I’m thinking that non-artists must wonder what artists are talking about when we strive for looseness in painting. I’m right in thinking this isn’t just a watercolorist’s goal, aren’t I?

What’s that saying about holding precious things loosely? I’m sure there’s a lifestyle quote along those lines…anyhow, just like that single friend of mine who never gets a date because she tries too hard, in art when you choke up on the brush and paint with gritted teeth, aiming for perfection, you squash creativity and kill a painting.

I’m not knocking realism in painting – I love realistic detail. But the best realism is painted with a gentle hand, and frequently isn’t truly realistic – when you get up close you realize that your eye has been fooled into filling in detail that is only suggested by the artist’s brush.

Loosening up frees creativity. When I find I am painting too “tight” it is because I have become a slave to something – the reference photo, the “rules” of watercolor, the attempt to paint like someone I admire instead of following my own path, even the desire to make a painting important – sale-worthy or competition-ready. All of these things choke out freedom and spontaneity.

A few tricks I have found that encourage me to greater looseness in my work:

  1. Trying a new technique, medium or surface. This week’s exercise in yupo has captivated me and I am freshly excited by what I can do.
  2. Studying two (or more) very different artists. Observing artists who paint loosely in watercolour, artists who paint chunky textured abstracts and artists who have thrown out the rules and are using their medium in a new way makes me want to throw caution to the wind and try seeing and painting in a new way too.
  3. Freeing myself not to care about the end result. Repeat after me: “This is just a sketch.” When I take the pressure off of having a perfect painting outcome, I can experiment and accumulate skills and knowledge for the next big painting – or maybe my sketch will turn into my next painting sale – what matters is letting go.