I always start my watercolour tutoring sessions with some creative loosening-up exercises. I did just that yesterday during the first workshop of the year. It was even more valuable than usual, given that we had all been without access to in-person workshops for so long.

What is a creative loosening-up exercise?

Simply put, it is a time-limited, guided drawing or painting session. The aim of the exercise is not to create a finished drawing or painting. It is something that I take great pains to stress at the outset of the process.
If the idea of creating a masterpiece creeps into the artist’s mind, the outcome is changed. The point is to learn to play more, with no expectations of the outcome.

Why do a loosening-up exercise?

Because it’s a lot of fun! That may seem like a frivolous reason, but that’s the truth. However, the fact that it is indeed a lot of fun is what delivers the most value. Having fun relaxes us, and we start to create more natural, less restricted marks. We use our materials with a more adventurous spirit. There is a renewed energy in the work that we do, which is reflected in the final artwork.

Students who look at me with some skepticism when they hear the exercise instructions, end up loving the process. I see so many smiles at this stage of the workshop, I wouldn’t stop doing it for anything. It is one of the best moments of the whole day. Yesterday was no exception. Here’s what I heard: “That was so much fun.” and “I loved doing that.”

Make it a Habit

You don’t have to be in a formal workshop to get value from doing loosening up exercises.
Have you ever spent the first hour of your painting time doing anything but paint? Start your studio session with one of these exercises to get your creative brain engaged faster.
Do you find that you start your painting session feeling that your brushstrokes are tight and restricted? Spend 5 minutes on loosening up and feel the difference.

If you make it a habit to do some creative loosening-up exercises a couple of times a week, you will reap long-term benefits in your work. Creative practice is a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. I have piles of sketchbooks and practice paper dedicated to this practice. But they aren’t wasted. I use both sides of sheets of paper. Then once they are done, they either become reference pieces to remind me of the marks I liked, or I keep them to be used as the basis of mixed media pieces. Nothing goes to waste.

If you’d like to try a few loosening-up exercises before your next painting session, here are five you can choose from: Download now.