How to loosen up your art

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? And what you really actually want is to loosen up your art, not paint yourself into a corner?

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 feel limited 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 you don’t find something to loosen up your art in that list I’ll be most astonished. Got any further ideas to add? Please share in the comments!


If you’d like to learn to loosen up your art with a bit of extra guidance and {loose!} structure, then Loosen Up might be the course for you.

It’s packed with experiments to try and ways in to painting, designed to help you free up your art and make paintings that are ever more your own.

You’ll find it alongside lots of other painting courses, a cosy community, and guided monthly themes, inside the Happy Artist Studio!

Click here to learn more and join us!