Paint Loose Watercolors | 25 Tips from Richard Stephens

Just 10 pages into the June issue of Watercolor Artist, I came across the Creativity Workshop column, which features an article called “Loosen Up” by Richard Stephens. Richard is known for creating paintings that appear spontaneous and, you guessed it, loose. While you’ll want to read the full article to understand more about painting loosely, I thought I’d share with you Richard’s list of tips to get you started. Enjoy!

May Flowers, watercolor still life by Richard Stephens

May Flowers (watercolor on paper, 10×14) is all about soft and lost edges,” says Stephens. “I sprayed the bouquet with water to merge it into one large shape rather than lots of individual flowers. The reflections running off the bottom are just a continuation of the fruit. The dark background offers a contrast to the light values and colors of the flowers and vase, while the spontaneous turquoise brushstroke adds movement and a cool complement to an overall warm format.”

25 Tips for Painting Loose Watercolors (click here to Tweet this list!)

by Richard Stephens

1. Do value sketches.
2. Simplify your subject.
3. Do a fairly accurate drawing with good shapes on your paper.
4. Think shapes, not objects.
5. Paint from large shapes to small shapes.
6. Pay attention to edges–hard, soft and lost.
7. Be sure you have soft and lost edges in your painting.
8. Paint quickly, but under control.
9. Get in and get out.
10. The first stroke is your best stroke; fewer strokes win.
11. Use the largest brush you can for as long as you can.
12. Fewer palette colors result in fewer touches of the paper.
13. Use a spray bottle to help move the paint on the paper.
14. Paint on an angle to help the color move.
15. Pick up and tilt your board for even more movement.
16. Don’t worry about “messing up.” It’s a sheet of paper, and you can always paint on the back.
17. Don’t worry about always creating a “good painting.” Remove that stress and just play.
18. Don’t render; interpret.
19. Keep in mind what attracted you to a subject in the first place. Stick to that and downplay everything else.
20. Don’t give everything the same level of attention.
21. Don’t try to “make it happen,” just let it happen. Trust the water, paint, paper and brush.
22. Don’t use too many tricks and gimmicks.
23. Paint the same subject several times in a series.
24. Realize that you have to be willing to make a lot of bad paintings before you start doing good paintings.
25. Paint, paint, paint, and have fun.

What a goldmine of advice! If you’re ready for a healthy dose of watercolor painting inspiration, now’s the time to get the Splash: Best of Watercolor digital collection, which is on sale and only available through the month of July. And catch up on the Creativity Workshops you’ve missed at

Warm regards,

Cherie Haas, online editor**Click here to subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and more!



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