I recently came across this beautiful artwork (image bellow) and there is a youtube video on how the artist made it. The beautiful thing was that the image is nothing specific, it looks like a heart but that was not intended.

I tried paying more attention to my own doodles but I feel that there must be some guidelines on how to get a good result. I'm not asking the question of "how to draw" or "how to get better at it ..." as practice makes perfect. But are there any guidelines on how to start abstract artwork? I'm thinking, like in chess, these are good ways to open a game and so forth.

enter image description here Image is by Peter Draws. Here is the image source - (thanks @Bart Arondson for pointing out the need to credit the source) ps. his youtube channel is fantastic :)


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    Surrealist artists were very big on devising fixed formalised techniques for coming up with ideas and starting points accidentally, randomly and/or subconsciously. Search on 'surrealist techniques' and you'll find some relevant stuff. Dec 9, 2013 at 10:27
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    On another note: could you maybe add the source of your image? Using it here falls probably under fair use, but it would be nice to attribute the original author (unless of course it's your image). Dec 10, 2013 at 0:35

2 Answers 2


Hm, of course, rather subjective, but I give you my two pennies. At the risk of tooting my own horn, here are some of my similar abstract scribbles.

The image above seems to start with the centre circle, and two flame-like shapes coming from that. The artist has brought in a contrasting/contradictory part to one of them: the "jagged" line at the bottom (gives me associations to negative space and cogs). This gives it a little of a "surprise": the image consists not only of identical wavy-flamy shapes. You want some contrast in there. Note also that there are repetitions of some shapes.

  • Start with one simple strong shape. Do not overthink, and add contrasting shapes to "grow out of" or counterbalance.
  • Repetition can be very effective.
  • Contrast in shape is (often) useful/necessary.
  • In the beginning, simple ink drawings might be the way to go (pencils etc gives too many additional options to keep in mind). Black and white can be extremely effective and delightfully dramatic.
  • Maybe most important: learn when to stop. Often these things gets overdone, and the strength of the abstract can often be in the deceivingly simple.
  • You can find abstract inspiration around you: maybe the shape of a part of a chair can be a starting point.

...and yes: doodle. Doodle as much as you can. Everywhere, on everything.


Right, here is basically how I do it. I rarely have an image in my head beforehand, it pretty much grows organically. What often happens in the process though, is that I sometimes wish I hadn´t outlined too far ahead. As it grows I see new things, and would like to have one shape above another (but I often realise this too late). However, I do not bother doing the same thing over again, it just goes into the mental database for solving abstract doodles.

I do not like to pencil it out first; it interrupts the process (I do figurative and pencil drawings too, but that is a different thing for me.)

It is interesting questions you ask, because I have not really thought about this in this way, so I am learning something here too.

Mostly, I would say: do not stress it, do not think too critically about it. Just doodle away, sometimes you will surprise yourself, and you will create a little, perfect doodle :-) Do ten post-it-doodles a day.

Basically, I have two approaches:

First method:

I start with a small shape, such as a little circle, drop, triangle, spiral etc. Then I expand with lines and shapes from that. This "second" level is often quite random, but it comes from a feeling for what can balance or create an interesting contrast. When I get tired of making one type of shapes and direction of movement, I add other, contrasting ones. Sometimes the "centre" can be other things, text: enter image description here enter image description here

enter image description here

Second method:

I start with a line. Usually a long, curvy; often spirally one. These drawings do not have a centre as described in the first method. They often end up with a like ribbon-like structure. enter image description here

enter image description here

General design:

I am not a fan of symmetry as such, so I like the variation of "imbalance". I find the combination with contrasting shapes more interesting. However: a certain amount of repetition is a good idea. I think a good deal about texture, contrast, balance.

Learn when to stop:

I often leave tiny doodles, thinking I continue them later. When I go back to them, I often find they have a pleasing self-containment, and adding more is not really going to make it better.


Most of the doodles in the link I gave you, are photographs of my moleskine sketchbooks. I sometimes scan, and sometimes digitise with photoshop and then vectorise with Illustrator. Here are an example. It was originally a tiny drawing on bad quality paper:

Photo of sketch:

enter image description here

Photoshop digitised version:

enter image description here

Illustrator vector and colour play:

enter image description here

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    Thanks for your answer. Wow, I really like your art work. If I may ask a question requiring your abstract work: when you start with a blank page, have you sat down with a vivid idea of what you're trying to achieve, or is it just spontaneous flow (focused doodling). AND When you say start with a shape, is there by any chance a prefered shape to start with (it might be a stupid question but, I thought I'd ask :)) Thanks again
    – aurel
    Dec 7, 2013 at 21:23
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    thanks, @aurel - I will expand my answer above a little. For me, there are basically two approaches; give me a little time and I will try to answer as fully as I can.
    – benteh
    Dec 7, 2013 at 21:47
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    That's the wonder of doodling I guess. You're 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th really reminded me of the style. Maybe you'll have your own book of Kells eventually :D
    – Jenna
    Dec 7, 2013 at 22:41
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    Glad to be of help, @aurel. Nice to hear you like my stuff :-) I do not have as much time to do it as I would like. But hey - promise me you will do ten post-it-notes a day ;-)
    – benteh
    Dec 7, 2013 at 22:48
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    I'm going to stop clogging up your feeds guys. But again, nice work @boblet and good luck aurel :)
    – Jenna
    Dec 7, 2013 at 22:54

I've been dabbling with this sort of stuff lately too. I've managed to pick up a few handy things along the way.

This is a quick show and tell of a sketch to vector process, while this is a more detailed account of each stage of mixing digital with the non digital. The reason for referencing these links is to emphasise that this process starts with doodling/a drawing that came from a doodle. (Here's a super basic how to doodle, it does doodling in steps - sometimes it's good to peel things back to a simple form to help get ideas going naturally as opposed to trying to think of the final product first).

Going back to basics is usually how I start a doodle that might lead to a good drawing or illustration. Generally I draw a shape, followed by another and another. I let them flow into one another, or cross one another - depends on my mood. But it always starts with a shape of some sort. With practicing, I've also found it good to sometimes not draw an object in particular as if I mess up I spend too much time trying to fix it and not enough time actually practicing. This produces a decent amount of purposeless doodles but a great amount of practice material. You'd be amazed at what you pick up yourself by drawing a page full of circles!

In short Doodling is great (as Boblet mentioned). Start with a shape, and expand on it (Personally I don't shade until later unless I lose focus or am considering adding more to the doodle but still unsure) . An old teacher of mine had a catchphrase of 'there but not there' it's something I consider a lot when scribbling. It doesn't have to be literal. White space is good. It allows for imagination. This would account for why you see the heart shape in the piece that you posted - the heart is 'there but not there'

Also look doodling is good for processing information :D

Here's a little more on doodling as a creative process if you're interested.

Hope I've given some direction - I tried to ease my subjective opinions up with a few links to further information that might help you find what works for you as a 'go to' process :)

Forgotten detail that deserves a place in the answer as well as in the comments - listening to music is a great asset while drawing!

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