A Loose Watercolor

I am often asked how do you make those loose watercolors, do you have any tips how to make them? Can I learn that too?

A few colors and a lot of suggestion to make a steel factory

Of course you can, but painting loose is not as easy as it looks or appear.
Painting Loose is planning your brushstrokes, and plan them in the most minimal way.
When you have a minimal amount of strokes you are half there.
The trick is to see your painting in your mind, and know how to get there. I know it is complicated, but starting somewhere to paint without a plan is like going on a roadtrip without directions where to go, but you want to get there in the best time possible!

When we begin with watercolor we buy some colors, brushes and paper. We carefully make our cubes wet, and mix a bit of that wet paint on our palette.
We got a big brush round nr.8, and for the fine details a nr.6 we got a small jar filled with water and a little watercolor-block.
We look around what and how we like to paint and our eye is very attracted to the loose painting style of a well known artist.
( I deliberately exaggerating a bit)


Well, if you are a experienced painter you can probably make a loose painting with this equipment, but it is not likely when you are a beginner in watercolor painting.

For one, cubes are great for sketches outdoor, or when you are a painter that makes delicate washes and have enough time to mix from dry paint.
Two, the brushes are way to small for watercolor, these are detail brushes and not suitable for painters with a loose approach. For a loose style you are better of with larger brushes, the flow of the water and pigment is much better.
Three, any paper is good to paint in loose style, on some papers it seems that you style is improving because it is easier to paint on.
If your paper is soft and absorbent, you get fluint washes and nice gradations, if you don’t want that, but like the more stained spots of color you need a harder paper. For example Saunders Waterford rough is a soft paper, and very absorbent, but Fabriano rough is much harder, so you need to find out what you like.

Tips to paint in a loose style
And they are just tips, and not scientific proof that it works!
When you are fine with the way you make art, that is absolutely great!

Your pencil, (again, when you are experienced you are fine with this pencil) but to force you in a looser style you probably better use the bigger one from cretacolor! Or use charcoal great to get instant shadows on your painting!

With the pencil you can make fine lines, so you could end up with to much details.

You can make bigger lines with this big graphite pencil without to much details.

Paints, any tube color is okay, tubes are fresh and give color in a quick way.
Make sure you don’t have to many colors on your palette, painting loose and to much (opaque) colors can ruin a watercolor in a mud festivity!

Brushes, we like the nice ones with a sharp point, how sharper the point the nicer we think it is! Well if you try to paint loose you are better of with a brush with little control when you paint. Cheap Chinese brushes* give you instant less control over your washes.

First wash you make with the biggest brush you have a flat Hake or spalter is okay, or a big mop! Even the two house painters brushes give you less control!


You paint as long as you can with the big brushes, before you go further on a smaller size.
But don’t paint with a smaller then a nr.12 round!
Carefully rethink your brushstrokes before making them, and when you know, try it to do in one stroke!

For details at the end we need a brush that can make fine lines, but also give us some freedom in our work, I use often a sword for this work. I dont have the control I would have with a normal brush, but with all things you have to get used to this. And when you do you have a good friend in your paintbox!


Make one like this, I am sure you won’t paint details with it!!

Another tip I learned from my teacher Kees van Aalst, known from the book Realistic Abstracts. www.keesvanaalst.nl

Take a photo, make from that photo a black and white copy, or make it B&W in a photo program, after this you make a sketch from it.
Now you don’t look to the copy or photo anymore, while making your watercolor but only work from the sketch as a guide.
This trick makes a distance from your subject and you probably end up with a looser and more balanced watercolor.
You choose your favorite colors to work with, and you are on your way!
Otherwise we are trying to get that green lawn in the photo, or just that purple glow on that dark roof and we never reach a balance because we can simply not make every color in nature with our paintbox, and certainly not the harmony the light outdoors is making our subject appear!
Off course there are a lot of artist that don’t need these tricks, but they already have been there. Watercolor is a slow learning process, but it is highly satisfying when you reach a certain level. But you never know it all!

Another trick is looking at your subject true your eyelashes, you see only shapes and tones. Also you can blur your photo in a photo program.
In photoshop the “paint Daubs” filter is very useful

1) Use less information about your subject
2) Use Bigger Brushes
3) Use less colors
4) The most important color on your paper is the paper!!

Edo Hannema

If you have a style that works for you, don’t change it!
see also my other article about watercolor here.

  • there are very good Chinese brushes too, Wolfhair or Orchid brushes  are well known. read a blog about them here.





8 thoughts on “A Loose Watercolor

  1. Excellent post and advice Edo. You have a way with words…….. and paint of course. I know all of this stuff but lack the discipline to put it all into practise as I tend to paint small in my journals. Your post has inspired me to let loose ….. after I come back from holidays.

    1. Thank you so much Ros, I am always wondering if my Dutch/English is sufficient enough to explain the things clearly enough! And further I dont think your style is tight, its pretty loose if you ask me. But you can always try one or two odd brushes that makes your work even better or looser!
      Best wishes Edo

  2. Great post Edo and great advice ! I have pretty much all the big brushes and most of the time I only use 5/6 colors from my palette when I paint thing. lately I am sketching a lot lately and had no time to work on bigger paintings! I will….thanks for sharing! 😉

    1. Thank you Carolina! Sometimes I really enjoy the small paintings, I did a lot of 1/8 sheet lately. You can make several on a cardboard, and work on a few! you done have to wait for drying that way!
      Best Wishes Edo

Leave a Reply to sandidureice Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.