Making Digital Abstract Art

By Kate Riley October 22, 2012

I’ve mentioned before my love of abstract art.  There’s something about swirly masses of color on canvas applied in a random fashion that makes me swoon!  I’ve tried in the past to make my own authentic abstract artwork but after hours of time spent applying brush stokes to canvas, I’ve never been satisfied with the final result.   I can never get the brush strokes to look like they should or how I see them in my head, but I’ve promised myself someday I’ll take the time to get it right.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about a way to add some art to walls at the emergency shelter great room that is nearing completion and I came up with a way to make digital abstract art without ever picking up a paintbrush or canvas.

diy digital abstract art


Making digital abstract art can be done in Photoshop but I know many of you don’t have Photoshop so here’s how to make a comparable version of digital abstract art with a free online tool comparable to Photoshop called Pixlr that I’ve mentioned before.

diy abstract art cg


Start by opening a new document in the Advanced Pixlr Editor and choose a large resolution with a minimum 2500 wide x 3600 px height (so you can print at a quality resolution).   Being by selecting the “Brush” tool that looks like a paintbrush, then select the “MORE” tab to add additional paintbrushes.

click on brush tool

more brushes


You’ll open the Brush browser and you’ll see the Smudge, Charcoal, and Dirt brushes – click “Add” and these brushes will now be available under the Brush tool for your use.

open brush browser


Next, choose your brush from among the collection and enlarge the diameter.

choose brush

Choose your color by triggering the color Selector tool.

choose color selector tool


After you’ve chosen your color, start “painting” by dragging your brush on the blank canvas.  (Note, to get the color extra intense, you have to go over that painted section a few times.)

start painting


Use the same Color Selector tool to change color and add a second color on top.

choose second color


One way to erase is with Edit>Undo but it will only erase your last step or most recent brush stroke.



A better way to do it is to use Layers.  Each time you choose a new brush, add a new Layer.  That way if you want to go back 5 steps and erase the blue layer you can without undoing all the work after that.   As you layer, name them “Blue 1”, “Red 1” etc.

choose new layer instead

name layers in toolbar


In the future, checking or unchecking the box will remove that particular layer and not force you to “Undo” everything else.

A few more tips:

1.   To use a color you’ve used before, choose the Colorpicker tool to select any color from the colors you’ve already used (it looks like an eyedropper) and then next click on the color on your painting that you want to use again.

change colors with colorpicker tool


2.  Experiment with different brushes to change the edges of the brush strokes so they’re more like a real paintbrush.

brush 868 cool edge


3.  Rotate the canvas under the Image function to use the brushes at different angles for a more authentic look.

rotate canvas to use brushes at different angles

I used Brush #868 along the edges a lot to achieve this look.

change brushstroke edges


4.  It’s a good idea to save your artwork after you’ve done a few steps.  You can save it as a JPEG or PNG or BMP but also a layered Pixlr (PXD) document in case you want to work on it in the future and preserve all the multiple layers.  This is important because a couple of times the program shut down on me without warning – not sure why – just make sure you save every few steps and you won’t lose your artwork.

save image as you go


It took me about 90 minutes to create four separate bright colored abstract “paintings”

4 abstracts


And here they are framed on the wall.

diy abstract art cg


I printed each 11 x 14” for $3 at my local Costco, spray painted some inexpensive frames red and there you have it, original art for pennies!

abstract art close up


I chose red for the frames because that’s the accent color I’m using in the great room over at the emergency shelter, but you can imagine them in any color you love that goes with your chosen palette.

diy abstracts

diy framed abstract art


It’s not the same as original abstracts – there’s nothing quite like an original luminous work on a canvas with amazing texture and color, but it’s the next best thing.  You can create your own abstract art in any palette that appeals to you.  It’s an affordable substitute, especially in a series or displayed in a gallery wall!




  1. This looks like such a FUN project AND can be a way to try out new colors and color schemes in your home! Colors can be carried through the house this way too! You can add borders to these prints too! NICE!

  2. Thanks for the informative post, Kate. Yours is one of three blogs I like to check daily. There is always something to inspire, or motivate or teach me. Love it!

  3. These look so great! Reminds me of an art class I took in college where I discovered I liked making abstract art. I’ll have to give this a try.

  4. Hi Kate, I have done this project before but in a much larger scale for a studio prop. You should see the impact of your abstract work done in large scale and behind a frame. A bit more in cost but a huge wow factor, plus it is origional art! For even more of a cost, you could have it printed on canvas.

  5. Wonderful! I have Photoshop at work and can’t stay away from it. Will have to check out Pixlr for home.

    In September my 2 year old grandson visited and on his last day with me, I took out all my craft paints, brushes, sponge shapes, etc. and six 5″ x 7″ artist canvases….I now have a great grouping of abstract original paintings to hang and to finish the deal I found six black frames at the Dollar Store! I think it’s easier for young children to do fabulous abstracts….unlike this adult who gets too involved in balance, colors, etc.

  6. This is awesome and it looks like it would be fun to do. I’ve heard of Pixlr, and may need to check it out. This may be slightly off topic, but if Pixlr is free and seems to have so many advanced features, why wouldn’t most people use it instead of PhotoShop?

  7. I am not a fan of abstract art per se, but I am a fan of this! I love this idea to pieces! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Awesome job! And thanks for the tutorial on how to make my own digital abstract art. Now I have a project to do. :) Thanks again for sharing!

  9. Thank you for sharing this! I have wanted to create my own art for many years and your tutorial was easy to understand and to follow. I have created a work of art for my craft room and since I am heading to Costco tomorrow anyway then I will have it printed and ready to go! All in less than an hour! All while not feeling very well and very tired too! Thanks again!

  10. If you put a layer of ModPodge or some other product over the print would that give it a more “painted” look?

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