I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I recently took an abstract painting course, and I want to share more about it here in case it’s something you’d be interested in, because it was quite pivotal for me in some ways, and because I know how much you love a bit of behind the scenes action. 😉

charcoal mark making

we started with small charcoal studies, making different kinds of marks

The course is called ‘Introduction to Abstract Painting’ and is taught by US artist Karine Swenson, who is absolutely lovely and a great teacher. The course is offered by Carla Sonheim, and is beautifully put together as a collaboration between Karine, Carla, and Carla’s husband Steve, who filmed it.

The course itself is two weeks long, or I should say was. It’s still open for registering although the live part of the course is now over, and I believe it stays open for a year. It’s a shorter length than many of the courses I’ve taken, but I actually loved the shorter format.

gouache abstract studies

progressing to colour with gouache colour studies

I’d been wanting to better understand abstract painting for a long time, having tried it many times and always feeling that I’d missed something important in my comprehension of how it works.

So often you hear people say ‘My three year old could’ve done that’, with regards to an abstract painting, but in my experience with making abstract art that is very rarely the case!

more colour studies

more colour studies

It always seemed like the paintings I was making on my own either weren’t ‘saying’ anything, and thus felt hollow and uncomfortable to me, or I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to say without some kind of recognisable image.

And ultimately, I do love figurative art the most and probably always will, but recently my work has been developing an ‘abstractified’ edge, if you like, and I wanted to explore that further.

colour studies that didn't work out

these didn’t work out quite so well!

It turned out that taking this course would do that for me in ways I could never have imagined. The lessons themselves were simple but fun and intriguing, and built on each other so both left and right brain were catered for!

I followed each one to the letter, and found myself feeling a bit stuck in a rut of repetitive, and what felt very unexciting to me, marks. {To be clear, this was my issue, nothing to do with the lessons, which were excellent.}

And then all of a sudden this happened:


And then I couldn’t stop making these paintings, which is unprecedented for me, as someone who gets bored doing anything more than once. I must have about fifty of them at this point, and there is plenty more exploring to do.

making a larger painting from a study

making a larger painting from a study.

I realised {if that’s the right word} that I was painting energy flows, and that was incredibly exciting to me, as someone who ‘works with’ the unseen every day but doesn’t see it in the way some people can.

I don’t see auras or patterns of light in people’s bodies; my ‘sight’ is more clairsentience {feeling}, so it was really fascinating to see myself painting what I previously only knew as feelings.

going outside our comfort zones

going outside our comfort zones with canvas sizes and colours we don’t usually use. i hated this at first and am going to develop it further, but it’s growing on me a little.

It’s very hard to explain actually, as I wasn’t LITERALLY transcribing something from the invisible into paint. It was kind of like stepping into a place where the flow came through and I made it visual.

Anyway. This felt, and feels, like a turning point for my art {and for me}, of which I am only scratching the surface with these little studies. You can see here where I’m starting to play with it on a larger scale on canvas and with more depth.

exploring the energy flow idea

exploring the energy flow idea. this is unfinished but so far i totally love it. i think it’s 50 x 50cm.

There is so much here it will easily take me a lifetime to discover it all, and that also feels exciting. All this from a two week course I took with an idea that I might learn to understand abstract painting a little better!

I highly recommend this course; I’m not sure if or when it’ll run again live, but even working through the lessons on your own would be fun and interesting, and you can always share your results with me! Besides, the Facebook group for the course is still going strong, and is a very friendly and supportive place.


Abstract art is in some ways far harder than representational art; it is quite literally creating something where before there was nothing.

But being able to express your feelings {or energy flows!} in paint without using recognisable imagery, and with a sense of balance and variation, is a wonderful gift, and Karine definitely took me much closer to feeling confident about doing that.