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Loosen Up!

Loosening up is a common topic of conversation amongst my students – as in “I want to loosen up!” When I ask them why, they have a hard time articulating an answer but it has something to do with what they think watercolor painting should be. I suspect it has more to do with the ease of brushwork in experienced painters rather than a method of applying paint. So I try to gently talk to them about the goal of painting – we each have to find our own language as a painter and to find that takes LOTS of painting. As in everything in our fast-paced world, beginners want to “get there” asap. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Or rather, isn’t it lovely that it works that way. Painting isn’t a new craft that you learn and do for a week or two and then move on to the next new fad. It’s such a demanding, fulfilling, fascinating journey that it can last an entire lifetime.

There is an exercise that I recommend if new painters are wanting to find a way to work that feels more unstructured. You really can’t get too tight when you use the wet-into-wet application of paint.

After drawing the subject on watercolor paper, either immerse the sheet in a tub of water or sponge water on both the front and the back of the paper. With the former, wait several minutes so the paper is thoroughly soaked. Grab the sheet by 2 corners and let the water sluice off the page. Then turn it diagonally so more can drip off. Then “walk” the paper down the board – a board that is non-absorbent. By walking I mean laying the paper down from the bottom to the top making sure that each area is right next to the board. If there is a soft wrinkle, lift the nearest corner and walk it down again Watch for areas where the paper seems to have a bubble beneath the paper and if you see any, lift from the corner and lay it flat again. Any air beneath the watercolor paper will make it more difficult when you begin to paint. If you have used a sponge to wet the paper, do the same method of adhering the paper to the board.

You’ll need to wait for the glisten to leave the surface before you begin to paint. Sometimes I’ve been successful at hurrying up the drying time by blotting the paper surface with a towel but there is a danger of taking too much water off. You have to experiment with this part…what is too dry and what is too wet. Experience will tell you what the surface should look like for the optimum time to add paint. 


Pewter Teapot & Radish

You want to paint on a flat surface at the beginning – no angle on the board. If you forget, you’ll see the paint run to the bottom so that won’t happen more than once. By remembering that in watercolor the water is our “white paint”, you’ll reach for more concentrated pigment for the first washes. Brush on color in the places you want it to be and don’t worry about the blurring of the areas as this is what you want – undefined shapes. If the color is perfect, add more pigment since the color will fade at least 20% when it is dry. Then you wait for it to dry. No dryers since it will move the paint all over the place. Later on when you are more experienced, you might like to experiment with that but for the first experiments, just let the paint do it’s thing.

After the surface is completely dry, you can begin glazing colors over the initial washes. For this step, having your board at an angle is perfectly fine. The example above shows how the study worked after the first wash on wet paper and the same study shows how it might be finished. It could have been done in many other ways, this is just one example.

Try lots of studies – in each one you will learn something new. Keep a notebook next to your materials so you can jot down things you want to remember. It not only will help you remember, the very act of writing something down helps your recall.

So if looser painting is your goal, then assign yourself a solid week of painting wet-into-wet. Repetition each day is important since you carry muscle memory as well as mental memory when you paint often. At the end of the week you’ll have studies that are much “looser.” You’ll also be much more content with your work since the practice and repetition will cause your brushwork to be more confident. Win win!



  1. thevaliantx
    November 20, 2015

    Thank you, Judy!

  2. thevaliantx
    November 20, 2015

    Thank you, Judy!


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