Many of the students I teach and other friends that paint ask "How do I paint loose when my natural tendency is to paint tight." Great question but the answer is not short. To begin with, first we have to define loose and tight. My definition of loose is brushstrokes that are not blended and have volume in the paint quality. Tight is the opposite where each stroke is blended into the next edge. Many times a fan or soft brush is feathered over the paint which blends colors and values together. Paint quality is usually flatter in appearance.
Next let's understand that in form painting sometimes referred to as academic painting or indirect painting, the beginning process begins with an tonal underdrawing or tonal underpainting. Values are established first and then paint is applied in thin tile like marks. Without going into more details, let's eliminate form painting from this discussion.
I have found that most beginning students naturally paint tight. They paint everything they see in front of them and try to match color for color. I believe painting loose requires a conscience understanding and practice to achieve a loose style. Here are some thoughts about painting loose.
As the creator of your painting, you must decide how far to take the details or in other words, the matching of what you see in color and details. First you should begin with a loose block-in of in the light shapes and out of light shapes. The block-in can be monochromatic or a color wash of the local color. Here's where the choices begin.
1. Leave it in the loose stage but add thicker paint where needed.
2. A step tighter is to develop your painting to an impressionistic stage by refining the basic light and dark shapes and color masses using broken/unblended color.
3. Take it a step further, add details or blend colors in one of the planes preferably in the middle ground or foreground.
4. Continue developing other areas of details to create secondary focal points without allowing these areas to compete for attention with your primary center of interest.
5. Finally you can refine your painting until is is photorealistic and fully developed with details. All broken color becomes blended together as you pull the painting together in a "tight" rendering.
Here a two examples of tight vs. loose
"Root" is tight in the foreground and middle ground. The background is obscured as it goes back into shadow.
"Feeling Blue" has the same color scheme but I decided to be tight only in the focal area where the brass and onyx vessel is juxtaposed against the pitcher.
As you develop as a painter and have more control with your skills, usually you choose a tightness that becomes your style and is recognizable to others. I have heard seasoned painters say their goal is to capture the essence of the image and say more with less strokes. Hmmm. Different strokes for different folks as they say. I would love to know what your experience has been with this idea of tight vs. loose.