Most of the lessons on our site are about representational painting and how to make your art look like a realistic scene or object. That isn’t the only thing watercolours are for!

You can also make whimsical illustrations or even abstract paintings. This 30-minute art class with Susanne Rose shows us how to make a journal page with abstract designs in watercolour. It’s a great project if you want to have a calm painting day.

For this painting, I will be following Susanne’s demo in principle while making my painting. She emphasises the importance of doing whatever you want with the page, allowing mistakes to be part of it, and not planning too much ahead, so I decided to make my composition instead of following hers verbatim. You can do your distinct painting too!

Step 1: Random Shapes

Decide what colours might look good together, then make a few random swirly shapes for the first layer of the image. The picture doesn’t need to look like much of anything right now - you’re just having fun with colours.

Step 2: Adding More Paint

You don’t want to go overboard here because if the paint gets too muddy or covers up all the white on the paper, you will difficulty making the composition pleasing later. Still, be spontaneous with this step and enjoy it.

Step 3: Shapes and Texture

You can add dots of colour here and there once the previous layer dries, and you can also add shapes using the negative painting technique. I used dark purple and painted the outline of a plant, then painted a circle around it. Susanne uses this technique in her painting too.

With the negative painting technique, you can create shapes while letting previous layers of paint shine through and continue adding to the colour scheme!

Step 4: Rounding Out the Composition

Use your intuition to decide what needs to go where to make a balanced composition. I find that having roughly the same amount of the most intense colour on both sides is a good idea, but don’t make it too symmetrical - it won’t be as visually interesting. Susanne likes to add little raindrops and other random shapes, so I added some too.

Step 5: White Gouache

Before doing the mixed media aspects of this project, make sure the watercolour has dried. Then, you can get out your white gouache (or acrylic, like what Susanne uses) and make any shape or design you like! Susanne makes little dots here and there, so I decided to do the same. You could also make some little leaves, or perhaps some stripes, checkers, lacy shapes, or flowers.

Step 6: Collage or Decorative Tape

This step is the most exciting because you can change the look of your picture the most quickly and add some unique textures. If you have some magazines lying around with pictures that you like, cut some out and experiment with putting them in different places.

Susanne likes to use printed rice paper for this, and I thought the closest thing I had was washi tape, so I used that to make some patterned stripes on opposite corners of the picture.

When adding collage elements, try to choose pictures and paper scraps that match your established colour palette. This is an abstract and spontaneous painting, but it will still look the best if you follow basic colour harmonies and only let one or two colours be dominant in the scene.

The nice thing about watercolour journaling is that you can do different pictures and see your progress over time! You can do an abstract piece every day, or you can vary between abstract and representational, depending on what you have time for!

Something fun to try might be to have a set colour palette for the journal, and then paint in many styles while keeping the colour palette the same. It would be a good way to figure out what your favourite colours are!

Another great technique to try with your abstract painting is sprinkling table salt on wet watercolour to create bloom patterns. Susanne will incorporate this technique in her 90-minute class, so go check it out!

If you enjoyed this lesson, subscribe to our email newsletter to hear all about more great demos and classes! Have a great time journalling!\

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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