How to Make Abstract Art that Works

A NEW online class from Melinda Tidwell!

How to Make Abstract Art that Works
Instructor: Melinda Tidwell
Class Dates: February 11-27, 2020
6 Lessons • 3 Weeks • $85

When I first began to attempt making “abstract art,” I knew what I liked in museums, but I had no idea how to do it myself. I had taken both drawing and painting classes at college but our work was always representational. I had also taken classes where you just sit down and start painting abstract colors and shapes. I would get this horrible anxiety of just feeling aimless and utterly lost. This is the course I wish I had had to get me started, a primer on abstract composition for art.

My aim is to give you a very supported, linear methodology for developing abstract art. My first tool is a set of organizing Structures to guide your initial layout of elements. You are free to follow these closely, loosely, or not at all. They are there if they help you and have been invaluable in my own process. The second tool is using several of the Principles of Design that are the most essential in creating dynamic and unified compositions. Most of the work in creating abstract art is editing and clarifying your design, iteration after iteration. These principles will guide that refinement.

Our third tool is the collage process, which allows us to quickly rehearse many different arrangements and see their effects. To keep things simple, we are mostly just using painted papers (and line) as our elements. This will really force you to make things like color, shape, size and proximity be the levers you adjust to make interesting harmonies and contrasts happen.


Class Itinerary

Tues, Feb 11 – Lesson 1
Thurs, Feb 13 – Lesson 2

Tues, Feb 18 – Lesson 3
Thurs, Feb 20 – Lesson 4

Tues, Feb 25 – Lesson 6
Thurs, Feb 27 – Lesson 7


Lesson 1 – Painting Papers
We will be making collages from found and painted papers. But before we can do that, we need to make those papers! This lesson explores several techniques for creating collage elements using acrylic paint and assorted papers.

Lesson 2 – Unity and Variety; Grid Structure
In this lesson, I introduce the two most fundamental design principles: Unity and Variety. Your work needs both to be both coherent AND compelling.
I also introduce our first Structure: the Grid, and show you a variety of great pieces of art that use this structure.

Lesson 3 – Begin with Value; Thirds Structure
In this lesson we look at the primary importance of value, the darkness or lightness of your colors, in a composition. The new structure for this lesson is something I call Thirds. We will be looking at some work by Robert Rauschenberg who used this structure often.

Lesson 4 – What Creates Unity; Strata Structure
For design, we look deeper into the ways you can create more Unity in your compositions. For structures, we work with something I call Strata.

Lesson 5 – Variety, in More Detail; Implied Triangles Structure
Variety is what bring vigor and surprise to your work, and the way we get it is through differences. We will use the Structure of Implied Triangles to explore energizing your work with more variety.

Lesson 6 – The Composition Editing Process
This lesson outlines my methodology for working. We review the design principles we have learned, and then go through some examples of how to edit and strengthen some ailing compositions of mine.

Click HERE for more information and to sign up!

Getting Ready for 2020


Wow! We’ve had over 500 people sign up for the yearlong Words and Pictures class so far… thank you to everyone who has signed up!

I’m getting ready for an awesome — and PRODUCTIVE — 2020!

But first, the holidays!

I’m headed to Colorado tomorrow for two days to visit my mom and sister, and then we will celebrate Christmas here with Steve’s brother and family, as well as Wes, Christer, Christi and the grandkids.

I hope you have a wonderful day!

2020 Yearlong Class is 10% Off Until 12/15!


We have returned from our 10-day East Coast filming trip last week and finished our new promo for Words and Pictures, our next yearlong class!


I’m super excited about this year, as I am hoping it will help me solidify a personal book project that I’ve been noodling on for years!

From the Description:

There are many ways that words interact with our artwork: They can inspire each other, work in tandem with each other, enhance the other, and can be graphically incorporated into our work!

This year we are going to explore these things by making art and learning from 15 writers, illustrators and graphic novelists. But don’t worry, this is still a fun mixed-media class and I will be teaching 8 lessons throughout the year. Together we will be hitting all aspects of words & pictures including hand lettering, art journaling, sketchbooks, comics, ‘zines, illustration, paintings that incorporate words, artist books and more.

We are lucky to be able to work with some amazing illustrators including Martha Rich, Susy Pilgrim Waters, Sarajo Frieden, Kara Kramer, Andrea D’Aquino, and Cat Bennett. From these artists we will work on messy journals, facing the blank page, illustrating a recipe, idea generating exercises, mixed-media techniques and more!

We will also learn from comic artists Greg Stump, David Lasky, Austin English, Brandon Vosika, and Ozge Samanci. We will work on creating single panel comics, 4- and 6-panel comics, gag cartoons, creating ‘zines, an introduction to graphic novels and more!

In addition, we will write! We’ll learn from writers Beth Kephart, Allan Hunter and Jason Poole — even have a quick book-binding lesson with Bari Zaki!

Here is a LINK and a PDF with all of the Guest Artist Bios and samples of their work!

If you love words, love art, and would like to spend a year writing and making cool stuff with a bunch of great people from all over the world, please join us!

Buy now through December 15th at 10% off!


P.S.  The cost for the whole year is the same it has been for the past six years… $198 for the whole year (and only $178.20 until 12/15!). More info HERE!

Some Word/Picture artwork done recently:

And the sneak peek we put out earlier that shows more art from our 15 Guest Artists!




A Visit from Eva from Germany!

I spent the better part of Monday with long-time student Eva Schull from Germany! She visited me in the studio and brought an accordian-book structure for us to collaborate on.

Here is a 7-second video of Eva putting the last touches on the project:

And here is our finished book! (Eva drew the boy, and I made the bird):



Pages 2-3:


Pages 3-4:


Pages 5-6


Thank you, Eva, for a wonderful visit!


Anita Lehmann Article


Hi everyone!

Cheap Joes Art Stuff (an art supply company) publishes a quarterly painter’s magazine titled The New Palette.  The most current issue has Anita Lehmann’s artwork on the cover! Here is the PDF link if you would like to download it!

New Palette 71_AHL

In the article Anita outlines her process for painting landscapes… and some of these steps will be part of her new class beginning in just two weeks — 7 Essentials: The Studio Practice of Anita Lehmann.

Congratulations to Anita, and happy reading to you!


Registration OPEN for Anita Lehmann’s New Class!

Hi! We are excited to present this new class from Anita Lehmann!

7 Essentials: The Studio Practice of Anita Lehmann
Class Dates: October 22 – November 7, 2019
7 Lessons – $85

I get excited when I go to my studio because I get to play… but also because it means getting deeper into my work. Along with the play there is something happening in the background, a discipline of sorts that I have broken down into 7 Essentials. These are tools that I can use to get started, find inspiration, push to a finish or just free myself to be expressive.

I happen to have found 7 of these for myself, including things like Gathering, Brainstorming and “Painting like Crazy.” My hope for this class is that you can explore them, pick and choose what works best for you and finally discover some of your own.

We will be working in a variety of media and I will be giving you some fun assignments to test these out for yourself. I’ll be working with birds, flowers, laundry, and still life. You are welcome to follow along with my subjects or choose your own.

I really hope you can join us to practice and share together!



Class Itinerary

Essential 1 – Collect & Gather
This first essential gives you the opportunity to discover your passions in your art practice; it’s a “gathering of evidence.” Let’s find a box, label it with your theme and fill it up with meaning.

Essential 2 – Field Sketching
Let’s get outside or another space the inspires. This essential provides another opportunity to gather evidence and acknowledge your surroundings, where ALL the senses are on fire. These free-flow drawings will give one a freedom of expression while back in studio, too.

Essential 3 – Memory Map & Brainstorming
A key essential is mapping or brainstorming and letting your ideas generate more ideas. Pose a question and where does it take you?

Essential 4 – Recipe
Pick a Format, a Media and an Idea — and stick with it for a series of pieces. Keeping things simple is key in this fourth essential. With so many art supplies, papers and format (I know I have plenty), employing a recipe in which to work clarifies ideas and concepts, resulting in clear, cohesive artwork.

Essential 5 – Design
One of my favorite essentials, Design is my pathway to strong art. Simultaneously, I am challenging ideas or concepts — a free-flow aspect of usual note-taking, media explorationa nd looking for opportunity in one’s idea. Every thought, diagrammed, in an open and non-judgemental way is freeing and enjoyable.

Essential 6 – Edit
Intention wins in this Essential. I sometimes attempt placing too much into one painting, so I ask myself, “What is really needed here?” or “What is my intention?” Clarity is key; powerful work happens when you edit.

Essential 7 – Paint Like Crazy
Woohoo! Now the fun begins. Many times I have been given this essential: Practice, Practice, Practice; Explore, Explore, Expore… Paint like crazy!


For more information and to sign up, click HERE!


6 Books in 6 Weeks


I’ve read these six books in the last six weeks!

A routine is forming: I start a new book on Thursday night and finish it over the weekend. It feels nice to read on Saturday and Sunday rather than sit at my computer, working. I work from home so this is one way to separate out work and life. 😀

Yesterday and today I spent some time doing a few of Nelleke Verhoeff’s lessons in her new class, Creating Simple Characters. Here they are!




I guess I’m in a red mood.

What have you been up to lately?


Only ONE Day Left Before “Creating Simple Characters” Begins!


Dutch Illustrator Nelleke Verhoeff’s online class begins tomorrow! Creating Simple Characters — Just ONE day left!

The above cute character is made from the Number 1. Here are 7 more… wonderful!








Nelleke has illustrated four books and is working on two more. Join her to see how she comes up with her delightful characters. Click HERE for more information!

Registration OPEN for “Creating Simple Characters” with Nelleke Verhoeff

Hi Everyone!

Our first Fall class is now open for registration! Click HERE for more information and to sign up!

Creating Simple Characters
Teacher: Nelleke Verhoeff
September 24 – October 4, 2019
6 Lessons • $85

How is it that the simplest line, squiggle or dot can convey so much emotion in some of the fictional characters that we love, such as Snoopy, Bart Simpson, Madeline or Curious George?

An almost magical thing happens when a character really starts to work and comes to life. Nelleke will be sharing a whole bunch of her ideas using a variety of media to help make this happen.

Whether you’re interested in creating narrative artwork or not, this class is a risk-free way to explore and experiment with figurative drawing.

It’s going to be too much fun to resist! Plus, you’ll get to see all kinds of characters from fellow students around the world!



Class Itinerary

Lesson 1 – Faces
Let’s begin with the human face! We will start with three idea-generating pages of sketches using techniques in pencil, charcoal, and oil pastel. We will work on shape of the head, placement of the features, expressions and adding unique attributes to make your character come alive. 

Lesson 2 – Bodies
Next we’re going to add bodies by cutting shapes, playing with contrasts, and building collages. Create new faces or use some from Lesson 1. Each of these three approaches will result in several of full-bodied characters.

Lesson 3 – Animals
Let’s create animal characters! We’ll start by looking at and isolating shapes from animal reference photos, and from there you will build a character that you will then interpret two more times in different media; oil transfer pastel transfer technique and collage. Optional assignment: Photo heads and collage bodies! Big day.

Lesson 4 – Things
Things — toasters, automobiles, hairbrushes, shoes, even toothbrushes — can also be story characters. We’re going to sketch our things, add features, and interpret those sketches into collages. We’ll even make some characters from random cut-out shapes — also “things!”

Lesson 5 – Letters
In this lesson we’re going to play with letters of the alphabet. We’ll start by sketching out our ideas and then work on creating words or sentences with these characters. In addition, we’ll play with character collages using typography from newspapers and magazines.

Lesson 6 – Accordian Book
Now you have dozens of characters — and the ideas to make even more! Today we will create an accordion book to house some of your characters.

I hope you can join us!



Question 3: Why Nelleke Draws


Hi everyone!

This past June we did something we have never tried before… we flew an artist from Europe to Seattle to film a class! The artist is the delightful Nelleke Verhoeff, and her new class will open for registration this coming Friday, August 30th!

I wanted to you get to know Nelleke a little bit, so I asked her to answer three questions. Here is her last answer!




Nelleke Verhoeff, The Netherlands

3. Name the top three reasons you draw and paint.

1. Because I LOVE it!!!

I like to play with colors and create characters, small stories and new worlds.

(Below a recent work from my collage project.)


2. I like to experiment and  keep learning and growing. That’s why I also keep taking classes every now and then… to develop my skills, learn new techniques and ways to express myself.

 (“Dancing forest” was some homework for an inspiring illustration class I took last year)


3. I love to bring some joy into the world with my work. I like positivity and playfulness (I’m still a big child) and I love to share it.

{“Affirmation Angela,” a little affirmation angel I made to support positive thinking 🙂


4. It makes me look differently at the world. Everywhere I see characters. In people, but also in animals, things, food and even in letters… It makes my world so much richer!


5. It brings me to new and inspiring places like the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, Ilustrarte in Portugal… and now even to Seattle!!


My website:

On Instagram I share often works from my sketchbook:


Thank you, Nelleke, for taking the time to answer these questions… I can’t wait for your class to begin… I plan to follow along myself!