Created to be creative.

Ten Simple Rules of an Abstract expressionist.


I have been working as a Manchester artist for over 10 years. In that time I have picked up some tips that allow me to paint the way I do.

These are not a definitive list, but at university, I was taught that, in order to have some sense of structure to my work, I needed a list of rules. I have added to these rules over time but they pretty much haven’t changed over 10 years.

So here they are the first 10  rules of painting.


Blue goes back red comes forward.

We are hard-wired as humans to see blue as a colour that goes off into the distance. This, I have been told, is because the sky is blue and the sky is far away. You can add perspective to any picture by using a tone of blue on the thing that you want to seem as far away. This can be dark, or light. I tend to mix Vandyke Brown with Prussian Blue to make a dark tone which I can use for my far away dark tones.

Red, on the other hand, is a violent colour. It is the colour of blood, it is rage, it is passion. A blob of Process Red will make any foreground pop. I try and add it in all my pictures. Only a tiny bit though! It is very powerful, too much will ruin your picture.


Get the perspective right.

If you get the perspective wrong, no matter how good your painting is, the picture will not work! Whereas, if you get your perspective right, your drawing can be awful, but the picture will still work.


Area of calm and an area of chaos.

In every picture, you need an area of calm and an area of chaos. What do I mean by this? I think that good composition is made up of a mix of different marks; you make marks with your brush, knife, fingers. These marks need to be diverse throughout the painting. This allows your eyes to move around the painting. Having some marks that are chaotic and others sections that are peaceful help the viewer to enjoy the painting more.


Use only one primary as your main colour. The rest are your final weapon to be used in very small amounts to great effect.

It’s too much if you paint in just red, yellow and blue – the primary colours. Choose just one and keep the others to use sparingly at the end of the painting.


Paint like yourself.

It’s important to get input, the comments of my wife if often insightful, but you are the artist and you are responsible for the final decision of what goes where.


Always use two or three different implements. Two sizes of brush and a pallet knife.

Don’t be boring, mix things up a bit. You can make a massive impact on a painting by using different tools.


If you are painting too well use a bigger brush! If you still paint too well stick the brush on a stick. If you are still too good, hang your painting upside down.

The reason for this is that having a loose style adds life and passion to your work. Being tight, in my opinion, doesn’t allow for free expression and makes your paintings a bit dull.


Don’t get cocky.

The moment you think you are good, you will miss your mistakes!


Painters don’t use black!

Black kills all colour, so don’t use it! It’s like putting a vacuum next to your pigment. It just sucks the life out of it. Instead make very dark tones of reds, blues and browns. You can create some fun tricks with perspective if you do this.


You can only break the rules if you understand them.

You have the right to disregard a rule as long as you know the consequences of your actions. This sounds ominous, but as long as you know what you’re doing, and you can justify your actions, it’s all good. It is, in the end, just a painting.

I hope that you get something out of reading my rules, they are by no means definitive, but they have served me well. I do have some secret tips that I use to try and make my paintings my own so there are probably another 10 rules that will make an appearance maybe a bit later. Until then happy painting and let me know what you think in the comments section.

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