How to Paint a Loose Watercolor Painting? Let Your Paintings Bloom!

loose watercolor painting

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Jealous of those artists who can create beautiful loose watercolor paintings that bloom beautifully on paper? Well, envy no more!

Although it looks difficult, it’s actually not that complicated.

You just have to master the secrets to painting loosely — which can be found in the step-by-step tutorial and tips & tricks list we’ve provided below:

Materials List

To start with, let’s talk about what kind of supplies are needed in order to create a loose watercolor painting:


The most crucial aspect of your success or failure in making a loose watercolor painting is your chosen paints.

Many beginners opt for cheaper paints in order to save money. But cheap paints are cheap for a reason! They’re not even close to professional watercolor paints in terms of quality, and they won’t provide you with the same experience either.

watercolor paints

IN SHORT! If you want to experience the beauty of your paints coming to life on paper like any watercolor painter, it’s best to pick artist-quality watercolors.

If you’re really short on cash, you can save up a bit more to buy the primary set of Daniel Smith brand paints which are of professional standard. Or, you can opt for the introductory set of Qor Watercolors, which are known to provide the best flow because of their use of aquazol as a binder.


Paper is also very important for painting in a loose style. If you’ve painted other watercolor paintings before, you should know that it’s futile to paint watercolors on regular paper.

If you’re not sure why, it’s all because of poor absorption. Ordinary paper is not able to absorb water as well as watercolor paper and it won’t be able to reflect the loose and fluid painting style that watercolors are known for.


Recommendations for professional watercolor papers can be found here. For the best, wet effects, it’s best to choose the Arches brand of watercolor paper — which is more expensive, but also more conducive to loose painting.


There is no hard requirement when it comes to picking brushes. It’s best to have a variety, specifically with large brushes that can hold a lot of water!

But, aside from that? You’re free to choose your own favorite brush set to use.

brush set

If you’re willing to spend more, we recommend the Princeton Neptune set which is made of synthetic squirrel hair. The quality of the brush hair is soft and supple, perfect for carrying loads of water! Also, the unique brush head shapes are great for loose and fun experiments.


Other supplies you might need whilst following the loose watercolor tutorial below include:

  • Palette: For mixing and/or storing used paints.
  • Water Jars: For loading water and washing brushes between colors.
  • Flat Board & Tape: For mounting the watercolor painting.
  • Masking Fluid: To keep highlight areas when applying washes.
  • Paper Towels/Cloth: For drying brushes between uses and clean-up.

The previous list is required for most loose watercolor painting sessions, but there are also more options. For example, spray bottles, plastic wrap, salt, sponges, heat guns, etc. can be used to create special effects or to make loose painting more convenient.

If you like to play with mixed media, you can also prepare some gouache paints, watercolor pencils, watercolor markers, etc.

How to Paint a Loose Watercolor Painting?

Next, it’s finally time for the loose-style watercolor painting tutorial!

For this, we’ll be referencing artist Joanne Boon Thomas’ “Loose Watercolour Poppies” YouTube video. If you want to see the beauty of watercolor paints coming to life, make sure to check it out!

Step 1. Sketch Your Art Composition

Although loose painting is characterized by spontaneity, most watercolor artists start with a sketch before putting wet paint onto paper.

This is to provide structure later and make sure that the painting doesn’t become too abstract in the process of having fun with the flow of paint. Of course, if what you hope to paint is abstract, you can forget this step!

sketch your art composition
(Image Source)

As a tip, in order to ensure maximum ‘loose-ness’, you can limit your sketch to the main subject of your painting and a couple of key side subjects — leaving the rest of the photo blurred out.

The sketch from Joane Boone Thomas above is an example of this. The main subject, the three poppies, are sketched loosely along with some buds to complete the composition.

Step 2. Prepare Your Watercolor Paints

prepare your watercolor paints

Loose painting is highly dependent on timing. Sometimes, you have only a few seconds before the water and paint are absorbed by the paper, which can limit the way the color flows.

So, it’s best to prepare the paints you want to use for your painting before starting out!

water color painting

Even better, if you want to use fresh paint from tubes, it’s best to squeeze them out on a palette for easy mixing later. Also, if there are any particular shades that you expect you’ll use later, mix them early so that you don’t have to fiddle over them again later while working on your loose painting.

Step 3. Apply the Loose Watercolor Washes

Next, it’s time to start putting paint onto paper! Well… not literally!

apply the loose watercolor washes

Actually, the first step when painting loose watercolor paintings is to wet the paper with clean water — as can be seen in the photo above!

The general idea here is to apply water on the surfaces where you want the colors to flow. Thomas wanted to work on the poppies first, so a good amount of water was used to soak the paper to start with!


After applying the water, it’s time to quickly apply paint. In the tutorial, the artist first applied Cadmium Yellow onto the sides of the poppy which is expected to be lighter.

She let this yellow spread naturally before applying a mixture of Permanent Rose and Cadmium Red on top (which can be seen in the image below).

how to do watercolor

For your own painting, you can do the same and apply wet paint on top of wet paint. OR, you can wait for the first wash to dry and then apply another wet wash by repeating the same steps.

The former is certainly more loose, fun, and spontaneous, but there’s a risk of muddying the colors if you’re not careful! Naturally, there will also be more room for imperfections in your painting by default.

Opposite of that, letting wash layers dry before moving on to the next will certainly not be as fun and loose, but you can be sure that most of what you’ve painted will be retained and can be seen below the wash layer placed on top without muddying the colors.

Step 4. Experiment and Have Fun

Next, it’s time to have some fun!

No, seriously. Loose painting is all about having fun and letting your intuition guide you in creating art. So, whilst working, if you suddenly feel like there’s a need to introduce movement or other effects somewhere — do it!

experiment and have fun

An example of this can be seen above. Joone Boone Thomas believed that the painting lacked movement. So she sprayed the nearly dried poppies with her spray bottle then flipped the board she was using to mount her painting upside-down to let the newly-wetted paint drip down.

watercolor tips

This not only allowed the colors to mix more, but it also added extra energy to the painting.

You can see the result in the photo provided below. As you can see, the style of the painting changed drastically with the addition of experimental ideas.

watercolor style

Anyway, the key to this step is to let you know that you can explore ideas freely. So, stay relaxed, and don’t let any sparks of inspiration that you discover get lost in the process!

Step 5. Add Details and Accents

Next, it’s time to start adding details.

This is the time to give your main subject some form, so it’s not as loose and relaxed as the previous few steps.

add details and accents

BUT! You need to remember that the key here is to capture the essence. For loose watercolor paintings, painting your subject to look exactly like your reference photo is counterproductive.

It doesn’t have to look the same. It doesn’t matter if anything is missing! It also doesn’t matter if you join or match certain elements that were not originally together.

The main thing is to capture the essence of what’s there.

watercolor painting tips

This can be seen in Joone Boon Thomas’ watercolor poppies. Dried paint is applied and spread with a brush loaded with clean water.

There are very few lines or accents that personally define the petals of the poppy flower, but she managed to capture the essence — making them look as if they were real poppies being blown in the wind.

watercolor art styles

You can see the final effect of her style in the image above. The painting is not complete quite yet. But this semi-finished painting itself is already quite beautiful.

It was only because she wanted to explore and discover more opportunities that she continued with her art project.

Step 6. Apply Finishing Touches

If there are areas in your painting that you feel are lacking, or if you feel the style is too loose or too constrained, now is the time to make use of the watercolor painting techniques you’ve used in the past to finish things off.

apply finishing touches

For example, in order to give her loose red poppies some extra form, Joone Boone Thomas made use of negative painting techniques to define the petals of the poppy flower.

She did this for all the flowers by default, but only to certain areas of the flower.

The effect of using this style is to give off the feeling that you’re watching red poppies amidst a large field of other red flowers. At least, that’s the image that the artist wanted to achieve. Of course, you can change things up based on what you know your audience wants to see.

Step 7. Embrace Imperfections

One more thing! When working on the details of your loose watercolor painting, it’s important to remember to have fun. Don’t overthink things too much.

embrace imperfections

Here, you can see the artist splattering paint freely to complete her composition.

These paint splatters can go anywhere and everywhere. You can’t control it! (Well, if you really want, you can somewhat control it by covering up areas where you don’t want any paint splatters to land with some paper or tissue, but that’s not the case here).

Anyway, the key here is that these may seem like small imperfections if you look closely. But together as a whole, they can be the details that can make the audience looking at your artwork more interested and invested in your work.

5 Tips & Tricks for Painting Loosely

painting loosely

Now that you’ve understood the basics of painting loosely, let’s talk about some tips and tricks that can help those who compulsively can’t stop themselves from being too stiff with their work:

  • Try Limited Time Exercises: Remember when we talked about how loose painting is dependent on timing? Well, it’s time to take advantage of that by limiting the time you work on each artwork. Not only will this force you to relax, but it will also keep you from bothering too much over imperfections! (If you want to try it, pick a good reference and do timed interval practices. For example, for the first time, paint for 15 minutes, then 5 minutes, 30 seconds, etc.)
  • Watch How Your Paints Move: One reason people may compulsively paint stiffly is because they fear the unexpected. It’s stressful for them to not know how the paints will react! If you suffer from this personally, start watching how your paints react in different situations. This way, you won’t be so stressed when working.
  • Paint With a Big Brush: Another easy way to relax whilst painting is to use big brushes. Big Brushes can be used to paint details if you’re careful, but most people are naturally more generous when using them, which can relax your composition a lot.paint with a big brush
  • Add More Water: Similar to the previous trick, adding more water is just to force you to be more generous with your actions whilst painting. After all, wherever there is water, the colors will naturally flow.
  • Limit Your Color Choices: More colors usually mean more options. It’s easy to get mixed up when your palette is so varied. So, it’s best to work with a limited palette from the beginning and see what you can create by mixing and matching.

Learn More: Watercolor Resources

Video Courses

  • YouTube: Loose Watercolour Florals from Camilla Damsbo
  • Skillshare: Watercolours For Beginners – Paint With Expression
  • Domestika: Creative Watercolour Sketching for Beginners

Book Recommendations


Hopefully, this post has pointed out the right direction for you!

BUT, if you’re still eager to learn more, make sure to check out the resources we just shared! Especially the SkillShare learning path “Paint With Expression” — it’s very useful for those who want to let themselves go when painting.

Featured Image: Source

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