3 Secrets to Looser Paintings

By Shuang Li

Among all the questions I get, the most common has been: “How can I achieve a more loose and easy style in my watercolor paintings?” Over the years, I’ve found there’s more than one solution to solve this “tight” problem for myself. Here are a few of my favorite tips.

“Carlsbad Village”

Being “loose” must be your first and only mindset when you start painting, my friends! From my own experiences, I’ve found that anytime I didn’t tell myself to paint loosely, I would become uptight with every brushstroke I put down. I had to remind myself to paint loose each time, or my work would tighten up in no time! However, once I have the right mindset, my brain seems to automatically give the correct commends to my hand for looser brushstrokes.

Trust your eyes and hands. If you paint in a representational style like I do, then you know you’ll need the ability to capture and describe the character of your subject matter with your brushes. However, you must first have complete trust in your own eyes and hands. Learn how to observe the subject matter correctly, then your hand will follow. Trust your eyes for the visual observation, then loosen your grip and let your hand do the brushwork for you. Your confidence within yourself will give you the bold and loose style you are looking for.

I have two simple routines, which I use to establish AND maintain a loose style. One is I sketch and the other is I paint en plein air (painting outside). My best secret is simply being persistent in my pursuit to paint from life, more and often. Doing these two activities routinely has greatly helped me sharpen observational skills, and enhanced my ability to create painterly brushstrokes. As a result, I’ve been able to achieve a “loose and easy” style in my watercolor paintings.

“Old Town San Diego”

I hope sharing the thoughts here are helpful, now you know you can paint loose and easy, too!

Shuang Li shares her process for painting compelling waterscapes in the DVD, “FEARLESS LANDSCAPES WITH SHUANG LI.”


  1. I like your idea of sketching more and think that may be really helpful. Im a bit confused about the plein air advice though. Does painting outdoors somehow force you to paint quicker and looser? Thanks!


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