10 excellent tools and techniques to loosen up your art


Are you always looking for tools and techniques to loosen up your art?

It’s a challenge so many of us struggle with, steeped as we are in habits that keep us tight and more realistic than we might like.

But it often isn’t as hard as you might think to actually do it.

None of the following tools and techniques involve rocket science, but trying even one today – perhaps on a painting that’s got too tight, or as a way of warming up in preparation for working freely – can be enough to shift you out of stuck and into flow.

1. Fingers

Fingers can make a muddy mess, sure, but they can also be used to make more delicate marks, to spread and blend, to neaten up an edge, to make dots with fingertips.

You can use a light touch, sweeping gestures with the whole arm, print or smudge with the side of your hand, rub paint back with a cloth over your fingers. And best of all, they’re free. πŸ™‚

Loosen up your art - Artist hands


2. Handmade brushes

Therapeutic to make and creative in their own right – even if you can’t then bring yourself to get paint on them πŸ˜‰ – handmade brushes are a fantastic tool.

They are made of freely available natural or found materials which by their nature will mean looser mark making, encourage reuse and recycling, can make all sorts of exciting marks, and can be gorgeous enough to display.

We go into making your own brushes {and painting with them!} in the Loosen Up course, if this is something you’d like to explore.

Handmade brushes - a great tool to loosen up your art



3. Sticks

Sticks can be used on their own dipped into paint, or you can tape a piece of charcoal {or a brush, pastel, or whatever else you want to try!} to the end for less control over your marks.

Check out the Free Up Your Art course {it’s free!}, in which I show you how you can make a lovely loose drawing with just a stick and a piece of charcoal. Which leads me on to…

Easy and fun technique to loosen up you art - charcoal taped to a stick for drawing



4. Charcoal

One of the most expressive, tactile, lively, forces-you-to-embrace-mess art materials there is, in my humble opinion. πŸ™‚

I’ve loved charcoal for thirty years. I even made a course about it to share the love, because so many people are wary of it, and so many people also fall in love with it when they know what to do with it. {Find the course inside the Happy Artist Studio!}

Lovely tactile messy charcoal


5. Big brushes

One surefire way to stop making tight, overly realistic paintings {when you don’t want to}, is to scale up your tools.

A big brush takes away that fiddly control aspect, and if you want to make smaller marks you have to do it with care and a light touch.

I love love love these Liquitex Freestyle brushes, but they’re not cheap, so house painting brushes can be substituted.

Liquitex Freestyle brushes


6. Catalyst Wedge

I’m always harping on about this one. With good reason! It changed the way I paint.

It’s incredibly smooth and satisfying to use, and is great for covering large areas quickly without brush marks. It also scrapes back, and leaves interesting textures.

You can carve into paint, lift areas, move the paint around, and, for example, make pattern in an uncontrolled, rough around the edges kind of way.

Using a Princeton Catalyst wedge for painting



7. Flick

I don’t use this often enough. I love flicking paint, and it’s actually harder than it looks to get it to look how you want, so don’t assume this one’s just for kids!

You can do it large scale, with a big brush and dollops of fluid or diluted acrylic, or small and dainty with a little bit of paint and an old toothbrush.

Flicking can create dramatic spatters or the appearance of a fine sea mist, and everything in between.

painting in the garden


8. Pour

There’s a whole art genre {?} using specific pouring techniques which has gained huge popularity recently. I’m not really talking about that specifically, as I need a bit of line work too in my art.

I like to use the consistency of paint to reflect both subject and feeling in my work {again this is something I talk about in the Free Up Your Art free mini course}.

I use both water and airbrush medium {by either Golden or Liquitex} to dilute acrylics to varying consistencies, then pour and manipulate the paint with my Catalyst wedge.

You can also of course do this with oils and turps or linseed oil.

Riding the Thermals - painting in progress


9. Print

Printing can be reeeeeeally controlled and perfect {think Albrecht Durer etchings, or a screen printed poster where everything lines up perfectly}, or it can be intentionally loose and expressive.

Monoprinting is great if you want to go uncontrolled and painterly with your printing, because no two are the same and you can adjust as you go.

If you’d like to try monoprinting there are of course tons of videos on YouTube, or you can do it with me πŸ™‚ in Loosen Up.


10. Blind Contour

You knew I was gonna squeeze this in somewhere didn’t you. πŸ˜‰

Check out this blog post for more on the joys of blind contour drawing. Suffice to say, it’s loose, it’s free, it’s fun, and it has many many uses!

blind contour drawing of a succulent

These are all some of my favourite tools and techniques for freeing up my own art, many of which I use frequently, some occasionally, and some of which have simply been part of the journey.

Obviously my list is not exhaustive. What would you add?