How to loosen up your painting! I’ve heard from many of you artists that you would love to learn to paint in a looser style but you don’t know how! It’s a very common artistic goal to loosen up your painting. Loose paintings are expressive, masterful, and confident – and who doesn’t want to be all three of those things!?!
The hard thing is that while loose painting looks effortless, I’m sure you all know by now that it’s actually really hard. The tendency to overwork your art is strong! It’s easy to do too much, add more details, and keep going – and it’s hard to know when to stop.
Today, I’m sharing 11 tips for loosening up as an artist and how to paint loose and expressive brushstrokes.
Also, once you finish this episode, go check out Part 2! I’ve recorded a bonus episode this week with one of my best tips for loose painting and how to loosen up your artwork. I’m going to walk you through it step by step!
This episode was a listener suggestion! You can contact me at @laurenkristineart on Instagram or email laurenkristineart [at] gmail.com
Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren, Kristine your host. Thank you so much for joining me. I have quite an episode in store for today. It’s all about how to loosen up your painting. I love this topic, and I have a lot to say.
Before we get into it, I’d love to start with our Review of the Week. This one comes to us from Amy D Art. Amy writes in saying, “So much great info for new artists. She does a great job summarizing important need to know things for new and self taught artists. Had I started listening to this podcast earlier, it would have saved me months of my own research on some things like shipping and favorite art supplies. Thank you for sharing your journey.” Oh, it warms my heart to get these reviews and messages from you all. Thank you so much for the support. It means the world to me, and it really does. It keeps me going. So if you would like to give me a Review or a rating on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, that would be awesome. I would love that. Let’s go ahead and jump right into it.
Today’s episode was actually a listener suggestion. Thanks to all of you who’ve messaged me on Instagram and conversed with me and even given me these great ideas for future podcasts. To everyone else. You can find me at LaurenKristineArt on Instagram. And I’ve also put that information in the show notes. Instagram is a great place to connect with me. And I’d love to follow along with your art as well. So send me a note.
Today, we’re talking about how to loosen up your art, and how to loosen up your painting. I’ve heard from a lot of you that you would really love to learn to paint in a looser style but you just don’t know how, or you’ve tried and it just hasn’t worked for you yet. I think this goal of having loose expressive painting is one that is shared by a ton of artists, no matter how experienced they are. Everyone from beginners to super advanced, very experienced painters are always working on loosening up because it’s such a beautiful style. It’s such a beautiful way to express your mastery and understanding of art in general.
I find artists are typically always wanting to loosen up their painting. We are artists after all, not illustrators. We find the beauty in the w orld and we want to express that beauty, but not necessarily the reality all the time. You know, if I take a reference photo, sometimes I’m gonna use my artistic license to edit it a little bit and paint how I want to see the world, how I want to see things, not necessarily every single tiny little detail. And I think that’s kind of the essence of loose painting. Loose paintings are expressive, they’re masterful and confident. And who doesn’t want to be all three of those things? The hard thing is that while loose painting looks effortless, I’m sure you all know by now that it’s actually really difficult. It looks easy, it looks effortless, and that’s what’s so hard to capture. That’s what makes it so hard to do.
The tendency to overwork something is really strong. It’s very difficult to know when to stop or when to stop blending. It’s just so easy to do a little too much and keep going. And that’s not loose, that’s leading us you know closer to reality, adding more detail and getting us farther away from that loose goal. It’s just really hard to stop at a mere suggestion of an object. When I look at art of other artists that I admire for their loose style. That’s what their loose paintings are: they’re suggestions of an object or people. They give the viewer just enough information to be able to interpret the painting and what it is, but they also leave enough to the imagination so that the viewers can fill in the blanks for themselves. They can interpret it in their own way and leaving space for the viewer is such a beautiful thing. It lets everyone take something different away from the painting. I think that’s the beauty of loose painting. But again, it’s harder done than said, easier said than done.
When I first started painting, and even now, if I look back to my early work, you know, I really was a stickler for the details. I was so detail oriented and precise that it took me so long to complete paintings. And even just to say that a painting was done it, it had to be, you know, really, really worked to the fullest. I’d put all the details in, all the little dots, everything. But now, I am actually aiming for something that looks playful and loose, while still being representational. It’s it’s a tough balance. And I also am always learning. However, in my quest to paint looser, I have collected a lot of tips and tricks that will hopefully help you to paint looser as well (if that’s a goal that you’re working on.)
Now, some of these tips you may have heard before, but a reminder is always good. However, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve and I’m pretty confident that they’re going to be something new for all of you. In general, I hope they’re helpful to anyone with this goal of loosening up. Alright, so let’s get started. I have roughly, I don’t know 11-12 or so different notes here of things that I’ve done to help me loosen up. So I’m going to go through them one by one, talk about the technique or the method, and why I love it so much. So the first thing is a lot of these are really simple. But I encourage you to try them.
So first thing on the list. Number one, use your old brushes. I do not like getting rid of any art supplies. You know, even if they are not in their prime, I tend to hold on to them, and so that goes for brushes as well. You know, I have some old frayed ones that I don’t use very much but I have sitting over to the side on my table over there. And those are the ones that I like to use when I’m purposefully trying to paint loose. And the reason is, it’s really hard to get crisp lines, it’s hard to be too precise, it’s hard to get in to do detailed work if you have an old frayed brush in your hand. It just makes it structurally easier on you to loosen up. So if you’re like me and you have some old brushes lying around, challenge yourself to use those in a painting and see how that changes what you’re able to do. It’s worth trying.
Alright, the second tip is very similar to the first one, in that I want you to put some things structurally in place, physically in place to keep you from overworking. Another way to do that is to use bigger brushes. If you use bigger brushes than you need (in fact, I’d say use the biggest ones that you can) then you’re more likely to avoid overworking an area and project more confidence in your brushwork.
So if you use the biggest brush you can for the size of substrate you’re painting on, I think it’s very effective. When you paint with big brushes, you just simply can’t go in and add every single little detail. I personally prefer bright brushes or flat tip brushes, because I like the balance that they give me of leaving defined marks and clear, crisp lines. But I also get a variety of brush strokes with one type of brush and if I use a big enough bright brush or a big enough flat tip brush then it does force me to loosen up in a different way. But that’s that’s kind of how I find balance because I do want to be able to have clean lines sometimes. But also get this variety of brushstrokes and I find that with these flat brushes you You can, you can get smaller, you can still get dots but it doesn’t have the same uniformity that I would get with, say using a round brush. In the past, I have loved round brushes a lot and I’ve done a lot of paintings solely with round brushes. But they have a certain look and uniformity to it because your brushstrokes always look similar. And you get a lot of that repeating on your piece. So a new teachers that I’ve been following (I’m taking some online classes with her) loves flat brushes and bright brushes and suggested this to her students, which pushed me to try it. So now it’s actually my new default and I’m loving it. So it just gives me the right balance of a little bit of crispness, a little bit of specificity on the lines and edges when I need that, but also variety of brushstrokes. And when I use a big one, it keeps me from being able to do a lot of little, tiny, precise brushwork. So for me, that’s the perfect balance, a big flat brush.
Alright, tip number three: try palette knives. That’s another physical way to limit yourself. It makes it impossible to paint details when you’re working with palette knives. Yes, you can have palette knives of different sizes, but it literally restricts what you can do, and keeps your painting from getting too literal. I think palette knives can be a great way to either do a study of something that you’re wanting to paint and experiment with how much it actually takes to get the idea of what you’re trying to convey on the canvas. Sometimes if you you just try to put in the bare bones, you’ll be surprised at what point your brain will register exactly what it is you’re trying to paint. It’s pretty cool. You can also use palette knives at the end to put on some larger, freer strokes on top that will kind of give the illusion of maybe more expressiveness / more looseness than maybe you’ve had while painting with brushes, but it can just be a nice way to add some little details on top that give more of the illusion of looseness. So that’s another thing you can try.
Tip number four, hold your paint brushes farther back. The tighter you grip them, I think the more detailed you’re getting. So if you don’t grip them tightly, if you hold them loosely, you hold them further back, this is going to get you freer and more expressive brushstrokes, typically. For this reason, a lot of artists actually use long handled brushes and prefer them for this reason. They encourage looseness due to the physics of it, and that you can hold them farther back and the balance of the long handle just does something to the brush for a lot of people. So I encourage you to try that.
The alternative is if you already have a lot of short handled brushes, and you don’t need to go buy a bunch of new brushes, just hold them looser and farther back. If you need a reminder of this, and where to hold your hand, put a piece of masking tape about halfway back on your brush as a physical reminder. You’ll notice a theme in these tips of physical reminders, things that you can touch and that limit you even, in a way. Because we’re human, we fall back to what’s easy, what we know, the familiar. And so I’m all about how can you put in place mechanisms to ensure the result that you’re looking for? And for me, physical reminders are a great way to do that. Because if I just pick up my brush, I am more likely to hold it like a pencil and kind of choke it up at the front. But if I have this little, you know, rim of masking tape and that physical reminder that I touch, that I see. It does trigger something in my brain of thinking. “Oh, that’s right, Lauren, Kristine, you need to hold it further back. You’re working on looseness right now,” and that, that just it just triggers something for me. And so that’s why I love physical reminders. So that so far has been a big theme here, using your old brushes using bigger brushes, using palette knives, holding brushes farther back, these are all things you can do physically, to help ensure you’re getting closer to the results you want. And in this case, it’s a looser, more expressive painting. Practice doing that so that you can incorporate it into your work on a regular basis.
Another physical mechanism to help you loosen up is to use your non dominant hand for a while. If you really want some loose brushstrokes, switch hands for a while and see what happens. The same thing goes for drawing as well. Really with any kind of art, just use your non dominant hand. When making art with your non dominant hand, it’s so much harder to control, which is actually a good thing if you want loose, expressive strokes. I recently talked with someone and they mentioned this as something they did in art school. So, you know, this is something that that academics recommend as well. It’s just a great way to try loosening up.
You know, another classic academic art exercise is a blind contour drawing. That’s another way to loosen up in drawing or even an under painting is try doing it blind. Or, try doing it with your non dominant hand and see what happens.
Number six: stand up. Okay, if you get on your feet, and you put some distance between you and your art, I think that can really help as well with getting some flexibility, getting some movement in, just from the way that you’re physically standing. I wouldn’t recommend hovering on top of it, necessarily. I especially like working at an easel but some other options include, taping it up on the wall, finding something you can prop it up with, or, you know, worst case scenario standing over your kitchen table, as long as you put enough distance between you and your art so you’re not up close looking at every tiny detail. You know, take a step back, get on your feet, move your knees, and this goes right along with number seven.
Number Seven: You might laugh but I would put on some music and dance like groove while you paint. Whatever that music is for you that puts a smile on your face, gets your foot tapping, and makes you want to dance. Put on that music and enjoy. I love painting to music and letting that energy carry through my brushstrokes. Anytime you’re in a good mood, your groovin, you’ve got that “give” in your knees — it just does something. Okay. I promise. So try it if you’re not a a person who likes to paint while music is playing, tou should try it. But also, not just any music. Not piano or classical music. Whatever it is that makes you want to dance, put that on.
Number eight. I do think there’s a bit of a misconception around painting loose. And people tend to think that that means that it was painted quickly. Painting loose does not mean painting fast. Okay, painting loose does not mean it was painted fast. Take time to think about your brushstrokes before you make them is one way to do it. Okay. Some people they do feel like they are more loose when they are speed painting. One mechanism you can try is putting on a timer and trying to paint really quickly. That’s something that does work for some people in an effort to make them loosen up. However, I think that it is a misconception that we have when we look at other artists’ work. We assume that if they have loose, expressive brushstrokes that they did it themselves as a speed painting. Because I actually, through talking with people, and reading about the old masters’ processes, I actually think that’s a misconception. I think there’s a lot of people with a loose painting style that actually do take time to think about what the most important elements are of the subject before they start painting and actually think about brushstrokes a little bit before they make them.
Painting loose does not mean rushing. And it certainly does not mean like rushing and just hoping for the best. That’s a huge misconception. Because I find rushing and hoping for the best and just putting down a stroke and hoping that it does what you want it to do. That’s not necessarily the right answer. Look, some artists are able to paint quickly and loosely all at the same time. If you are really solid on all of your fundamentals as an artist, then by all means, go ahead. If you can paint fast and paint loose at the same time, more power to you. I tip my hat to you. For beginners or even intermediate painters, the answer is usually not to rush. If you’re doing a speed painting, then go ahead, rush. But if you want to put looser strokes and loosening up into your art on a regular, consistent basis, then I think taking it a little bit slower ad not putting too many brushstrokes down or not blending too much is probably a good tact to take.
Especially important is taking your time at the beginning to think about the composition. Think about the subject. Think about the light source in the painting. Where the shadows will be cast. How you want that composition to sit on the page. And where you want the emphasis to be in broad terms. That kind of thing will help you to be successful. Sometimes you do have to go slow, to go fast. And if you can take your time and think about setting up your painting for success and thinking about these fundamental building blocks, I think that can set you up for success. Then, you could paint faster, while you’re actually putting paint on the canvas.
I do think it’s a misconception that many people have when they look at loose, expressive paintings, they think they were painted really quickly. Sometimes that might be true. But that’s not always true. And I know for a fact, Monet, for example, people love his expressive brush strokes and also the way that he has impressionistic painting where it does leave a lot of room for the imagination to interpret the details. He actually would deliberate about his strokes for a long time and his paintings took him quite a while to create. So just because you see a piece of art, and it looks like it might have been painted quickly, doesn’t mean that it necessarily was. But again, you have to do what works for you.
So this tip is really just about making assumptions that painting loose means painting fast, because it’s not true. But for some people it does. So you kind of have to hold both beliefs at the same time. Because one great exercise is speed painting, to practice putting down fewer brushstrokes just by limiting the time that you’re giving yourself. But I think in order to incorporate looseness into your work in a more holistic way, and in order to I think master looseness as a painter, that doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be speed painting. That means you also have to learn to take a step back, look at your painting and limit yourself in a way. Think about, based on the composition that I have here, if I were to only add three more brushstrokes to it, what brushstrokes would I add? That can be a great way to really think and be deliberate about your brushstrokes. So really, this whole tip is just don’t rush and hope for the best, at the very least, take time at the beginning to really plan out your fundamentals.
Tip number nine: use more paint. When you put more paint out on your palette, this lets you really load up your brushes, get them all thick and juicy with that paint. Loose painting is not timid painting. It’s usually done with a fully loaded paintbrush. So give yourself the space to do that by putting more paint out on your palette, and putting more paint on your brush than maybe you typically would. I think that can be a way to get these beautiful brushstrokes that are what we think of when we think of, expressive, loose paintings. But this one, I’m guilty of it, as you know, by my previous episode on using the good stuff. As you know, I like to make my paints last. So I really do I have to push myself to put more paint out on my palette then maybe I usually would, and it does help. It really does help!
Tip number 10: Try to complete the painting in one sitting/in one time/one day/one session in your studio or at the kitchen table. I think when you’re able to work wet in wet, and see. And you know and see those colors kind of move together, I think that can add a level of spontaneity to your work. Now, again, I’m not saying paint really quickly, but maybe it takes you a couple of hours in one afternoon, I would just try and get as far as you can in one sitting. I find personally if I start a painting, and I get it, you know 75% of the way to completion, but then I put it down, I let it rest. Coming back to it can be very difficult for me, just getting in the same zone, mixing the same colors. Just staying in that same mindset can be very difficult. And as a result, my painting tends to get tighter. I don’t come back to a painting in a looser mindset. I tend to then come back to it with a tighter more detail focused mindset. And that bogs me down. That is the opposite of looseness. So if you’re in the zone, my advice would be keep going and try to complete the painting all in the same headspace.
The other thing that happens to me when I put a painting down and then come back to it, well, sometimes too much time has gone on and I come back to the painting as a different artist. Essentially, my skills have progressed, things have changed. My moods for colors and preferences have changed slightly, nd that can be a bit disjointed. And that can be difficult to reconcile. But I mean, the other thing that happens is sometimes I look at the almost completed painting and I think, “Wow, this is a really good painting, I don’t want to mess it up!” and that is not going to be how I get loose painting results. I need to be in a loose mental headspace. And that actually leads me perfectly to number 11.
Tip 11: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. There are no mistakes. Plenty of loose paintings actually have what the artist or creator would consider mistakes in them. They are not perfectly realistic after all. So stay mentally loose and open minded and see what happens to your art. If something doesn’t go as expected, just keep going. See if you can work around it or work with it, even better. Painting loose is a mindset as much as it is a technique. So don’t worry about all those tiny details. They really don’t matter when you paint loose. And if you take a step back, I would be surprised if you even notice those little tiny mistakes. Remember there are no mistakes in art. Let’s let’s go back to the words the great Bob Ross: “There’s only happy little accidents.” So give yourself permission to make in that headspace.
Painting loose is very difficult, so give yourself some grace. The first few times you try it, it may not work and that’s okay. It may not work again after that. But just trying this and experimenting, I think we’ll give you some new techniques, some new abilities that you can bring to your art, in your own style, and in other ways. So sometimes these experiments just help to connect the dots in some way that you can bring to your art practice.
Alright, thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. However, there’s even more! I have one more tip for you on how to loosen up. I would actually consider it to be probably my best tip of all. So I’m actually going to make a whole separate episode about it. It’s a little bit more complicated, but not too much. It just takes a little bit of pre work and a little more explaining. So I want to make sure that it does not get lost in this list of suggestions here, because I just gave you at least 11 different ways to go about making a looser painting. And it might get get a little overwhelming. So I want to separate this one out. So it’s easy to come back to as well. The good news is I’m going to launch that episode today as well. So you don’t have to wait to find out what it is. Alright, so go listen to part two of this episode on how to loosen up your painting right now. Alright, Happy Creating, my friends!
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