Creativity Workshop | Loosen Up


Watercolor Artist Creativity Workshop

May Flowers (watercolor on paper, 10x14) by Richard Stephens

May Flowers (watercolor on paper, 10×14) by Richard Stephens

by Richard Stephens

Over the years, I’ve had many students take my watercolor workshops because they want to “loosen up.” Because I strive for a loose, spontaneous look in my watercolor paintings, they want to learn my tricks.

One of the “loosen up” painting challenges I give my workshop students is to create a complete watercolor painting on the subject of their choice in one hour. (The light pencil drawings they make on their watercolor paper are not included in that hour.) Almost all of my paintings are done in an hour or less. Still, for many, if not most, of my students, it’s much faster than they’re used to working. I try to use humor to make this a stress-free assignment and urge them just to have fun and not worry about the end result.

The purpose of this exercise is to get them to work quickly and intuitively, with the hope that their paintings will be much fresher, looser and not overworked. Although pushed out of their comfort zones, most are happy with their results; in fact, they’re often amazed they actually did complete paintings in one hour.

Then I have them create the same pieces again, but this time they have just 30 minutes to complete their paintings. The thinking here is that they’ve just done the paintings and should be familiar with the problems the works presented and how they originally solved them. Their confidence levels should be high and their decisions more instinctive for these second paintings.

Almost without exception, the 30-minute paintings are the better of the two. Most are thrilled to have done very acceptable, even fine, paintings in that time period. Lesson learned: By working quickly, we avoid overworking a painting, thus keeping it fresher, more transparent and filled with more interesting brushwork.


Create two 11×14-inch or larger paintings of any subject and in any style you choose using Richard Stephens’ 90-minute timeframe. Send JPEGs(with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your  paintings to with “Creativity Workshop” in the subject line and tell us about your process. The “editor’s choice” will receive a year’s worth of Watercolor Artist issues in one convenient package: our 2012 CD archive. The deadline for entry is June 15.

To read the full text of this article—including Richard Stephens’ 25 tips for loose painting—order your copy of the June 2013 issue of Watercolor Artist.

To catch up on the Creativity Workshop exercises you’ve missed, click here and start painting!


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