6 Tried-and-True Tips for Painting Loose in Water Colour

Think Different, Paint Different

Loosen up your watercolor style with these seven tried-and-true tips — and then put your new skills to use for a chance to win a paper collection worth $275!

Painting loose can appear effortless, but it actually requires a shift not only in process but also in thinking. Here are award-winning watercolor artist Bev Jozwiak’s tips for achieving a more relaxed painting style.

1. Draw a Strong Foundation

We’ve been taught from a young age to stay inside the lines in our artwork, and it’s difficult to break that habit,” she says. “But, I’ve learned over time that it’s possible to “’draw tight and paint loose.’

“I find that it’s important to establish a strong foundation for my paintings, so I draw with much more detail than I paint. This enables me to paint with complexity where I want and ‘slop’ paint outside those lines as I choose.”

If you find it difficult to break outside the lines, try erasing a few key pencil marks. Doing so will help you remember that you don’t just want to fill in the spaces.

2. Think of Your Painting as a Whole

Approaching your painting as a whole, and not as a foreground and a background, will help you to loosen up. If you choose not to paint a background—or to keep it almost white—the object should fade into the background naturally. If you do choose to use a background, then it’s important to find ways to drag your background into your subject.

Always think about lost and found edges, or hard and soft edges. Jozwiak says, “When teaching, I tell my students that I’m open to all questions, except one: ‘What do I do with the background?’ Once they’ve finished their subject, I can’t provide an answer. It will look like an afterthought, because, quite frankly, it is.”

3. Use a Confident Brushstroke

A confident brushstroke lends itself to a more relaxed painting. “When we’re first learning to paint,” Jozwiak says, “we’re often focused on how to mix colors and make our paintings look representational, which can appear a bit fussy and muddled. As we grow in our technique and experience, the concepts become more complex. We begin thinking about design (the weaving of darks and lights through our piece), color dominance and temperature, values, unity, and so much more.”

Leave some white paper showing, or try to weave lights and darks throughout your painting to create a more compelling design. A well-placed, deliberate stroke can do more for a painting than lots of little hesitant ones. This type of stroke comes only with a plethora of paintings under your belt.

4. Choose the Proper Painting Supplies

“Choosing the right materials can make a big difference in how loose your painting turns out,” the artist says. “I like to paint on slick surfaces, usually opting for 140-lb. hot-pressed Stonehenge Aqua by Legion. I’ll occasionally paint on YUPO, cold-pressed or rough paper. A slicker surface provides less ‘grip’ for paint and allows a more natural flow.”

You can’t use the same brush on the various papers and expect the same results. Jozwiak’s go-to brush is Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece No. 10 round. “It’s the brush I use on YUPO or hot-pressed paper,” she says. “It’s an inexpensive brush with a great point that I abuse horribly by painting, scrubbing and even pushing paint backward for a textured look, and yet it survives. In addition, it holds just the right amount of water for these slick papers.”

When painting on cold-pressed or rough paper, Jozwiak says she uses a mop brush or a sable, as each holds more water and allows for a more fluid stroke.

It’s a good idea to experiment with a variety of brushes on different papers to determine the outcomes you most desire in your work.

5. Start With Thick Paint

Although it seems counterintuitive, “I’ve found that applying heavy, almost toothpaste-consistency paint directly onto the paper allows me to paint looser,” Jozwiak says. “With that much paint on the surface, it’s then possible to just hit it with water and let the thick paint run.

“I actually mix very little paint on my palette, but when I do, I drag in new color before applying it to the paper. Using a thicker paint ensures that I avoid homogenizing or stirring the paint too much.”

Check your palette regularly as you work, ensuring that you haven’t stirred it into a lifeless puddle. If it’s not pretty on the palette, it’s not going to be pretty on the paper.

6. Don’t “Finish” Your Painting

To keep things loose, Jozwiak opts not to finish out every inch of a painting. “I’ve learned over time that it’s OK to leave parts of a painting unfinished or faded; the viewer will “fill in the blanks.’”

When you’re painting, determine which areas of the painting aren’t as important to the painting’s story. It’s often the background and lower portions of the painting. When painting figures, it’s often the forehead, sides of the face and limbs.