Australian Fine Artist

Painting Nudes 2017

The Third of Five Workshops with David Chen

When I began training with David Chen, my goal was to not only learn the principles of Modern Impressionist painting, but also to ‘loosen up’ my style a bit from what i saw as sometimes ‘stiff’ and contrived results. Sometimes the details become so important that I forgot to place the subject within and connected to the foreground and background in which it was situated.

Context is just as important as your focus and main subject, and when the subject began to look disjointed, unrelated or worse, like it has been stuck or pasted on top of an unrelated scene, is when I start wondering how this could have been avoided. My thought was that if I could put more planning and less effort into my paintings, that would be a start, but what kind of thought and what kind of effort?

The philosophy of Loosening Up

According to David, your state of mind comes out in your paintings. Something I very much agree with. If I am tense or worried it will show in my work. Many reading this may have felt the same at times. The result can be a ‘tight’ painting.

How do you avoid a tight painting? Is it by working quickly? Working broadly? By splashing and spreading painting around without thought? Is it lack of details?

Interestingly, lack of detail does not mean you get a nice loose painting, neither does lack of forethought or planning. Also, eliminating emotion from your painting time also won’t work. Often the emotion that is revealed in a painting is what makes it relate to the viewer, and that is not just fatigue or having a bad day, but it can also be the elation felt at painting a stirring or beautiful subject. Also, as you get into that ‘bubble’ or ‘zone’ to paint you may find that many emotions fade away, or change, as your awareness of the outside world and time is absorbed by the relationship between you and the canvas. The familiarity that you build up, by returning to this relationship with your materials and subjects, is what will help to build a relaxed, but still conscious, approach to loosening up.

Another thing to remember, especially in a workshop situation, is that even though your tutor may have a very ‘loose’ style, it doesn’t mean you have to copy it. You may try it out and find that it just isn’t you, so you should find your own comfort level, which may be a bit more formal or detailed. After all when we go to a tutor what do we want to do? Become a poor copy of them or the best version of ourselves?

For me, realising that my version of loosening up means taking the things I learn at a workshop home, and applying principles to my own style and taste, which is more detailed and structured, is what I want to achieve. By doing this I hope to know when and by how much I want to loosen up any part of a painting to make it work. That may mean just softening some edges, and taking away areas of detail in the background, or merging some tones and colours, or concentrating on only some areas of my subject rather than trying to make it all crisp and clear.

Remember also, that the use of colour and tone is important when thinking about how you will loosen up your paintings. For example you may want to restrict your palette, so that you can create works that aren’t so busy colour wise, leaving you free to play with complementaries or analagous colours, mixing them to produce some soft grey tones for looser edges and soft shadows.

What it all Means

In the end, loosening up isn’t as simple as it may sound. This is especially so if you are truly trying to create and develop your own individual and identifiable style. It takes a lot of planning and practice until you can discover how you can do it in a way that works for you. Until it begins to click into place you will have some successes and a lot of ‘failures’ and even more paintings that work in some areas but just don’t look right in others. Don’t despair, is all that I can suggest, and don’t give up. It takes time to develop as a painter, and loads of practice, before things slowly start to look right to you. Meanwhile, the important thing is to remember that it can be easier to copy or mimic your tutor or trainer, but it won’t produce something that truly reflects you as an artist (and if your tutor is insisting that you do copy their style or methods exactly, I would suggest trying someone else who teaches principles and not mimicking). It is much better to take the time, which may sound totally contradictory, I know, to learn to loosen up and create something that you are proud to call your own.

To finish of I am placing one of my sketches below and my painting before and after David made adjustments to it. Look for the pink skin tones added to the hip and legs and extra marks for the feet and hands, where David felt I could have made them.

As with all my workshop blogs, I acknowledge David Chen for producing the instruction that formed the basis of this information. If you would like to contact David to go on the waiting list for workshops, the link to his web site is below.

© Janice Mills and David Chen

© Janice Mills and David Chen

If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him via his website at:

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Also Note: All paintings begun or completed at workshops under the supervision of a tutor,  from supplied or students’ references are for academic purposes only, and can not be entered in to judged art competitions/exhibitions, or made available for sale online or in a gallery, as they are not the sole production of the student. These are considered collaborative works and not the sole production of the student.

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