New square trio: tips to loosen up your painting

Seascapes 52: week 19

Last month visitors to Otley Coffee Culture enjoyed a sneak preview of one of three new Sol-inspired seascape creations. This week you get to see all three, as they've just landed on my website. Plus, I share 6 tips for loosening up.

Seascape painting square format

Last week after life drawing, a few of us arty types were chatting about loosening up. I find it much easier to loosen up when I'm painting than drawing. So, this blog is a reflection on the process to help me think about how I can apply this to my drawing.

Tip 1: use your own photos

It's interesting to reflect how the role of photo references has shifted during my creative journey. Other than the occasional photograph borrowed from a family member, and ones supplied by clients, I'm very disciplined about only using my own photographs. It's not simply a question of copyright. It's about being about to paint how something feels rather than what it looks like. If I didn't take the photograph, I don't have the same affinity with the subject. And to be blunt, I do find working from photographs supplied by a client incredibly restrictive and frustrating. It's just not my thing. 

Tip 2: forget the photo

The seascape trio is loosely (haha) inspired by Sol (Cape Verde). But there's a fair bit of imagination and abstraction in the rendering. While the underlying composition has echoes of the beach on Sol, the colouring and details are intuitive. 

Younger me, tended to rely on the reference photographs I took quite closely. In hindsight, this was very restrictive. It's easy to put too much energy into trying to "get it right". This can lead to a tendency to overwork paintings. In my case, it also led to some creative frustration. My style would become tight and I'd look at the results and reflect: "that's not how I want to paint". I've learnt to be more playful in my approach and trust my inner vision. Remember the camera always lies, so it's not a good idea to copy a photo faithfully. Well, not if you're trying to loosen up.

As my love affair with mark-making has encouraged me to evolve new ways of creating texture in my work, I've managed to loosen up and increasingly detach my vision from the photograph. I focus on looking at the painting and seeing what it needs. Rather than comparing it to the reference image (if I'm using one).

Tip 3: use a bigger brush

I remarked during life drawing last week that I wanted to loosen up and me mate, Dan Broughton (fabulous artist who paints semi-abstract creations inspired by Brutalist architecture), reminded to use bigger brushes. He's right, of course. 

In fact, one of my favourite creations used a brush that was disproportionately large compared to the canvas:

Landscape painting with bold brushstrokes. Fields and trees with the Angel of the North silhouetted against a cloudy sky.

Leaving the north (sold)

In comparison, this seascape trio uses relatively small brushes. So, how did I get the movement?

Square seascape painting with textured surface

Tip 4: ditch the brush

Ditch the brushes and embrace mark-making. Finger-painted clouds, fishing gut flossed waves, pin curls ... it's all about the gadgets. It's hard to be precious when you're brush-free. It's all about feeling your way. And absolutely about being able to ...

Square seascape oil painting with textured surface

Tip 5: trust the mark

Forget representation. Just enjoy the mark. Trust the mark. The gesture is what it's all about. Focus less on what you want it to look like and more on technique. More pressure? Less paint? DIfferent angle? What's the direction of the application? Does it need to dry first? I'm definitely more aware of technique than I used to be.

TIp 6: other exercises to explore

There are other creative exercises you can use to loosen up. All of these are well-known artist tricks. Some examples: continuous line, blind contour, non-dominant hand ... all good tricks to reinvigorate your creativity. Some artists change from light to dark paper, some from drawing the form to drawing the spaces. Draw or paint to music. Change your tools. Mix it up.

Have fun. Would love to hear what works for you. Share your best tips in the comments.

If you fancy gazing out to sea with this trio on your walls, you can find it in my Land & Sea collection

Thanks for dipping in to Seascapes 52. Next Wednesday we'll blog on with the 20th post in the series. 

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