Do you often find yourself a slave to detail — filling in every tiny bit of information the image has to offer, leaving nothing for the viewer to interpret on their own? Do you often render yourself right out of your own work by creating great reproductions of photographs rather than your own artistic interpretation? Does this compulsion frustrate you? I used to have the same issue with my work and I found some fairly effective ways of helping me get past my compulsion to over-render.
Do At Least One Quick-Painting Exercise A Day
For example, take a small substrate, preferably no larger than 8"x10", and the largest brush you're comfortable with, and do a complete painting with no more than 25 strokes. Think carefully about each stroke before you apply it, making sure it will have the maximum effectiveness in communicating your subject.
Place A Table Between You And Your Easel
This will help keep you from getting too close to your painting and will also allow you to easily, and regularly, step back from your work and carefully consider the whole of the painting. Seeing the painting as a whole, rather than getting too focused on detailing a small area at a time, will help you to better judge what details are unnecessary and what information must be included. I use a 2'x4' table placed between me and my easel where my palette, painting supplies and materials are kept as I work.
Hold Your Brushes No Closer Than Halfway Down The Shaft
A brush should not be held like a pencil. Use the brush as an extension of your arm and flourish your wrist as you paint. Control may be difficult to obtain initially, but with practice, you'll likely find this manner of holding the brush provides just the right combination of control and freedom.
Squint To Soften Your Focus
Squinting while you observe your subject is an integral part of drawing and painting. It reduces the subject to its most basic forms of shape, value and color giving the artist a simpler basis from which to accurately depict his or her subject. But, squinting can also be used as a tool in limiting unnecessary details. So if you're prone to over-rendering, squint (or if you're practically blind like me, try painting without your glasses) and you'll be forced to only see the most dominate and pronounced details.
Paint From Life
Work from life as often as possible. Plein air painting, for example, is a great way to help you loosen up. It forces the artist to paint quickly and accurately, while also honing his or her ability to edit a scene and create dynamic compositions on the spot and under pressure.
About My Own Journey In ‘Loosening’ Up
When I first began trying to ‘loosen up’, and attempted these suggestions for myself, it was a tremendous blow to my fragile artist’s ego. These methods of painting were — and still are — the most difficult I’ve ever attempted as an artist. They made me realize how limited my skills as an artist were (especially the plein air painting). It was challenging (to say the least) to come to terms with my own shortcomings as an artist, when in the studio I felt as though I knew exactly what I was doing. The fact is, I didn’t. My understanding of painting was at best, narrow and I can’t stress enough to all of you reading this how liberating it eventually was to choose to confront my own ignorance and lack of skill and attempt to learn and grow as an artist. I hope those of you out there that would love to paint more loosely but feel it’s “just not the way you paint”, will give it a shot. Don't let the frustration that can come from attempting to better your work by utilizing methods you’re not comfortable with stop you from achieving what you want as an artist.
If anyone has any tricks they've used to help them loosen up, please post them! I’m always excited to try new methods in my journey to better my work.