View Full Version : Loose or Tight

10-12-2004, 02:21 PM
I know the subject of painting "loose or tight" has come up before somewhere in the past, but wanted to find out from those who enter competitions, etc. if they find painting loose is better.

I started taking classes last week from a well known artist, Catherine Anderson. She suggested to us students to paint looser. She showed us pictures of winning artwork in recent competitions. I must agree with her that most, but not all, were very loose, whimsical, and abstract. Is this a trend or has it always been that way in compeitions? I haven't entered any competitions, but wanted to know consensus.

I love to paint tight so this goes against "my painting grain", but I'm also willing to work on it.

Thanks for sharing.

10-12-2004, 04:12 PM

mrs willow
10-12-2004, 04:58 PM
Beanpainter, I understand your dilemna only too well. I am also more of a natural "tight" painter although also admire looser styles and often wish there was more looseness in my own work.
At times I try loose techniques but have found that my loosest work is done outdoors and/or in a limited time frame. Happy accidents?
I have come to accept my natural inclinations (tighter style) and try to make the most of them by setting myself challenges.
Cheers Sandy

10-12-2004, 05:20 PM
Thanks for your encouragement and understanding.

Wow! I'm impressed with your work. You not only work in watercolor, but also oil, acrylics, pencil colors, pastels, etc.! Is it easy to "cross over"?

10-12-2004, 05:51 PM
I guess I'm a tight painter and often resort to ink lines too - although I'm fighting the habit ;)

Suits architectural subjects fine though.


mrs willow
10-12-2004, 05:54 PM
Thanks for those nice comments, Beanpainter.
I suppose the variety of media I use is part of the challenge that I set for myself. Each medium needs a different approach and that makes me think harder.My natural preference is for watercolour both transparent and gouache. I just love painting/ drawing ....the lot! Perhaps I am "Jack of all trades etc" which doesn't worry me at all.... just keeps me interested and challenged.

10-12-2004, 08:26 PM
You're absolutely right... there has been, and probably always will be, a lot of discussion concerning tight vs. loose...

For some time, I felt that my painting style needed to be looser... because if everyone seemed to want it, it must be right... I was pretty unhappy about the direction my paintings were taking...

Then, I purchased a book about painting florals... Quoting from Susan Harrison-Tustain's book, Glorious Garden Flowers in Watercolor:

"Have you always been drawn - as I have - to paintings with detail but then told to avoid detail and "keep it loose"? Does something inside you scream, "But it's the detail that appeals to me most!" Those words challenged me to develop a style that incorporates looseness in the initial stages and fine, realistic rendering near the completion of the work. I refute the word tight. This conjures an image of a painting that has been worked and reworked with little use of water, until it looks overworked and scratchy."

That single paragraph in her entire book helped change my own outlook... it gave me permission to enjoy what I do...

Paint what you feel comfortable with... learn the techniques... develop your own personal style... tight or loose... but enjoy what you do!!!

10-13-2004, 02:07 AM
As I personally prefer "loose" paintings I can very well imagine that they appeal to a lot of people - including juries and prospective buyers.
I find "tight" easier to do and to make my own work looser, I use several tricks, like splashing water, masking fluid or paint on the paper before I start, painting with twigs or holding my brush like a conductor. Like one of my teachers told me: you can always tighten it up later, but if you start tight, it's very hard to make it look loose in the end.

10-13-2004, 08:39 AM
In some situations you have to paint loose imagine going on a trip with some nonpainting people that don't like to stay in the same place very long ad to this a cold and grey day wich forces you to paint wet in wet since it would take for ever for the paint to dry. Under these circumstances I think you get the best result using a large brush and rough paper.

10-13-2004, 09:53 AM
If you are interested in the discussion among WetCanvas people read here

In my opinion, if you enter your paintings in a show you have no idea what the jurers are looking for - they go by their own subjective likes, dislikes and trends. In my own city's (100,000 ) major art show they also have a prize for the painting most voted for by ordinary people (prospective buyers?) and in over 20 years it has ALWAYS been a tight painting that won the prize in that category.

10-13-2004, 10:17 AM
For me, CharM said it best: Find your own style! Mine is mostly loose, but I'll often be pretty detailed at my center of focus/interest. I.e., cows in the meadow will have proper eyes, nostrils, tail hairs, etc. -- but that meadow has only colored masses to indicate swaths of grass or wildflowers. :D

10-13-2004, 10:43 AM
Uschi, I have found out from the people that view my work ( which is tighter by nature) that they are most responsive with the things that look more photo realistic. And since I want to sell my work that is the direction I will mostly go in.
Also noticed that most of the art contests that I have viewed. The winners are the looser painters.
So it seems to me in my area the question is do you want to win contests or sell paintings lol. Hmmmmm I want to do both lol


10-13-2004, 10:51 AM
So it seems to me in my area the question is do you want to win contests or sell paintings lol. Hmmmmm I want to do both lol

I agree with you 100% - three reasons for painting - for ourself, for selling or for winning contests and each one has it's own criteria for success.

10-13-2004, 11:35 AM
Thank you all for your responses. So its clear: "The beauty of Art is in the eye of the beholder (or juror in competitions)"

For me, I paint for relaxation (the escape / zone) and give them to relatives and friends.

Char - very inspirational words; Thank you for sharing them.
Baba - I like your statement " you can always tighten later".
Thanks to Yorky, Ingegerd, Friend Carol and Nailbender for commenting. I've always liked to paint in a realistic manner. Details are what attracts me to a piece of art. Although, I love whimsical and abstract art, its the realistic art that I would want to hang in my home.
Uschi - Thank you for the link, very informative!

10-14-2004, 06:24 PM
FYI to all....
Today I went to view the Watercolor Art Society of Houston's Annual Membership Show. There were 21 Merchandise Awards given out to those with paintings that were chosen by a juror. I counted how many were painted "loose" and how many were painted "tight". There were 11 - loose, vs. 10 -tight. Pretty close in number, wouldn't you say?

10-14-2004, 06:32 PM
Very interesting!!! One juror or several???

Jon Roark
10-14-2004, 08:37 PM
I am always intrigued by this debate. I have friends who paint the way their latest workshop teacher told them to paint, meaning that their style depends on which workshop they just attended. It's one of the reasons I never attend workshops and really dislike the way they are seen as the answer to your questions. I was in a show once where the juror was supposed to talk about the show and what he found within the watercolors he had selected. Instead he started lecturing on his way, his method, and within a very short time it was apparent that his way was the only acceptable way. My wife turned to me and asked how he had chosen any paintings for the show as she hadn't seen any that reflected what he was calling on everyone to do. My answer is this. Work the way that works for you and the heck with everyone else. If you find someone whose work you respect, talk to them, or emulate their style as it applies to your voice. If you are painting a certain way because you think a show will choose more of that way than another, you are not painting with your voice in mind. That's just pandering to what you think will be chosen and it takes YOU out of the mix. Your voice in your painting is what is important, not what you think a juror wants. Study, copy, emulate and then mix that all into how you choose to work. Mark Twain said he reached 70 by following a road that would have killed anyone else. To be true to yourself as an artist you must paint the way that works for you, not the way the juror wants or the workshop demands. That is their way, not yours. Obviously a subject I think about a great deal.

To also answer the actual question. I prefer to paint tightly. In fact I hope I am going to start using egg temperas before the year is out, and there probably isn't anything tighter than that. But the important thing is, it is my way, it is what works for me. If you wish to see some of my work, feel free to examine my website, just don't expect me to expect you to paint like me after viewing it! :0)

Sorry for the lecture!

10-14-2004, 09:28 PM
If you wish to see some of my work, feel free to examine my website, just don't expect me to expect you to paint like me after viewing it! :0)

Good lecture!!! Looked at your website and really enjoyed your paintings - fabulous subject matters!!!!

10-15-2004, 08:27 AM
One more thing on detailed painting. I have been told that people that make costumes and decores for theaters find old detailed paintings with motives like maid grinding coffee very helpful. Even if a lot of photos are produced today far from all are permanent. So maybe there will be costume designers in the comming centuries that will be very grateful that there were people who painted detailed pictures in the beginning of the 21th centurary.

10-15-2004, 09:33 AM
Jon... had a look at your website... beautifully diverse work!!! Wow... I really hope you'll post some of this great stuff here on WC!

10-15-2004, 11:37 AM
John, thank you for sharing your comments and experience. Your website is very interesting.

Uschi, there was only one juror....Mark Mehaffey.

10-15-2004, 11:39 AM
Jon .... sorry for mis-spelling your name previously.

10-15-2004, 02:06 PM
Then he is a VERY good jurer who recognizes the diversity in art!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I also went to his website - what an accomplished and diverse artist, am still in awe!!!