Surrealism Power: Practical Painting Techniques Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is surrealism in painting?
  2. How to prepare for surrealism painting
  3. Technique One: Paint Your Dreams
  4. Technique Two: Draw Inspiration from the Unconscious
  5. Technique Three: Use Juxtaposition
  6. Technique Four: Deploy the Element of Surprise
  7. Technique Five: Embrace Automatism
  8. How to practice and improve your surrealism painting skills
  9. Tips to Unleash Your Surrealism Power

Unlocking the doors of your imagination and stepping into the realm of the unreal—that's the power of surrealism painting. Today, we'll take a journey together through the magical world of surrealism painting techniques, unraveling the secrets that can turn your canvas into a dreamscape. So, grab your paintbrushes and let's dive in!

What is surrealism in painting?

Imagine a world where elephants are as light as feathers, where trains emerge from fireplaces, and where clocks melt like cheese. Sounds like something from a dream, doesn't it? That's exactly what surrealism in painting is all about—it's the art of bringing dreams, fantasies, and the irrational to life.

Originating in the early 20th century, surrealism is a movement that sought to break free from the shackles of reality. It's the playground of the subconscious mind, where rules are defied, and the impossible becomes possible. This artistic movement is all about expressing thoughts and emotions that lurk beneath the surface, often hidden by our rational minds.

So, how do you tap into this unconventional art form? Well, it all starts with mastering a few fundamental surrealism painting techniques.

  • Automatism: This is the practice of letting your hand move freely across the canvas, without any conscious thought or control. It's a way to bypass your rational mind and tap directly into your subconscious. Think of it like doodling, but with a paintbrush.
  • Juxtaposition: This involves placing two or more unrelated objects or images together to create a startling effect. It's like painting a fish flying through the sky or a tree growing underwater.
  • Dislocation: This technique involves taking an object out of its usual context and placing it in an unexpected one. Imagine, for instance, painting a cityscape in a teacup.

These are just a few of the many techniques artists use to create their surreal masterpieces. By practicing and experimenting with these techniques, you too can start exploring the untapped depths of your imagination and bring your wildest dreams to life on canvas.

How to prepare for surrealism painting

Embarking on your surrealism painting journey might seem daunting, but with the right preparation, it'll be as enjoyable as a walk in a dreamy park. Think of it this way, when you're about to cook a feast, you first gather all the ingredients, right?

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for your surrealism painting:

  1. Get Your Tools Ready: Get quality paints, brushes of different sizes, a canvas, and a palette. Remember, the quality of your tools can greatly affect the outcome of your artwork.
  2. Choose Your Space: Find a quiet, well-lit space where you can paint without distractions. Natural light is the best, but if that's not possible, make sure you have good artificial lighting.
  3. Prepare Your Mind: Surrealism painting is not just about the physical act of painting, it's also a mental exercise. Take a few moments to relax and clear your mind before you start. Some people find it helpful to meditate, do some deep breathing, or even take a short nap to refresh their minds.
  4. Sketch Your Ideas: Before you dive into painting, sketch out your ideas. These don't have to be detailed drawings, just rough ideas to guide you in your painting process.
  5. Experiment with colours: Don't be afraid to play with colours. Remember, surrealism is about breaking boundaries, so feel free to experiment with unusual color combinations.

Now you're all set! As you advance in your surrealism painting journey, you'll develop your own preparation routine that suits your creative process. Remember, the key is to be open to new experiences and to enjoy the process. After all, painting is not just about the final product, it's also about the journey.

Technique One: Paint Your Dreams

Have you ever woken up from a dream that was so vivid and peculiar that it felt more like a movie than a slumber? If so, you've tapped into a gold mine of surrealism painting techniques. Your dreams are your subconscious mind's playground — a place where strange and fantastical events occur, and logic doesn't always apply. This is the perfect soil for surrealism to bloom.

But how do you translate these fleeting images into paint? Here's how:

  1. Keep a Dream Journal: The moment you wake up, jot down everything you remember about your dream. The color of the sky, the creatures you met, the places you visited — every detail counts. Don't worry about making sense of it. The weirder, the better for surrealism painting.
  2. Sketch Your Dream: Once you've written down your dream, sketch it out. This helps solidify the dream in your memory and allows you to visualize it better.
  3. Choose Key Elements: Your dream might be full of many images, but you don't need to include everything in your painting. Choose the most striking elements that convey the emotion or theme of the dream.
  4. Experiment with Colors: Dreams often have a unique color palette. Maybe the grass was pink, or the sky was a deep purple. Use these colors in your painting to capture the dreamlike quality.

Remember, the goal is not to create a realistic depiction of your dream, but rather to capture its essence. Let your creativity run wild and don't be afraid to break the rules. After all, in dreams — and in surrealism painting — anything is possible.

Technique Two: Draw Inspiration from the Unconscious

Another fundamental aspect of surrealism painting techniques revolves around the mysteries of the unconscious mind. The surrealists believed that the unconscious was a well of original ideas and images, untainted by reality's constraints. So, how can you tap into it?

  1. Practice Mindfulness: Paying close attention to your thoughts can reveal the unconscious mind's whispers. Whether it's a sudden idea or a memory from long ago, these flashes of insight can inform your surrealism painting.
  2. Use Free Association: Start with a word or image and let your mind wander freely, noting down every thought that comes up — no matter how strange or unrelated it seems. This technique can lead to unexpected connections and ideas for your painting.
  3. Embrace Spontaneity: Surrealism painting techniques thrive on unpredictability. Don't overthink or plan too much — just pick up your brush and let your unconscious guide your hand.
  4. Explore Symbolism: Symbols are the language of the unconscious. Think about the symbols that recur in your thoughts or dreams. What do they mean to you? How can you incorporate them into your painting?

Remember, this isn't about painting what you see in the physical world. It's about painting what you feel, what you think, what you dream — the unseen and the intangible. It's about making the invisible, visible. And that's the true power of surrealism painting techniques.

Technique Three: Use Juxtaposition

The surrealism painting techniques toolbox wouldn't be complete without the powerful tool of juxtaposition. By placing two contrasting or unrelated elements together, you can create striking images that challenge the viewer's perceptions and expectations. Let's dive into how you can harness the power of juxtaposition in your surrealism painting:

  1. Choose Contrasting Elements: First, you need to select two or more elements that are wildly different from each other. The further apart these elements are in terms of their usual context or meaning, the more striking the juxtaposition will be.
  2. Consider Scale and Proportion: Tweaking the scale of your chosen elements can add another layer of intrigue. Why not paint a tiny elephant balancing on a colossal thimble? Or a giant butterfly fluttering around a miniature cityscape?
  3. Play with Context: Context can dramatically alter the meaning of an object or figure in your painting. Try placing a familiar object in an unfamiliar setting, or vice versa, to jolt the viewer out of their comfort zone.
  4. Experiment with Texture: Juxtaposing different textures can create a tactile intrigue in your painting. Imagine the smooth, metallic sheen of a robot set against the rough bark of an ancient oak tree.

The key to successful juxtaposition in surrealism painting techniques lies in surprise and incongruity. The aim is to prompt the viewer to see the ordinary in an extraordinary way, and to question what they think they know. In the world of surrealism, nothing is as it seems — and that's what makes it so fascinating.

Technique Four: Deploy the Element of Surprise

Surrealism painting techniques aren't just about beautiful brush strokes and vibrant colors. They're also about challenging perceptions and surprising your audience. So, how do you incorporate the element of surprise in your artwork? Let's get into it:

  1. Unexpected Twists: Think about what your audience might expect from a certain scenario, object, or character, then twist that expectation. For instance, imagine painting a rainstorm where the droplets are tiny fish.
  2. Unusual Combinations: Combine things that aren't typically seen together. A city skyline reflected in a dewdrop, or a daisy sprouting from an old shoe, can catch your viewer off guard.
  3. Defy Physics: In the surreal world, gravity doesn't have to apply. What about painting a scene where houses float in the sky or people walk upside-down?
  4. Play with Perception: Perhaps objects in the mirror are larger than they appear, or maybe shadows don't align with their sources. Playing with perception can add a surprising layer to your paintings.

Remember, the goal of surrealism painting techniques is not to confuse, but to provoke thought and evoke emotion. The element of surprise is a powerful tool in your artistic arsenal—wield it wisely!

Technique Five: Embrace Automatism

At its core, surrealism is about exploring the unconscious mind, and one of the most intriguing ways to do this is through automatism. This surrealism painting technique involves letting your hand move freely across the canvas, without any conscious control over what you're creating.

Think of it like this: Instead of setting out to paint a specific image, you let the image reveal itself as you paint. It might sound a bit odd at first, but here are some ways to get started:

  1. Spontaneous Brush Strokes: Grab a brush, dip it in paint, and just start moving it across the canvas without a plan. You might be surprised what shapes and patterns emerge.
  2. Ink Blot Method: Drop some ink (or paint) on a piece of paper, fold it in half, then unfold it to reveal a symmetrical design. What do you see in the design? Use that as a starting point for your painting.
  3. Drip Painting: Made famous by Jackson Pollock, this technique involves dripping or splattering paint on a canvas. It's messy, fun, and a great way to let go of control.
  4. Automatic Drawing: Similar to spontaneous brush strokes, this involves drawing without a predetermined subject. Let your hand wander across the page, and see where it takes you.

Embracing automatism can be a liberating experience. It allows you to tap into the deeper, unconscious part of your mind, which is often where the most creative and unique ideas reside. So, give it a shot and discover a new layer of your artistic potential.

How to practice and improve your surrealism painting skills

Now that you've got a grip on some surrealism painting techniques, the next step is to practice and refine your skills. Remember, like with any art form, mastering surrealism takes time and patience. Here are some practical steps to help you on this journey:

  1. Start Small: You don't have to create a masterpiece right away. Start with small, simple projects to build your confidence.
  2. Experiment: Try different techniques, styles, and mediums. Use different types of paint, try painting at different times of day, or even try painting with your non-dominant hand. The more you experiment, the more you'll discover what works for you.
  3. Study the Masters: Look at the works of famous surrealist artists like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte. Try to understand what techniques they used and how they conveyed their ideas.
  4. Get Feedback: Share your work with others and be open to their feedback. It can be useful to hear different perspectives on your work.
  5. Keep Practicing: The most important thing is to keep painting. Even if you're not happy with a piece, finish it and start the next one. Each painting is a learning experience.

Remember, surrealism is about breaking free from the constraints of reality. So feel free to bend the rules, think outside the box, and let your imagination run wild. With time and practice, you'll see your surrealism painting skills take off like a rocket.

Tips to Unleash Your Surrealism Power

You're now equipped with several surrealism painting techniques and know how to practice them. But there's more to surrealism than just the techniques. Here are some tips to help you fully embrace the spirit of surrealism and draw out your inner artist:

  1. Embrace the Absurd: Surrealism is all about the strange and bizarre. Don't shy away from the weird ideas that pop into your head. They might seem absurd, but that's exactly what surrealism celebrates.
  2. Trust Your Intuition: Surrealism is not about careful planning. It's about letting your subconscious mind take the lead. Trust your gut feelings and let them guide your brush.
  3. Don't Fear Mistakes: In surrealism, there's no such thing as a mistake. Unexpected outcomes can lead to surprisingly beautiful results. Embrace the unexpected and turn it into part of your artwork.
  4. Stay Open-Minded: Surrealism is about breaking down barriers and exploring new possibilities. Keep an open mind to new ideas and different ways of seeing the world.
  5. Keep a Dream Journal: Many surrealists draw inspiration from their dreams. Keep a journal by your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up. These could be the seeds for your next masterpiece.

With these tips in mind, you're ready to venture into the world of surrealism. Remember, surrealism is not just a style, but an attitude. It's about challenging the norm, pushing boundaries, and letting your imagination soar. So go ahead, pick up your brush, and let your surrealism power shine.

If you enjoyed this blog post about surrealism and want to learn more about the techniques and processes behind it, check out Andrea Orejarena's workshop, 'Intro to Surreal Art.' This workshop will guide you through the fascinating world of surreal art and help you develop your own unique painting techniques.