How to Loosen up Your Watercolor Painting

What is your favorite style of watercolor painting? Do you prefer clean, crisp lines and defined edges? If so, you may be a traditionalist. Or, do you favor fluid strokes and hazy backgrounds? If the latter sounds more like you, you may be a “loose painter.”

Both styles have their own great qualities, but I have grown to love the look of loose watercolor painting. Learning to paint loosely with watercolors can take some time to get used to and it takes practice!

Paint Impressions, Not Reality

To paint loosely, you need to first change your mindset. Loose painting is about capturing an impression or essence of a scene, rather than painting a photographic representation. Once you get hold of this idea, you can let go of your expectations of perfection and focus on the feelings, mood and colors that you feel and see in front of you.

Use A Bigger And Longer Brush

Since you are learning to let go of all the control, work with a bigger brush. This will help you to focus more on shapes and less on lines. Using a longer brush will also help  you go with the flow. If you hold your brush far from the bristles, your strokes will be exaggerated by the long brush, creating more fluidity.

Sketch Simply

When you lay out your preliminary pencil sketch, keep it very simple. Stick to basic shapes and resist the urge to make a detailed drawing. This will allow room for interpretation with your paint.

Try Watercolor Sketching

Why not skip the pencil sketching all together and sketch with your paint? Yes, you may make a few mistakes, but this is the most effective way I have found to build confidence in watercolor painting. You can’t erase the paint, so you have to be confident in the strokes that you lay down.

Play With Abstracts

Take some time to let yourself play with your paint like you did when you were a kid! Abstracts are the perfect way to do this. It takes the pressure off of having to paint a representational object. You can spend time getting to know your paints and brushes. You will learn what you discover from the process in all of your painting, I promise!

Paint More Wet On Wet

The way to achieve a loose, fluid look in watercolor painting is to… use more fluid! Painting wet on wet blurs lines and mixes colors. This is exactly what you want in loose painting. If you let paint dry before applying another wash, you end up with hard edges. We want to avoid this.

Embrace Paint Drips And Color Bleeding

When you paint with watery paint, it is very likely that you will experience a few drips. Go with it! You can even exaggerate these drips by adding a little more water to them and tilting your paper. This is great for a loose watercolor painting.