LOOSEN UP- Ideas for loosening up your artwork and staying positive in the process!

By March 13, 2014Uncategorized

Do you wish you could “loosen up”?  I’m talking about in your artwork, but there may be application for your life here too.  Would you like to get more abstract or less stiff with your drawing or painting?  One way I would suggest is to try limiting the amount of time you take to do your work.

If you’ve never done a timed study, then I suggest you give it a try.  Set up a timer and begin with some warm up drawings- Start with 2 minutes and use newsprint paper or other throw away type paper, and a medium like charcoal or soft graphite.  A water soluble pen and a little brush with water can also work well and is less messy.  These materials allow you to put down some serious value quickly and also to quickly soften or put it light values.  Use the side of the charcoal, or smudge with your fingers to quickly lay in the big shapes.  Use the tip of your charcoal to find edges or details after you lay in the big shapes.  If using a pen, find the contours first and then lay in the shadows with a wet brush.

“She’s Got Game”
Charcoal and Ink on Paper $400 Framed

Use magazine photos, or real life.  To find people who are not moving around too much, think about taking your materials to a book store or to the beach.  People tend to stay in one place once they get settled in those locations.

After a few quick warm ups, increase your time allotment to 4 minutes and do a few more timed studies.  Think about working from shadow to shadow and connecting those shapes to form the subject.  
While warming up, AVOID JUDGING YOUR RESULTS!  This is very important.  Tell  the critical voice in your head to keep quiet and just do your best to connect your hand with your eyes and gain an impression of your subject.  

I love the figure and make it my business to draw and paint people whenever I can.  This particular piece was executed with the clock ticking and a limited period of time to get it done.   I have found that the energy injected into the process of doing timed studies really helps to impart a dynamic quality to my drawings and paintings.  Not all of them are great,  but this one turned out well.

If you don’t have time to do a fine piece of work, then why expect it?  Right?! 

Kathie George, a friend and wonderfully positive and creative teacher,  calls this voice in your head the “Itty Bitty $#!**& Committee”.  Isn’t that a great term and a great descriptor of what can go on inside all of our heads as artists?  It’s the voice that looks at whatever you have created and says things like:
 ” That looks terrible.”
” A 5 year-old could do better.”
“What are you doing wasting your time?”
“You are not talented.”
“What makes you think you could ever be artistic when you’ve never been good at this, EVER”.

I have an old dog who currently wears diapers because she listens to the bad voices in her head more than the positive ones (of course this assumes she is listening, AND since she can’t hear AT ALL this is probably unlikely…but that’s for a whole different discussion).

Some of us battle these voices in our head, or the Committee of Negativity more than others.  Some of us even give voice to this inner negativity and take the time to say negative things about ourselves and our work out loud and possibly often.  I do not recommend this.  Words have power, and expressing that negativity is not helpful…to you or to others who may be trying to do their best along with you.  

In my experience, all of us do our best on any given day.  That may be better or more effective on some days than others.  I have bad days, everyone does.  However, I have also found that no matter what, there is always something to enjoy about whatever results from someone’s best effort.  THAT IS WHAT WE NEED TO FOCUS ON-  CELEBRATING WHAT IS GOOD.  What’s not so good can also be useful as something to change the next time.

“You yourself deserve the same loving-kindness which you extend to others”

Back to loosening up your drawings:
Once the warm ups are finished, you will be ready to increase your drawing time to about 10 Minutes.  I predict this will feel as if you have been given an incredibly more generous time for your drawing, and you will find that your warm ups will have readied your eyes and your hand to work together more quickly.  Do a few 10 minute drawings and make it the priority to try and capture the important forms or the gestures.

If drawing people, I usually avoid drawing the head first.  If I do, I usually give my figure a bowling ball head that ends up being too large.  Heads are much smaller than we think they are.
Try this idea:
Begin your drawing by finding the line of the shoulders.  Next find the line of the hips.  You’ll note that those two lines are usually opposite one another as in the paintings below.  If you drew a line from shoulder to shoulder, it would be in direct opposition to the line from hip to hip.  

Because these are timed studies, some features of the body may need to be left out.  Maybe that can be a good thing!  

Later, if you want to paint the drawings, you can think about giving yourself an equally limited time frame.  I happen to love the understated quality of these kinds of figures.


Here are a few more examples of some timed studies I did after warming up.  I love the loose quality and semi-abstracted forms which come out of the need to work fast!  I especially love semi-abstract figure studies.

Try using large brushes to cover more area more quickly.  Try using large paper and large pieces of charcoal or pastel.  The secret is basically to “Try”.  Play around and have some fun!  Eliminate the imperative to “create a masterpiece every time”…you may just surprise yourself with what results!
Enjoy giving this method of loosening yourself up to allow for more expressive and energized mark making.  I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Feel free to share your results with me or comment here. 


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Rebecca Zdybel is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Follow her and see her work at https://rebeccazartist.com/

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Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at RebeccaZArtist.com.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Funny you should mention this… I attended the March meeting of the GCWS last week and we all participated in a timed competition. Talk about being loose! We had 15 minutes to sketch and paint a still life using only the 3 colors we had to choose prior to arriving. It was great fun but we were all feeling our "stiffness" from the long winter. There were 3 challenges and I won the first with an antique phone, birdhouse & ceramic urn still life, and was short listed in the third with a boots & shoes still life (see below). I like your suggestions to loosen up! Have fun and I hope to see you soon.

  • Anonymous says:

    Your timing was perfect. I just attempted a live figure this past week, & we had two 15 minute sessions per pose. It was intense, but really fun. I am going to try your method next, & wish I had read this before going to that session.. The negative painting in your charcoal nude is so effective. Will try it!!

    • rzdybel says:

      I apologize for not answering sooner, but I'm happy that you like the idea of negatively painting around a figure! Negative painting can be a wonderful way to inject composition on a simple drawing. Thanks for your comment!

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