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Buying abstract art guide - my top 5 tips for choosing great abstract art

Building an art collection is a fantastic opportunity for self expression in your home.  But how do you know you are buying something of quality, which will continue to give you years of enjoyment and emotional connection? 


With a little bit of research and my top 5 tips below, you’ll learn how to spot well constructed, quality abstract art in no time. 


Understanding abstraction


The definition of abstraction is ‘distancing an idea from its literal representation’.  An artist will often start with a form; a person, place, or object, then create an abstracted 2D version of that. An artist might create an abstract landscape painting not to look like the physical place, but instead use elements in the design, colour palette, tonal range and texture to suggest how it felt to be there. For example, expressive brush marks could suggest the movement of rushing air on a windy day.  


Like all good creative endeavours, abstract art is the art of emotions and feelings, with the added bonus of abstract art is that the longer you look, the more you see. It is commonly noted that you can see different things in the same painting over time depending on how you might be feeling, or how the light tracks across it.  Many who have stood in front of the colour plane paintings Mark Rothko is famed for have commented on the emotional impact they’ve experienced while viewing them. 


So, how to recognise when abstraction is done well?   


Artists making non-representational art place much emphasis on composition, value, colour, texture and a little bit of magic.


Look for the five elements below, when next scrolling through Pinterest or Insta and see what catches your eye.  It won’t be long before you know what speaks to you, and why.


  • Composition - Are the elements in the painting spaced in a pleasing way, so as to move your eye around the canvas?  Are there differences in the sizes of the shapes and their placement?  Is there enough of interest going on all over the canvas to keep your focus?  Allow yourself a few minutes (or longer) with each painting and note what catches your eye, are you feeling pulled back into the painting for a longer look?  Artists in the know will use all the tricks up their paint-hardened  sleeves to keep you looking around for more. These are the artists to watch.


  • Value - Sometimes called tonal range, the values in a painting are the light vs dark elements in the work.  Savvy artists use value differences to keep us engaged in their art.  Our eyes are naturally drawn to light, and especially to areas of light next to dark.  Next time you’re looking at a painting, squint your eyes to remove the small details, you will see the areas of lightest light and darkest dark.  These are the bits the clever artist is particularly wanting you to see. Interesting, yes?


  • Colour - Look for the colour palettes that are appealing to you.  Are you wanting a vibrant statement piece for the dining room, something beach themed for the bathroom or perhaps a plum-hued piece for the boudoir? Importantly, how do you want to feel in the room?  Colour has the ability to grab your attention and influence your mood, to soothe or excite. 


Look for the harmonious use of colour - your artist knows what she’s doing if you can see some muted tones, moody greys or murky greens alongside those bold and vibrant hues.  We need these subtle underdogs to calm things down and give the eye a place to rest.  If it looks like someone has vomited half a rainbow over a canvas, you may want to keep searching.


  • Texture - Once you begin looking at art from a more informed place, you will begin to form a preference for the surface of the work.  Texture plays an important role in artwork.  While the most interesting paintings will offer a variety of textures, you may find yourself with a preference for a predominately smooth, flat surface or painterly, impasto (thick) paint like a well iced cupcake.


Abstract artists often use layers of paint to build up to the final piece.  It’s the layers and under-layers that create depth and interest, inviting you in to take a closer look.  Notice how experienced painters use thin washy paint next to thickly textured paint to create interesting areas on the canvas.  These differences are the key, however if you have a strong personal preference, feel free to go with that too.  


  • X factor - The four points above are the most important things to look for, but here’s one more consideration to really raise the stakes.  It’s the fairy dust, the sprinkles on top, the magic ingredient that the artist injects into their work that draws you in.  The X factor is the special something that makes you come alive every time you walk into the room or sneak a glance of it out of the corner of your eye.  This is the sparkle juice that lights you up every time you see it.  


If a painting lights you up and you can’t stop thinking about it after you’ve left a gallery or a website, then that’s the sign you’ve been looking for - it’s the one for you.  Turn around now and go back for it, it’s already got beneath your skin and trust me, it’s most unfortunate when ‘the one’ gets away!


One last piece of advice


When looking at a work of art, remember to step as far back as possible to get a big sky view of the design elements mentioned above.  Then move in close to see all the fine  marks and details.  Yes, every mark, scratch and drip has been made and left there for a reason.  If you’re viewing online, make the image into a small thumbnail to really see the design and values more clearly.  Often an artist will post a zoomed in image of part of the painting so you can clearly see the surface texture and brushstrokes up close. 


If your walls are magnolia throughout and you’ve chosen rugs and curtains in neutral tones for the long game, then hanging fabulous, eye popping artwork is the perfect way to express your personality.  Now you’ve got an idea of what to look for, click here to read about my What, where and how guide to invest in affordable art.


Click here to follow my art boards on Pinterest to see some of my favourite art and artists or join me over on Instagram to get frequent updates and studio news.


About Nicole

Nicole Fearfield is a well travelled artist with a love for the sea and abstract painting in equal measure. You can see Nicole’s art at 


copyright Nicole Fearfield


Travel Goals by Nicole Fearfield

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