Intuitive Painting—Building in a Starting Structure

Starting with a blank sheet of paper and just doing whatever “feels right” is way too little structure for most of us. I think this is the main reason some people conclude they can’t paint intuitively. It might look like that’s what another painter is doing. They might think that’s what they’re doing, but there is usually some sort of structure or system guiding what they do. 

Here’s one of my favorite strategies for giving myself some structure to hang my intuitive choices on: I start with a watercolor effect that already suggests something to me. I try to use that effect, plus a few other cues, to give the viewer enough to interpret what the painting subject is. Then I can let go of “accuracy” and use intuition to guide the rest of my creative choices. 

Here, I’m using one of my favorite techniques—laying plastic film in a wet wash—as the start an intuitive painting. I’ve asked myself “What does that effect remind me of?” Dragonfly wings! (Of course.)

Then I’m going to use the effect to create a painting about whatever the effect seems to naturally suggest. That way, the effect will do a lot of the work of helping the viewer interpret what the painting is about. 

Then I try to create a structure to work within by adding just enough “realism” for a viewer to understand what they’re looking at. That means I can let go of any further worries about “getting it right” and just let myself play freely with all the other creative choices in the painting, relying on the particular inner voices that tell me what I enjoy doing and seeing in a painting. 

In this video, I’m going to show you the start of the process: how I use the watercolor effect together with some basic shapes that I think would be plenty to establish that this is a dragonfly. You can take it from there and play freely without having to worry about whether the viewer will get what this is supposed to be. You can embellish, add more details, change colors, use a different backgrounds (or no background) and whatever else pleases you. No need to give the viewer the exact same cues I’m showing. 

You could also use the plastic film technique to suggest something completely different, if you prefer. Or you could use the same strategy with a different watercolor technique you like better. You can use the demo as a step-by-step start, or just take the general idea and run with it, according to what suits your experience and temperament. 

Hope you enjoy it!

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