Tight painting vs loose painting...what does it mean to you?

I’m trying this week’s challenge but I’m not altogether sure I know what the difference between tight painting and loose painting is. Does a tight painting mean more detail? Sharper edges? Photorealism? Does a loose painting mean soft edges? Less detail? A progression to abstraction? Let’s have a discussion about tight and loose painting.

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Hi Terri-Anne, I hope this conversation takes off, and EVERYBODY weighs in with their thoughts. It’s a subject I am very interested in, as well. When I think of loose painting, I often think of bigger brushes. But bigger brushes require bolder decision making, and so, in reality, it’s probably a combination of those two that gets me to a looser painting. When I read your thought about “A progression to abstraction?” part of me said Nooo!!! but then I reconsidered the various definitions of abstraction, and there are some that fit :slight_smile: where quality vs quantity of abstraction comes into play

Loose means not geting bogged down with unnecessary details. It also means operating by intuition more than intellect. Neither should be confused with just plain messy painting.


@ David Kuhn. Just wondering if a painting of a house was done in block colours (very posterized with few details) with hard edges would it then be considered to be a loose painting? Do the edges also have to be loose?

@Karen cooper: I probably don’t understand abstraction very well. When I look at a subject and deconstruct the subject into areas of colour and value there is a point where the focus on the object itself disappears and the focus becomes on the colour and values. That is what I mean by abstraction.

The average viewer might not think of that as loose, because they associate loose with sketchy. But you as the artist might still think of it as loose if you did it fairly quickly, without painstakingly constructing it. It’s really less about edges than it is about attitude and approach.

Regardless, if someone has a naturally tight style, there’s nothing wrong with that… Every painter works with their own nature.

Terri-Anne, Ha, David just said what I was thinking about but didn’t express - “Neither should be confused with just plain messy painting.” And I like your definition of abstraction a lot; it’s very organized, about a style that I often struggle to sort out…Thank you for sharing it!

Although loose pays less attention to details, a good loose painter pays attention to structure.


Yes, I think that’s very important - attention to structure. As others have pointed out, “loose” isn’t just messy painting. I think it’s not necessarily fast, large brushes, all soft edges, abstract, or other constraints, though they can be useful for learning. What comes to mind is a short movie I saw of abstract expressionist, Willem de Kooning, painting. No one can say his paintings aren’t loose! But I was struck by how he painted very slowly and so very thoughtfully. A stroke, then observation, finding the right color, observation, and another stroke. I was surprised, since to me, his paintings look like they were done quickly and often aggressively.

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No, his paintings look loose, but they aren’t.

This goes back to what I wrote earlier. Loose isn’t about the look of the finished product, it’s about the process. If the process is quick and intuitive, it’s loose.

If the process was long and deliberative, then you may end up with a painting that has the illusion of being loose, but it’s not.

“Sloppy” is when you combine loose painting with not caring, in contrast to caring coupled with a relaxed process.

If you look at the CHALLENGE for this past week you’ll see an exercise in painting from a tight, realistic approach progressing to a much looser painting style in a series of 4 paintings.

Hi everyone. Thanks for your thoughts on tight vs loose painting. I decided not to do the challenge because I really didn’t understand it very well even after all the comments here. Is loose painting a process or a result or both? What are the characteristics of a loose painting? I did look at all the challenge entries. The next time someone refers to my painting as tight I know I’ll be asking them a lot of questions to find out her/his definition of loose.

I learned a lot from tutorials on DPW, like: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/ArtTutorials/ArtByteSummary/30
and youtube vids. For me, it resulted in a taking of a little of this and a little of that you see that you like and incorporate, keep painting and develop your own way. And since to me a good painting is varying edges, and mixing a little color of each area in to the others, it is becoming for me a bit more instinctive. Because I have learned what I like and consider to be successful, some of these things I don’t have to think about as much.

I do think some varying edges contribute to looser style of painting. For me, my work became a bit looser after my confidence built up a bit and I became freer with my strokes, using less due to knowing where I wanted them and the color to go… Certainly, hyper-realistic painters are not loose. People make a big deal about it, but it’s just fun to experiment and develop your own style. To me, I think looser is letting the brush work for you (becoming one with the brush, haha), and mixing colors are a bit more freely. Less brushstrokes, instead of ‘over-painting’ areas. Well, yeah. I’m not doing any better describing loose vs tight. Sorry! :zipper_mouth_face:

I think you did a very good job of describing it. And the other thing you said, which can’t be stressed enough, is that the real focus should all be about having fun and naturally developing one’s own style, whether it’s loose or not…

Of course, by now we’re talking about last week’s challenge. This week’s is to do a copy painting of an artist you admire (and then another in their style). Given all the controversy on DPW regarding the tradition of learning by copying, I’m surprised (and happy) this is the challenge.

I will check it! Sounds like fun.