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.”

Sharp and Loose Watercolor Paintings

Annie’s strawberryvia pearl1967 (left), and Portrait via Olek B (right)

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!

Learn to loosen up your watercolor painting with a few simple exercise

Paint impressions, not reality.

watercolor cottage

Cottage_170309a via GilZarins

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.

Peach Flowers Painting

Peach Flowers via Grow Creative Blog

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.

Circular Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

Circular Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

Circular Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

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.

Remember that less is more.

Mountain Scene via Bluprint instructor Angela Fehr

Mountain Scene via Angela Fehr

You don’t have to capture every detail of a scene. Some things look better with one simple wash instead of layers and layers of washes. With this style, the fewer washes you can get away with, the better. Notice the simple wash of the mountains in the painting above.  Each mountain is painted with one wash and one tone — no need for tiny details. This keeps them looking fresh and fluid.

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.

Dripping Fruit

Dripping Fruit via Grow Creative Blog

Paint wet sections next to other wet sections and let the colors blend and bleed into each other. This creates a beautiful softness perfectly suited for skies, water scenes and backgrounds.

Purple, Pink and Orange Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

Purple, Pink and Orange Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

Purple, Pink and Orange Abstract Watercolor via Grow Creative Blog

Lastly, remember that mastering a new painting style takes time. If you don’t succeed the first few tries, keep at it. The results will be worth the effort!

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