how to loosen up your art { + free printable!}


Do you find that sometimes your art heads in a very tight, neat, controlled direction without you either wanting it to or even apparently being able to stop it?

I do.  And if I do, then I know I’m not the only one.

So if this is something you experience too, behold a list of things you can do to loosen up and make more expressive, energetic, dynamic art. These are things I either do myself or am going to try out; some are practical, some more conceptual. I can only imagine what kind of wild and free painting would happen if someone used them all!

What’s more, I’ve created a lovely free printable for you so you can stick it up in your creative space or slip it into your sketchbook for easy reference.

begin with an intention

From something as simple as announcing ‘today I am painting loosely’ to a written statement you put up near where you’re working, consider ‘starting as you mean to go on’. You could even paint it onto your canvas as a starting point!

set the scene for freedom – loose clothing, drop cloths

Painting free and loose can be messy, so prepare the area! Wear loose clothing to permit you to move more freely; restriction is unlikely to encourage wild abandon.

get everything ready before you start

That way you won’t have to stop mid flow because you forgot to get a jar of water for your brushes, or hunt down a certain colour.

choose energetic music

A great way to bring the kind of energy you’re after into the room and your body.

switch off the technology

Request no disturbance for however long you’re planning to paint, turn off the phone, ignore the doorbell {or pick a specific time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted}. Give yourself the best opportunity to get into the flow.

stay conscious

One of the main reasons I end up getting tighter and tighter in my work is when I ‘fall asleep’ and default to easy old habits, forgetting that I can make conscious choices in each moment. Restating your intention from time to time can help you refocus.

paint big

A great way to let loose and keep your marks varied and bold. Connie Hozvicka of Dirty Footprints Studio offers a course in this very thing. That said, many of these ideas can be applied to smaller work or sketchbooks too if you don’t have heaps of space.

put brushes on sticks

Taping brushes to lengths of dowel or bamboo forces you to give up full control of them, leading to unexpected and looser marks.

paint at arm’s length

Pushes you even further from your canvas, whether on an easel or table, and also encourages quick, loose movements of the brush.

use lots of water

Thick paint is not so conducive to painting freely. Even with fluid acrylics water can be added to encourage drips and splatters.

work in short bursts

The longer you’re at the easel, the easier it is to head into a funnel of small details. Shorter bursts keep things fresh and loose.

do several paintings at once

Spreading your attention stops too much focusing on details, and paintings tend to inform each other so you can dance between them as you discover new marks or colour combinations.

don’t go for finished – stop early

Akin to the short bursts idea, stopping yourself before you feel finished can help prevent that funnel effect. You can return to it, but stopping before it’s finished can introduce new ideas about what finished means.

stand up

Allows for more freedom of movement, not to mention dancing to the aforementioned music. I often dance while painting, and find that standing lets me get my whole body involved, which means larger, looser brush strokes.

use your non dominant hand

Even better if you’re not ambidextrous! See how different your art looks when you are in less control of it.

blind contour drawings

One of my favourite ways to keep things loose and interesting. You could do these to warm up, or incorporate them into a painting, bringing an abstract element to recognisable subjects.


Let rip like a three year old would! Some of the most beautiful abstract art is created from energetic scribbling. {Think Cy Twombly.}

refer to Emily Ball’s book

Drawing and Painting People: A Fresh Approach {aff link} by UK artist Emily Ball is packed with fantastic loosening up exercises to broaden your imagination and release your marks. Don’t be put off by the subject – the exercises can be used beyond figurative art. This is one of very few art books I truly recommend.

work fast and loose

Speed = loose. Simple as that.

paint over

If you find yourself starting to tighten up, be bold and paint over it with loose, gestural marks. Layers make for richer paintings and letting go is an excellent practice, and not just in the studio. ;)

use larger brushes

A great way to stop yourself getting all detailed and finicky.


Step back from your work and squint to see colour and tone more clearly.

try mark making conversations

A great exercise to encourage diversity of marks – using three or four colours, make brief, gestural marks on top of each other, so that each new one is different from the one before. This can introduce you to new marks and to using them in a loose and expressive way. You can see examples of this here and here.

use apps to reduce detail and enhance colour and tone

There are hundreds of apps now that allow you to edit images. Apps like Dynamic Auto Painter and PicTapGo can be great for simplifying images into larger, looser areas of colour and tone. A reference image in which detail has been reduced can be very handy for keeping you loose, as both a visual aid and a reminder of what you’re aiming for.

Here’s that printable link again.

Phew! If we don’t find something to loosen up our art in that list I’ll be most astonished. Got any further ideas to add? Please share in the comments!


when experiments in the studio go wrong


On a whim the other day, I decided to film myself painting at the easel. I hadn’t done it before, since I prefer to film my videos working flat so there’s a minimum amount of me and a maximum amount of you seeing what I’m doing.

However my most natural way of working is standing at the easel, especially when working large, so I thought I’d give it a go in the interests of doing something new and of showing a bit more of how I make art when it’s just for me.

I had a notion of creating a video of me in the studio and talking about my work for my About page, as a way to help you get a better idea of me beyond a faceless voice or a bundle of words in a blog post.

Let’s just say that idea is currently on hold.

However, it’s not the nature of the video that I’m sharing today {although obviously you get that as a byproduct}; it’s the evolution of a painting that not only went wrong, but that couldn’t be rectified.

I went back and forth about sharing this as it feels quite uncomfortably vulnerable, and yet it’s a very real part of what being an artist is like. And since some of my core values are experimentation, transparency and using myself as a real life example, {is that a value?} well, it feels worth sharing.

Let me just set the scene a little so you know what’s supposed to be happening. :)

The idea was to work from an image I found on my Painting Inspiration board on Pinterest, as a vehicle for trying out an approach that involved charcoal and paint. You may know that I’m very interested in what I call ‘abstractifying’; I wanted to see how I might use my landscape reference image and make it my own. I worked on paper as this was the first time I’d attempted it; I was also in the mood to work large and in portrait rather than my usual square.

To say things did not go as I had hoped is an understatement. In the end I wrote it off. I do try not to as it’s often a good challenge to push a painting as far as you can, which is what I did here, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. And that is an essential part of making art; allowing yourself to let go when it doesn’t work, and to not attach so rigidly to your original idea that you can’t allow a painting to go where it wants to go. Especially since this can often far exceed what you’d imagined.

So, enjoy my studio – I want to say ‘disaster’, but it isn’t really of course. Let’s just call it my exercise in non attachment. :)

{I’ve speeded it up and edited it with notes about what’s happening so you can follow my thought processes; it would’ve been way too long and boring otherwise. }

I want to be very clear about this – I do not consider this a failure, a sign that I’m not an artist after all and should give up, or that I wasted materials. I know these are common feelings; my hope is that demonstrating that it’s ok to eff up a painting {or several!} will go some way to helping you give yourself permission to do the same. The ‘secret’ is that it’s actually an essential part of the process, not a reason to quit.

I am aware ~ from many years of sharing my work online and having people respond to it ~ that it’s possible you may not see why I wasn’t happy with this. One person’s hideous mess is another’s thing of beauty. For me this painting didn’t work, not just because it didn’t match my vision, but because it FELT very wrong. If you like it, great! No judgement either way.

There is always – always – something to be learned from our so called mistakes, whether in or out of the studio. What did I learn?

  • That I love to mix paint with charcoal.
  • That it has to be done with care or it does end up more muddy than I’d like.
  • That I don’t like drawing ‘things that look like things’; in this case I found my drawing of the lighthouse and buildings twee and lacking in finesse or the look I hoped for.
  • That I love a high horizon line but I have more to learn to make it work well in portrait.
  • That gesso is not the answer to everything. {Heh.}
  • That I am nevertheless very interested in further exploring mixing landscape with abstract elements.

And many more subtle and nuanced things that I won’t list, but you get the idea. And best of all is that final point, because it means this painting has become a springboard for something new for me. And I love new. :)

I’d love to hear your perspective on this! What was it like to watch the video as someone who isn’t me? {I find it very uncomfortable so I’d love to hear whether you felt that too.} What do you do with paintings that don’t work out? Do you tend to know early on that’s it not going to work out, or do you find persevering worth it? We are all so different in our desires and needs {even while we’re all so similar}, I’d love to hear about your experiences. 


Creative Spark Ecourse The Creative Spark ecourse begins in just one week! If you would love to entertain and explore the notion that you have an artistic self that’s longing to come out, or simply that you can make art you love, I’d be delighted to welcome you to this six week gently paced journey, with heaps of support and encouragement baked in. Click the image on the left to find out all the details, and feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have. You can also sign up below to receive reminders and a final post before it begins, and be first to know about future iterations of the course.



how to make an ‘on the go’ art kit


You might remember I did a post a while back about making a coffee table art kit.

Well what if you’re frequently out of the house, on the go, busy busy, but you still want to be able to bust out some art as often as you can because you know how good it feels?

Behold, the ‘on the go art kit’. Cousin of the coffee table art kit but smaller {although admittedly not always in my case}, more streamlined and just as good for you.

I’ve included two versions here as I’m aware that my full size version is bigger than is practical for some. And it goes without saying that you’ll put in whatever supplies you are loving most at any given time. Switching up your contents from time to time stops things becoming predictable; I do suggest taking things you LOVE to work with though, always.

{I have included links to the supplies mentioned for ease, and they are affiliate links, just so you know.}

on the go art kit

Oil pastels

My favourites thus far are Mungyo Gallery Oil Pastels; soft and pigment rich like Sennelier and much less expensive.

Water Soluble Crayons

I love my Caran D’ache Neocolor II Crayons for so many reasons. They are crayons and watercolours, you can layer them up and blend them, they soften beautifully and become smudgeable like oil pastels in the heat, the colours are jewel bright and rich, they last for ages and you don’t need a huge tin to be able to create beautiful images. I have the box of 15 and it’s plenty.


My favourite are always by Seawhite, in particular the square Black Euro Spiral Hardback Sketchbook. I’ve been testing out the smaller, clothbound hardback style and although a bit small for me it is perfect for when I don’t want to take the big one out. I also like to have a choice between rectangular and square.

Reference Images

Since discovering that working with reference images is sooo much better for me than trying to paint from my imagination, these have been not only a great source of inspiration but also a catalyst to get to me make art, as just looking at them tends to wake up my artist self. My reference images are like springboards, and allow me to experiment with colour combinations, subject matter, composition and mark making that I may not have discovered on my own. They are so much more than something to copy.


No need to get fancy unless you want to. I have a range but like softer pencils and tend to grab whatever I find first – usually anything between 2B and 6B. In a way it makes more sense to use a mechanical pencil since you won’t need to sharpen it. I don’t use my pencil so much as I’m less of a sketcher and more of get-in-there-with-the-colours kind of person, but I do have an enclosed sharpener that I sometimes take with me.

Black Pitt Pens

I was given a pack like this assorted set by Faber Castell {although this set actually looks better!} which have been fantastic; they come in a range of tips from very fine to thicker brush style. The brush tip ones are great for using over the Neocolors; the finer ones tend to slide on them. Here’s an example.


I like the sturdy white ones like this Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser, and am not really a fan of end-of-pencil ones although again, if you’re low on space that can be useful.

Water filled brushes

Or, as I just discovered they are called, Aquabrushes. I’ve had my set of three for years and never used them, which was silly because now I am using them I absolutely love them. Perfect with the Neocolors.

Baby wipes

A recent discovery and a revelation! Great for blending and softening your oil pastels or Neocolors, for wiping colour off your Aquabrush bristles and for cleaning your hands after.

Optional extra:


I have so many of these it’s ridiculous, and what’s even more ridiculous is I’m not actually using one at the moment. When I was having my colouring pencil phase I did; it really depends what you’re taking .


And check it! You could also look this cool with your art supplies slung over your shoulder as you head out into the world. Imagine.


Tee hee.

What’s in your on the go art kit? If you don’t have one, what do you think you’d include  in it? Any revelatory or unexpected additions?


Creative Spark Ecourse Like what you’re reading? Inspired to create your own on-the-go art kit? Perhaps you’d like to really kickstart your own art practice, however simple {and simple is how I roll so you’re in the right place:) }. The Creative Spark ecourse will give you all the tools you need – practical, inspirational, and supportive – to set up your own way of doing things. I would love to have you on board. Click the image or link for all the details, or email me {} with any questions you may have. You can also sign up in the box below to receive inspiration and updates on registration with no obligation. **Earlybird registration ends tomorrow!**

Before beginning the course I felt that I wanted to be creative, but lacked any real skills or talent. Now I feel that I have so many tools to work with. The ideas are flooding through my brain. And I really enjoyed sharing the work with others in the lovely nurturing environment you created.” Jo C


river :: the process of a painting

Ever since SeeFeelPaint I’m still very interested in landscape as a subject, and specifically in taking a landscape as a reference and ‘abstractifying’ it by simplifying shapes and using ‘non local’ colours.

This painting as you can see from the image below was already partly done, and then taken further with the help of an image {a photograph, as opposed to another painting} I found on Pinterest.

The initial layers were done entirely with a palette knife which, although a really fun way to paint, was not giving me the look I wanted, and because I didn’t have a reference, had rather lost its way. But you can see it already had a similar composition to the image.


I had the usual trepidation about losing sections of this initial painting that I really loved, but also knew that I’d need to sacrifice them for the whole, and I’ve done it enough times at this point to know that it’s always worth it. Sometimes you just have to be bold.


My first moves were to reestablish the composition so it was stronger {to me}, and to begin to map out some shapes and bring in the colours I wanted to use. The green you see was a mistake, in that I used it and then wished I hadn’t. But it’s fine when working on a painting like this because every layer adds depth and none of it needs to show.


My palette these days tends towards a somewhat predictable {or perhaps just more consistent!} range of blues and turquoises, plus Naples Yellow, sometimes some purple, and often some fluorescent pink.


I found the reference image useful for mapping out lights and darks, and then went off on tangents since it wasn’t meant to be a direct copy and because my canvas is square and the original image is a rectangle. I do love a high horizon line; it makes for a really strong composition and somehow makes the canvas feel more spacious.


It sometimes happens that things start to feel a bit flat and samey in terms of colour and tone, which is what happened here, so I dived into my oil pastels and used them to add a different energy with lines.


That made all the difference for me – some pops of colour to liven it up and help the eye travel around the canvas. I’m also loving how the horizon looks kind of stormy on the right hand side.

And yet although we can look at this and see a river coming towards us from a mountain range in the distance, we can also enjoy the colours and shapes in a much more abstract way. This is what’s interesting to me – taking something we know and making it new.

River by Tara Leaver :: mixed media on canvas :: 40 x 40cm

River by Tara Leaver :: mixed media on canvas :: 40 x 40cm

This painting is in the shop now.

making art you love doesn’t have to be hard


There is a common misconception if you’re just starting out with art, or wanting to, or coming back to it after a long hiatus, that it’s going to be difficult. The main belief shoring that one up is that that’s because it takes many years to become skilled at making art, and even then only some people get to be really good at it. {And if you’re not going to be really good, why bother.}

Well, yes and no.

There are people for whom it does come more easily, for whom art making is their highest path in life, for whom the filter for their gifts in this lifetime is a particular talent for creating beautiful or thought provoking art, and for sharing that with a wider, buying audience.

Then there are others, and I include myself in this group, for whom making art is actually mostly about pleasure and fulfilment, exploration and self expression, without the added extras of fame and fortune. And that’s the focus of what I do here on this website.

Where you are now

So let’s say you haven’t picked up a brush since you were five and some unaware teacher made a seemingly innocuous but actually crushing comment that caused you to back away from the art table and lay your brush down for good.

Or maybe you used to make art just for fun, but life circumstances got in the way and now you feel overwhelmed by the apparent size of what restarting would feel like for you.

Or you actually don’t remember ever making art and it feels like a secret realm to which you don’t have right of entry, and even if you did, you have absolutely no idea where to begin. {Plus you are certain you’d be crap at it, because you don’t know how to draw.}

It’s entirely natural that the thought of returning to something that has lain dormant all this time, but that has been calling to you with ever increasing volume, brings up fear and anxiety.

There are two things that are important to note about that:

1. If it is calling to you, even in the quietest most tentative whisper, no amount of fear and anxiety will stop  it nagging at you because the very fact that you’re hearing that call means it’s in you; there is an artist in you of some shape or form, and he or she wants to come out!

Listening to that voice will bring you peace, even if at this point it just feels scary, because it will meaning honouring a truth inside yourself.

2. If you do ignore that voice because of the fears that come up alongside it, you are not only going to have to deal with the constant inner battle of whisper/fear/whisper/fear and thus have no peace with it;  you are also denying yourself a whole world of fun, play, joy, connection, and all those other lovely feelings and experiences we all want so much and spend so much time chasing.

In part, this feels to me like my work in the world this time around, because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to love making art and to lose that love, through life circumstances, through illness, through criticism. I also know not only how to get it back, but that it’s much easier than many of us tend to think.

It would be my honour {and I rarely use that word} and pleasure to guide you to do just that. I have created a pathway and can light the way as you take your first steps back into making art, in a way and at a pace that suits you. And perhaps most importantly, I can show you how easy and joyful it can be.

The benefits you can and will enjoy as you reacquaint yourself with colour, shape and paint ~ fun, delight, play, fulfilment, flow, discovery, surprises, pleasure, excitement, peace ~ far outweigh any fears you might be holding onto. I’m not saying it’ll never be scary again, or that you’ll never struggle, but I can make it easier for you to start on the path, and I can offer you a place to keep walking once you’ve started, with companionship and support beyond as you continue.

If this sounds like something you need or want {or both!}, I invite you to join me for six weeks starting September 15th 2014 on a journey of rediscovering your secret inner artist. Even if you don’t believe you have one.

Because if your curiosity is piqued or you hear a faint call to play in the world of creativity and art making, you absolutely do.


Creative Spark Ecourse ButtonEarlybird registration is now open for the Creative Spark ecourse and you are so welcome to come on board. You can find all the information by clicking the image on the left, and if you have any questions whatsoever – nothing is too small or too silly – I am here to answer them. {I am not here to persuade you, and asking questions does not obligate you to sign up.}


“Before beginning the course I felt nervous and insecure about my creativity. Now I feel excited! 
I love the videos where we get to see you working. It is so inspiring to see another artist work and to see the beginning steps of a drawing or painting and watch it develop from a rough idea into something beautiful and complete.
I would definitely recommend this course because it helps with becoming open to your own creativity and not afraid to just go for it and explore on the page.”
Donna, Creative Spark


The Creative Spark ecourse is now open for earlybird registration!

creative spark ecourse

Yay! Earlybird registration is now open for the Creative spark ecourse, which means if you sign up within the next week you will receive £30 off the full price.

I have been beavering away over the past month, tweaking, revamping and bringing new energy to the course. The format remains the same – six weeks of gentle step by step lessons to make it easy to build your artistic confidence and begin to discover your own unique artistic voice – as does my level of involvement throughout the course. {This is one of the most popular things about it!}


Student work

Here are some words from past Creative Spark students about what the course did for them:

“What I love about the ecourse is that everything we got from you kind of starts finding a place inside my thinking and feeling, and especially Monday’s exercise stuck with me and resonates with me, as well as the two very helpful questions of today. I keep perceiving more shapes and generally beauty in everyday things, and since going to the classroom this morning I keep asking myself (in a good way) why I notice this and that and why I love it and such.” Nicole Meisters 

“Great videos today by the way! So easy to watch and you have really got the balance right, so wonderful to see you work as well and explain what you are doing as you are going along in such a gentle and calm way.” Debbi Jackson

before and after<- “So here’s the difference 12 days with you makes Tara! You are magic. (Top image is the first thing I drew on this course in Day 1, and below is what I drew yesterday.)” Akiyo Kano 

You can find all the information about the course here, and if you have any questions or would like to talk it through, please don’t hesitate to get in touch {}.

free sample lesson from the creative spark ecourse


It occurred to me that if you’re interested in taking the Creative Spark ecourse {running again in September} ~ and actually even if you’re not and would just like a little peek at how I teach – you might like to see a sample lesson from the course itself.

This video is from Week Four of the course, and is a good example of the kind of thing you can expect. In this video you will learn:

  • how you can make a painting based on, and expressing, an emotion
  • a variety of approaches and techniques for expressing yourself with paint
  • why I advocate a connection practice as part of your creative life
  • why bold steps can sometimes be worth the risk
  • how a painting can teach you things about yourself
  • my philosophy and approach to making art
  • different things you can do with a painting like this

The passwords is: happiness


As you can see, this painting is not a masterpiece; it’s not something I’d frame or necessarily share with anyone. It’s the kind of painting you can make as an experiment, to satisfy your curiosity about paint and what it does, or how you might paint your feelings, or as an opportunity to allow yourself to make drastic changes half way through! Think of it as the equivalent of a tester pot, or a dress rehearsal.


Creative Spark Ecourse If you enjoyed this and are wishing you could get {back} into painting in a non overwhelming way, the Creative Spark ecourse might be just what you need. The approach of the course is simple, step by step and designed to encourage experimentation and exploration at a gentle pace. I’d love to have you along for the journey in September. You can find out more by clicking the image on the left.

Please do share this post with anyone you think might be interested! Much appreciated. :)

in my sketchbook lately

While things are quiet in the studio and most of my creative energy is going into revamping the Creative Spark ecourse this month, I do like to play in my sketchbook, especially with oil pastels and Neocolors.

Here’s a little selection of what’s been going on in ye olde sketchbooke the past couple of weeks. Some are just play in and of themselves, and some are done with a mind to working them up as paintings later.


fish in oil pastels {from a photo I took at a garden centre recently – you never know where inspiration is lurking!}


An abstract inspired by an image found on Pinterest. Learned a couple of new things about adding marks over layers and using unexpected colours. {Salmon pink I’m talking about you.}


The outdoor studio, with studio buddy sidling about, probably hoping the oil pastels were edible.


Another Pinterest image inspired oil pastel drawing. Really loving the big expanse of orange.


And yes, another image inspired by Pinterest! {The holy grail of inspiration for me lately.} This one, in Neocolors and pen, was for Susannah Conway’s August Break prompt, Reflection.


A work in progress, in oil pastel. Love this idea of a scene made abstract by rain.