so, by using this reference, I can. Then there make a bit easier. Sorry, the first part of our preparation after we've chosen a image that we're gonna uses. A reference is to think about a Cal Appellate planning out the colors that you going to use before you start. Painting can be really helpful if you're not familiar with color mixing on the guard. Once you start getting more practice and you're more familiar with how you can mix colors, you don't really need to plan as much. I don't tend to plan every single artwork that are create, but for the second learning it is going to make it a lot easier even, you know, ahead of time. What colors you're gonna use it give you a chance to test around the colors and make sure they work well together. You can also experiment with a few different combinations to say what you like because we're working in a more loose abstract style. You don't have to stick to realistic color choices. You can use the reference image to choose colors, or you could make up a completely different Skane. As long as you have a good variety of lots and darks, you can go out and use whatever you want. I started to keep it simple and put together a palette of colors and spot by the reference image. Try and stick to a limited palette of 45 main colors and use those colors mixed together to make a greater variety of shades. Spending time. Working this out now means that once you begin painting, you can let yourself work more intuitively and spontaneously because you know the colors you have chosen will work till well together already. So you can see here that I'm putting down a few colors into a scrap piece of paper start with a dark color called Midnight Blue, and then I would want to create a lot of version. These two colors will make good shade colors for the darker areas of my composition, which is really important. The white that I'm using is titanium. What? And I used these to mix up a lot of different colors I use. This is the main watch that I use. I find that it's a good, opaque white, and it would create really nice shades the next. Next don't want toe pick out some of the grains that I'm gonna use in my composition based on the photo. So I stopped by using acolyte. And then I also bring in some other cadmium yellows to make the fresh air green colors. So this process of planning your palate can be a bit trial and error. Sometimes colors look really nice next to each other on a white paper. However, once you begin layering them on top of each other, the colors Martin. It works so much, so just keep that in mind. You know the first time that you try and work out the colors that you want to use you might find that they don't work as well as you had planned, and that's OK. I have provided a list of all the colors that I use in this tutorial in the notes. So if you want to use exactly the same colors, is what I'm using, you can. But at the end of the day, the color choices that you make really aren't that important. What's important is that you have a good variety off colors in regards to lightness and darkness. You want tohave colors that are very dark and colors that are very light, and by sticking with a limited palate. It also means that there's less decisions for you to make while you're painting. If you have the colors set out in front of you ready to go, then you can just pick and choose colors, and you know that they're already gonna work based on what you've already used. And that just makes the whole process much, much easier now, in the context of this particular power, it choosing some grains based on what's in the photo. I also choose a few warmer colors. I'm mixing up a bit of an orange green color now because there's some areas in the photo with the sunshine is heating the trees and it creates quite a warm color. So I'm just using on the Australian orange to do that. And I also decide to you bring in some pinks and purples as well to represent the sort of shade colors because in the reference image down the bottom of the image there is some rocks and some trees and shrubs and things that have lots of shade on them, lots of sort of their in shade, so there sort of more cooler colors. So I like to bring some of those in a swell. So, really, these are the main colors that I use for this painting. There's, I think, maybe four colors plus the white, and I just makes these colors together into various combinations to create the finished painting, so you don't need to have hate to take the colors do this, but by spending sometimes sitting these out to begin leave, it is going to make your job a little bit easier once you start painting. Because, as I mentioned earlier about the decisions as to which colors to reach for have already been made, and you then just have to pay attention to value. So the darker colors go in the dark areas of your painting, the lighter colors going, the lighter areas of your painting, and it's pretty easy to follow now. I think that in the original video, I did decide to change up that color that I had made and make a little bit blew out, which is why I'm painting over it. I think that it was just a little bit to lie me for what I was looking for. Sorry again. That's how I just exactly what I mentioned earlier in that you may find that the initial colors that you mix up, I'm gonna work as well as you think. So you sort of play around. But by doing this now, you don't have to worry about doing it later. So once all this hard work is done, it's out of the way. And generally speaking, it's probably a good idea to do this with most of your paints anyway, just to explore what those colors can actually do and what you can achieve because you don't necessarily have to purchase every color under the sun when you're painting 2. Laying down colour: I would recommend that you watch through this tutorial in full before you begin painting along just to help you get the feel for the process. As I do work quite quickly and by watching the tutorial through from start to finish, you can then have been of understanding of what's going to happen next on. Then you can paint along again with me next time you watch it, so the first part of the process is just to cover the canvas in paint. You want to get rid of all the white, and I like to alternate the color from doctor lives to create variety, so use a large brush. Keep your brush drugs loose and random and just cover over the campus. Acrylic paint works best with a little bit of water to make the consistent that sea of the paint a bit easier to work with. So you you want this layer to be solid, not transparent, though it's so don't adding too much water. It's a bit of a balance that you have to find them. Uh oh, you don't want any of the campus to show through three. Sorry if the paint that you're using is too thin, you might need to apply to carts. I like to leave obvious brushstrokes and don't worry about blending the colors together. We're creating an abstract expressions expressionist at work, not realism. So the more movement and texture that you can get in your brush strokes, the better. So as you can see, I'm just alternating colors that I dip into and work my way. Ran the canvas until it's covered. Ah, you can Carvey carry this color around the edges if you like, but I tend to just keep it on the front, so this initial layer has to draw completely before we can move on. So let's let it dry, and then we'll come back once it's ready to go. So now that we have a good solid base layer toe work on, we're going to start building up layers of color that will make up the trees and foliage in these abstract landscape. This is where your own creativity and intuition comes into play. Using the photo as a guard, we're going to add areas of color to build up interest, a great way to loosen up and avoid getting bogged down in detail and perfection is to apply the paint with tools other than a brush. For example, I really like using the's silicone tools by Catalyst. They're a top of a palette, knife or spatula. I guess you could call it that fits nicely into your hand. And because it's soft and rubbery, you can spread the paint well without scratching your surface. Pieces of cardboard and old credit cards work nicely as well, and there's a couple other different, you know, specials and things that you can use from different places. But I do prefer these springy silicone ones because I find that a lot more comfortable in your hand, and they tend to spread the paint around a lot nicer than some of the other specialist that orbit rigid. So, referring to our reference image, we're going to ply dark and light values roughly in the areas that we need to having a black and white image to refer to. Makes this easier, because you can see other glance where the different values seat in the composition so you can do this in a couple of ways. You can either squeeze the paint directly onto the canvas and start spreading it around. In this particular case, I end up using a brush, and I just brush on a bit of paint onto the canvas to start with. And then I spread it around using the spatula. Just use your intuition. Don't worry too much about perfect placement. We just want to begin breaking up the area by adding in some areas of color and pattern. Alternate the marks that you're making us Well, sorry. Putting some big areas, some small areas. If you pushing some lightness at in some darkness, we're just gonna just gonna build it up so you can sort of put this to music for a minute so you can just sort of watch what I'm doing, because it's kind of self explanatory. I don't think I really need to come and take too much what I'm doing here. It's basically just adding some paint, spreading it around, adding, sometimes bringing it around. Once you start reaching the stage where there's a few different marks that you've made with brushes, you can bring in some different sort of mixed media tools if you like. For example, I've got little paint up in here that I like to use that makes a really nice sort of spotted pattern. Ah, you can use you know anything that you like to create texture on your artwork. Now the texture that I'm creating is a visual texture. It's not necessarily a tactile, so you can see it's not changing the texture of the surface but is creating visual interest . I find that with abstract artworks or abstract expressionist art works, you need to have a really good variety of shapes in your paintings. So you want to have large marks and small marks. Um, your areas of tiny data will, even if it is just simple patterns of dots and stripes and spots creates a lot of interest , especially if there's other areas next to them that are just plain broad sweeps of color. Sorry. By adding in these little details, you can create some interest to your background. There's also other paint pins that you can make all you can use. I should say that this is a liquid tech spin. Sorry, it gets a slightly different markets more of a line than a doctor, so you can use these to add in different areas of interest. So you just want to continue to add colors and marks until you're happy. And once again we need to draw the outward completely before moving on. So I'm just going to continue to place the music while I'm finishing off this little section and you'll see how the textures and layers kind of developed a little bit before we finish, And then once it's dry, we'll move on to the next beat. 3. Setting the composition: - Now that the public is dry, we're going to begin blocking in the sky area to develop the composition, mix up a pale blue color or whatever power color that you like to represent the sky. Generally, you want it to be a bit of a a contrast in value. So everything else that I've done so far is a fairly mid toned court sort of color. So in order for the contrast to be there and for the sky to stand out, I'm choosing quite a power blue to block in the sky. Um, you wanted What we're doing is using the reference as a guide. We're gonna block in some negative space to represent the sky. You want to keep this loose And don't worry too much about the exact placement. If you find that the first cover you adding it's too dark, you can lighten it up. So I'm just looking at the reference photo roughly as I'm doing this, I know that there's a patch of life that's in the middle, so I'm trying to retain that light. There's some tree trunks and things that I'm adding in, and I'm gonna bring the lightness around to the side as well. This is just a rough representation. I'm not painting around individual leaves or anything like that. I'm just just trying to get the shape of the composition. Sit out. - That could have reference. Freddie. You could see how putting the sky in has definitely helped us. To visualize that composition a little bit more, I can see where the trees are Now. I can see where the sky use Aiken, determine the full grand from the background so I can start putting in some more details to help solidify that. So in the actually original reference for artery, there are some rocks and shadows and things down the bottom in the foreground. So I'm going to add some power purple and pink into represent these rocks and eggs and pops of color as well, because at the moment the composition is mostly sort of monitoring. It's very green and very blue, and so I want to add in some pops of different color. Now I'm keeping these shapes very abstract and loose. Ah, making sure I'm altering the size of the brush that I'm using as well, so on, and the size of the shapes that I'm using. I don't want everything to be the same size. I want some small marks and some big marks. And I'm letting my sort of intuition tell me where to put these things as well. I'm not looking that closely at the reference photo and, you know, meticulously making sure these rocks are in the right place. It's really more about the general feeling of having some rocks and stones down in the full ground. Sir, I'm also gonna pick mix up a bit of a warmer pink again to add a little bit of visual contrast to make the color sort of pop out a little bit on. But just to add a bit of variety to the colors because at the moment everything is quiet monotone, as I mentioned earlier, you know, sometimes you will find that you will need to add into the palate that you've chosen just to create a bit more interest. So that's a love done here. So I don't go too crazy with these pink color because it will be overbearing in amongst all the blue. But I am just gonna add in a few touches of it here and there now It's also important to remember two very up brush size that you use while you're painting. Sometimes it can get really easy to get stuck using the same brush for everything. And if you do that, you might find that at the end you're painting doesn't really have as much irrigation in marks as it should have. So I've just made a slightly smaller change, your slightly smaller brush and I'm also mixing up a woman yellowy green color. Now in the reference image. There are some areas where the light is hitting and the sunshine is hitting on to some of the following, and it's creating these patches of really warm, beautiful golden grain. So I'm just you loosely using the reference Teoh plotting some of these a lot of green woman green colors in the composition. Again, it's it's very loose. It's not an exact representation there, just touches of color here and there to break up what's happening. And in the actual, um, as you can say, Yeah, I sort of come in here and I do add in a little bit more detail with some of these paint pins. Now there's a really visitor, like in here. I'm just adding in these stone shapes that represents, you know, the rocks and pebbles that happening in the background in the full grand. I should say I'm ending in some detail. You don't have to do everything with paint. You know, these sort of pencils and not pencils, these markers and Texas and things that create just a different mark in your paintings and sorry, it creates a little bit of variation, a little bit of variety, some visual interest. You can go a little bit crazy with it so, you know, use them sparingly. But they do make interesting marks now. The next thing that I decide to doing is I really like the strong vertical shapes that the tree trunk in the reference image creates in the landscape. So I pick up some of the purple, the pale purple, and I actually decide to add these trunks scene. The great thing about working in a more abstract way is that even if you are using a photo as a reference, you get to pick and choose elements that you put into your artwork. I could have quite easily left this tree trunk out and not added in, and this at work still would have been a lovely painting. But for me personally, I decided that I wanted to put it in there to add something into the full ground. You know, it sort of brings the whole front of the painting forwards and breaks up the full grand from the background a little bit. And I also really like the shapes of these trunks in these trees. So I think they create a really interesting visual element. So I put it in there. But using that, using reference photos, you can sort of pick and choose what you want. Adam. What? You don't want to add its its artistic license. You can keep things out if you don't want to mean, but you can sort of see straight away. But just by adding in those tree trunks, it's a lot more of an interesting composition now, another tool that you can use to create some interest in some texture in your artworks. He's a special Ah, now this. This is just a cheap plastic spatula, and you can use it to scrape back wet paint. That's what I'm doing here. These people patches are still quite wet, and I wanted to add a little bit more interest to these areas. Sorry. By scraping the paint, you end up getting the colors behind. Coming through it can create different textures, like grass, You know, growing on the top of the rocks. Some shapes you can. You can be quite specific with it, but it makes an interesting sort of texture anyway. And you can also use these specialists specialists. Do you actually use on dumb spread out splotches of color? You know, here I'm just using turquoise straight out of the tube, which adds a real pop of vibrant, saturated color and adds a little bit more interest. And you can use these pops of color to draw attention to areas that you want more attention , and you can scrape back into these as well because they're quite wet. So I just add, you know, again sparingly, little bits a pieces here, and there are then come in with a bit of the orange straight out, the cheaper as well to bring a little bit more warmth into the painting by adding a few pops of the warmer colors. True, and this is how you begin to build up your liars and your texture in your paintings 4. Adding in Detail: - I'm pretty happy with how this painting is coming along. I'm just going to spend the last few minutes just refining some areas building up a bit of contrast. And I also sort of decided to add in, um, the mountain ranges in the background of the reference photo. I feel like that was a really important part of this particular photo. The area this photo was taken in is quite mountainous. It's alpine sort of area on. So I sort of wanted to put that little that little mountain in the background backing again . So again, these are decisions that you can make while you're painting. Sometimes you can put things in, you can take him away. That's just a part of the process. So I decided to add this back in again. So I'm just mixing up a sort of grayish pile color, and I'm gonna block in the background mountain areas just dumb, quite loosely again. I don't need to go into much detail with what I'm doing. And if I find that I need to then go over other areas to blend in a little bit, I can Sorry, but just adding in this element, sort of brings back the mountainous feel of this particular landscape. So again, that's a good thing about, you know, working in more of an abstract way is that you can change your mind. You know, you don't have to keep it the way these, um I could have decided to leave it out. I could have added more trees in the background. I could have done lots of different things. And the more artworks that you create, the more in tune you will get with this decision making. And now that I've added in that gravy, I also decided to come in with a, um a lighter sky color as well, just to again bring out the contrast, because there's always a constant balance between adding in contrast and taking away. So if you view adding something dark, you can't need to add something light and vice versa. So are then coming with, ah, lot of color for the sky. And from there on in, it's just a matter of adding in some finishing touches. So I'm gonna, you know, go back to the music and you guys come watch me, adding a few more of these finishing touches and then we will finish things up. Okay, so I'm pretty happy with how this is now. I think that it's ah really good representation off the reference image. It's not exactly the same, but that was never my intention. You still have the same feeling, but the trees you put the scar, you've got the rocks in the background. The general values and composition are very similar and very obviously inspired by this picture. And the looseness is still there as well. So I've still kept a bit of individuality into the painting. And, yeah, I'm really happy with how it turned out. And, you know, as far as the color choices that I made in the end, the color palette are stuck pretty closely to it. I think I ended up adding in a few more yellowy greens than what I had originally planned. But besides that, most of the colors are pretty much the same as what I have planned on using. So yeah, and that's about it. I hope you guys enjoyed this process and enjoyed watching this. If you have any questions or things that you want me to clarify, then just leave a comment and I'll do my best to sort of help you out. And Ah yeah, I hope you enjoyed it. And you can You can follow me over on Instagram. My instagram tag is just clear, Bremner and you confined my artwork on my website. Claire Bremner art dot com Um and I hope to come back very, very soon and post some more of these tutorials. So if you enjoyed it, any of you would like me to post some more than please leave a comment and let me know. And thank you so much. Happy painting.