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How I’m Learning to Loosen Up as a Painter

Updated: 5 days ago

December 14, 2019 | Annie Salness | 2 Comments |


I know that we tend to be hesitant when we’re first learning something; overly cautious. Do you remember when you learned to drive? Remember checking that your hands were strictly at 10 and 2, driving 10 miles below the speed limit, and constantly checking the rearview mirror? Now, you can drive home without even thinking about it. Once you learn something, gain confidence, and do it a lot of times, you feel more free with it.


I used to be hesitant when it comes to putting out paint—I always tried to use as little as possible because it was always so expensive.


I used to be hesitant (and I still am) when it comes to my brush strokes. I figured that everything had to be just right…perfect! I credit my biomedical illustration background; everything had to be extremely precise.


I’ve wanted to feel more free as a painter, so I recently started playing with ways to loosen up.


Here are some things I did:

Squirt Bottles: Love these! Since my stroke, I would always get frustrated with trying to open paint jars and tubes, then having to get the paint out with a palette knife and mix it with medium or water and then clean it off the palette knife so it wouldn’t dry… blah, blah, blah…and all of this with just ONE hand. *Sigh* So, I would actually avoid getting more paint out because it was such a hassle. BUT, the paint is much more fluid in these bottles (I added water to acrylic) and I just can turn it and squirt…so, I use more. Yay!


My squirt bottles


Bigger brushes. What a difference! I took an online class this summer and this was one of my take-aways. I can cover twice as much space and it forces me to be more free with my strokes. I use an inexpensive brush that I really like and I’m seeing such a difference in how I work.


My bigger brushes


Playing. Life-changing! I’ve always done a warmup while I’m drawing, so I added a warmup while I’m painting. I clearly needed it. Just like I do with drawing, I put on some upbeat music, and I just play. My warmup gives me a chance to NOT think—I experiment, explore, and use colors that I’m not used to.

I play and then I draw the subject on top


I start with “playing”, then I draw the subject on top of that…hopefully letting the “play” show through! (I’m still working on that)


Also, playing gives me something to RESPOND to instead of having a blank canvas staring at me. For example, I’ve never had problems feeling confident about the object I was painting, it’s the background that’s been an issue for me. Playing and loosening up has helped me learn to relax and respond. Everything feels so much looser and freer. The background has become more approachable, and not so intimidating.


Where do you feel like you hold back in your creativity out of caution? What’s one thing you could do to be more free in your expression? I would love to hear!



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