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Painting without a reference picture : Blue abstraction

Painting without a reference picture on ARTiful, painting demos by Sandrine Pelissier
Inspiration / Mixed media / Painting / Painting Flowers from Imagination / Painting technique / Step by step demonstrations

Painting without a reference picture : Blue abstraction

It is nice to start painting from a reference picture but you might also enjoy the freedom of working on a painting just from memory or imagination. Here is a technique that will allow you to paint without a reference picture.

You might also like: Online art class: Painting Flowers from imagination in mixed media

To paint without a reference picture, you will need:

  • Canvas, I used 24 x 24 stretched canvas
  • Gel medium, I used Golden OPEN Acrylic Medium – Gloss
  • Fluid Acrylics, I used Liquitex Ink in yellow and blue
  • White acrylic paint, I used Pebeo in titanium white
  • Payne’s grey Acrylic paint, I used Pebeo
  • A Conte Pierre noire pencil
  • Blue Sakura Micron marker
  • White Oil Sharpie marker
  • Watercolor paint, I used Yarka watercolors.
start by painting an abstract background

I am working on a series of 3 paintings that are started as abstract patterns done with acrylic and gel medium.  The canvas have been painted over with gel medium, then fluid acrylic is dropped on the medium and sprayed with water. The canvas are then left to dry. This is the first painting in this series of three.

When painting without a reference picture, it is easier to start with an abstract background than with a blank canvas. You can look for shapes in the abstract visual texture of the background.

I am a Blick Art Materials affiliate and I receive a small compensation for sales. That does not effect in any way the cost of the purchaser’s order but it helps me keeping the content of this blog free.


Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic Water-Resistant Artists Ink

FW Artists Ink is an acrylic-based, pigmented, water-resistant ink in a range of 38 colors, all of which have either a three-star or four-star rating for permanence. FW Artists Inks work well with airbrushes, dip pens, technical pens and brushes. – Primary Colors Set

outline shapes before starting the negative painting

Looking at the abstract background, try to see shapes, here I am looking for flowers or leaves shapes but you could choose another theme like an underwater scene or a landscape. Once you start to see some interesting shapes, you can outline them so it will be easier to paint around later.

paint the negative space with white acrylic

For the next step, you want to paint everything on the canvas except those shapes you just outlined, This is called painting the negative space. Here I am using the white Acrylic to paint the negative space.

paint around shapes in negative painting technique

Use smaller paintbrushes to go around complex shapes.

Once the negative space has been painted you can start adding designs and patterns with markers.

whimsical flowers from imagination

Look at the positive shapes on your painting and start adding more details, here with a Sakura micron marker in blue.

adding patterns with marker on canvas

You can also add details inside the positive shapes.

adding patterns on canvas with sharpie oil marker

Sharpie Oil markers in white will work well on a dark background.

paint with watercolor on canvas on top of markers

You can also paint with watercolors on top of the markers. Once dried they are water resistant.

draw a flower with markers on canvas

You can also draw designs like flowers with markers on the white background.

paint with watercolor on canvas

And paint over these designs with watercolor.

add patterns with sharpie on canvas

To make an area darker, like here, you can paint over it with acrylic paint. Here I used Pebeo Payne’s grey, then added designs once the acrylic had dried with the Sharpie marker.

dots with markers on canvas

You can add stripes, dots, and more complex designs.

I am a Blick Art Materials affiliate and I receive a small compensation for sales. That does not effect in any way the cost of the purchaser’s order but it helps me keeping the content of this blog free.

Sakura Pigma Micron Pen

Pigma Micron pens are acid-free and archival, making them ideal for any application requiring precision and permanance. Pigma ink is derived from a single pigment to ensure color consistency, and is fadeproof against sunlight or UV light. – Set of 6, Black

cleaning up the sides of the painting

To finish the painting, paint the sides in white and apply some varnish.

watercolor an mixed media flower painting with no reference picture

Blue abstraction
Medium: mixed media on canvas
Size: 24 x 24 inches

mixed media flower painting from imagination

Do you usually paint with or without a reference picture? Which one is your favorite? 

5/5 - (5 votes)

Comments (6)

  1. Donna Plumer

    I wish I could come to a workshop. Are you in Canada? I am in Memphis, Tn

    1. Thanks Donna 🙂
      Yes I am in Canada, North Vancouver to be exact.
      I have an online class on the blog with videos though for this technique, it is priced at $39:

  2. leanne

    Thank you Sandrine!
    I am learning so much from you and you’re website. I love the photo shot you show as show what you are really doing!
    I love you art work.

    1. Thank you Leanne 🙂 I really appreciate your comment and I am glad you are enjoying the blog!

  3. Very sweet painting, Sandrine. I like the colours and sketchy linework.

    1. Thanks Berene, I am glad you liked that painting 🙂

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