Painting more loosely

People often ask how to paint more loosely and it is something most artists strive towards, including me! At the same time I want to give an accurate impression of the subject that inspired me ( impression being the operative word!) Here are some of my favourite ideas for looser painting:

  1. Choose your subject – if you are drawing or painting someone’s portrait an accurate drawing is crucial to achieving a likeness, so maybe don’t start here until you are more experienced! Choose a subject which lends itself to a looser treatment, like the wild seascape above, or a landscape, trees, flowers, a garden, a sky and sea etc – something where if an element was shifted slightly it would not matter (and could suggest movement.) The same cannot be said for an eye or a nose!
  2. Draw less with a pencil and more with your brush. Do minimum drawing, or even none if your subject is simple enough, eg. a flower? – do just enough to place the main shapes. If you do a very detailed drawing and colour it in the result will be very tight. Draw with the brush and the work is livelier and looser.
  3. Use a larger sheet of paper or canvas as working on a small surface is extremely restricting and will make you work tighter. I have even seen someone shorten the model’s legs to get them on the page! Not a good look. A larger sheet also allows you to do some gestural movements with your whole arm – you are not just moving your fingers when you paint. Result – looser painting.
  4. Think of it as a sketch or an exercise. This takes the pressure of creating a masterpiece away, and helps you to relax and work more freely.
  5. Give yourself a time limit. I completed the painting above in roughly one hour. You could give yourself 60 minutes, 90 minutes, 1 session, 2 sessions or whatever feels comfortable- you may like longer if you are relatively new to watercolour as experience will speed things up. Working on the same painting for 6 months can get very tedious and make your work too detailed and tight ( maybe boring, even for you?)- work faster and this will give your painting life and movement.
  6. For watercolour, invest in a large watercolour brush with a good point. This allows you to cover large areas quickly but you can also use the point for smaller areas. With watercolour you really can blame your tools for a poor result – using good paper, good brushes and good pigments makes a world of difference.
  7. Remember that the beauty of watercolour is one colour blending into another, one tone blending into another, and soft edges contrasted with hard edges. Working wet-in-wet allows for soft blending and soft edges; painting on dry paper gives you the hard edges. You choose where they go- some objects could have both. In the painting above I used a damp natural sponge to polish away some edges where the foam crashed onto the rocks- once the paint was dry. Then I blotted with kitchen paper.

In all painting, using hard and soft edges judiciously makes for a livelier and more convincing image. See my separate blog post on this subject.

Remember that practice makes progress! Happy painting.

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