Loosen up your brushstrokes

Here’s a handy tip for you if you want to loosen up in your painting. I remember many years ago now when I attended evening art classes at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh, being encouraged to tape a piece of charcoal onto the end of a 6 foot bamboo cane, and draw with that. This was supposed to develop hand to eye co-ordination, at the same time as loosening up our student drawings. It certainly did that!

This exercise below is based on that idea, and it really works. I frequently paint in this way now and a new dynamism has come into my paintings. You can watch me do this here:

I wonder how you hold your brush.
Over the years I have seen many of my students (myself included!), hunched over a piece of watercolour paper with noses almost touching the paper, tongue out in concentration, and fingers holding tightly to the tip of the brush to control every brush stroke. Now this approach is fine if you are adding details to the last stages of a painting (which is when they should be added, not before). But if we start off a painting by using this method of controlling our brush strokes and keep doing this all the way through, then the whole painting will end up being tight and possibly lifeless.

Again, there are times when this is the right approach for a detailed painting, but I’m talking here about loosening up. So how do we do that?

 Have a go at this to see for yourself how it works: take a medium sized brush loaded with paint and hold it as you would a pen, that is hold it tightly near the business end. Now write ‘my name is …’ on the paper. See how neatly you can write your name (fig 1).1.1

Next, move your fingers to the very tip of the brush handle, furthest from the hairs, and hold it lightly between your finger tips, a bit like a musical conductor holds a baton. Stand up so that the paper is at arms length from you and paint a few test squiggles and lines on the paper, flicking the brush with your fingers, and see how the lines are hard to control and develop a life of their own (fig 2).


Now try and write, ‘my name is …’ once more, holding the brush in the same way (fig 3). Has your writing ended up loose and scruffy? Is the writing more ‘arty’ and are the brush strokes more varied?


Just by holding the brush in a different way, and stepping back a little from the paper, you have been able to loosen up your painting. The challenge now is to paint a picture using this technique. Don’t worry how it might turn out (it’s only a piece of paper and a bit of paint!), but feel the freedom of painting in a slightly uncontrolled and looser way.

And over everything HAVE FUN!!

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