Easy DIY Abstract Canvas Art

Create your own Rothko-esque artwork at home with this simple nine-step project that uses a screen to print bands of color across canvas.

Abstract art is hard to get right. There's a fine line between subtly chic and sloppy. Our canvas art project helps you get it right. We'll show you how to create an abstract art piece (on a budget) that doesn't look like it belongs in a kindergarten classroom. 

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What You Need

  • Gray latex paint
  • 24×36-inch art canvas
  • Paper towels or cotton cloth
  • 16×20-inch screen for screen printing
  • Painters tape
  • Plastic spoons
  • Screen drawing fluid
  • Squeegee
  • Plastic cups
  • Screen filler
  • Old toothbrush
  • Cardboard
  • Polar fleece
  • Permanent acrylic screen printing ink (we used coral, gold, dark blue, and gray)

Step 1: Apply Base Paint

Brush gray latex paint onto canvas, mixing with water as necessary to create a watercolor look. Wipe the canvas with paper towels or a cotton cloth for a mottled effect. Let dry.

Step 2: Apply Drawing Fluid

Tape off front and back edges of screen. Drop spoonfuls of drawing fluid across the back side of the screen. (This fluid defines the areas you'll later fill in with ink.) Pull the squeegee down the screen and in a side-to-side motion, applying pressure, to spread the fluid. Vary the pressure and angles as you work; the drawing fluid should not completely cover the screen but should create a varied effect—this is what will give your art an abstract quality. Prop screen on plastic cups with the flat side down. Let screen dry for two hours.

Step 3: Fill the Back

On the back side of the screen, apply screen filler and spread with squeegee. Let dry overnight.

Step 4: Rinse and Retape

Rinse screen with cool water to wash away blue drawing fluid. If needed, use an old toothbrush to remove stubborn blue areas. Remove wet tape. Let dry. Reapply tape to edges. Place cardboard in the back of the canvas frame. Place fleece on top. Turn canvas over so canvas is faceup. Tape screen edges.

Step 5: Drop First Color

You'll use the screen to create a different-size band of each color. For the first hue, place the screen across the middle of canvas, aligned to one edge. Drop the first color of screen printing ink across top and middle of the screen.

Step 6: Squeegee Screen

Have a partner hold the screen firmly. Pull squeegee across the screen. Lift screen straight up. 

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Step 7: Add More Ink

Reposition the screen to continue filling in the band of color you just printed. Repeat inking and squeegeeing process, then rinse screen in cool water. Let canvas and screen dry.

Step 8: Repeat with Next Color

Place screen across canvas and apply second color to screen. To vary the look of the stripe, rotate the screen and tape off areas as desired. Repeat steps 5-7 with the second color. Always rinse the screen immediately, and allow the canvas and screen to dry between colors. Do not let ink dry on the screen.

Step 9: Add Final Colors

If desired, drop two more colors side by side on the screen. Squeegee the ink onto the screen. Continue repositioning the screen until canvas is covered as desired.

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