How This Perfectionist Learned to Paint More Loosely by Adam Clague

NOAPS Clague Lincoln                          NOAPS Clague Micah

Left: An early student drawing of mine

Right: A more recent oil painting

I’ll be transparent – I’m a perfectionist.  I iron my jeans.  I have a have a hard time focusing in a cluttered studio.  I quintuple-check these lessons for typos (and kick myself when one gets past me).  For years, my perfectionism was a huge hindrance to my painting – by the time I got everything just right, it was way too tight!

Now, please don’t misunderstand me – there is nothing wrong with fully rendered or “tight” paintings.  Just look at the masterpieces of artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Lord Frederic Leighton!  Tight painting is only an issue if you want your paintings to look loose.

And man, did I want to paint loosely like Sargent and Schmid! My paintings may never be on a par with those masters but my work finally developed the looseness I desired.

This perfectionist learned to paint more loosely by disciplining myself to adopt these 6 practices:

NOAPS Clague

1. Stand up.  Sitting will keep you from frequently backing away from your work – an essential habit, as problems are much more evident at a distance.  If you’re unable to stand while painting, sit in a chair with wheels.

2.  (Following from the last point) Adopt the 10-Foot Rule: If it reads well from 10 feet away, it’s good; don’t touch it!

NOAPS Clague 2

3.  Envision your subject made up of shapes like mosaic tiles.. As much as possible, try to paint these shapes with one stroke each.  If you need to adjust a shape, do so with a separate, deliberate stroke instead of continuing to dab at it.  Painting a shape with a single stroke often requires a generous amount of paint on your brush, which leads me to the next point…

4. Mix up large batches of paint on your palette with your palette knife.  One of the biggest culprits of tight painting is not using enough paint – when your brush is hungry for paint, multiple strokes are needed to cover an area and this can cause the surface to look overworked.

NOAPS Clague 3

5. Use a brush slightly too big for the job (I can’t remember what artist said this, but if you know, please remind me!) 

6.  Continuously ask yourself, “How do I want this to look?”  Having at least a semi-clear vision for your brushwork can keep you from falling into the trap of slavishly copying your subject.

I demonstrate my loose painting technique from start to finish in my online video course, “Learn to Paint Dynamic Portraits & Figures in Oil.”  For more information, please visit

NOTE: Adam Clague will be conducting a 2-1/2 day workshop during Opening Week at the National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society 28th Best of America National Juried Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio.  For more information and to sign up for the workshop, click here.

About the Artist

Adam Clague’s work has received international awards and press.  The artist lives near Kansas City, Missouri with his wife and fellow artist Andrea Orr Clague and their son Gideon.  Adam paints in an impressionistic manner and works from life as much as possible to produce the most life-like results.  The artist seeks to faithfully capture the beauty of Gods creation and to share that beauty with his viewers. 

Adam’s work is represented by Ward & Ward Fine Art (Kansas City, Missouri), Hudson Fine Art (Hudson, Ohio), and Gallery Augusta (Augusta, Missouri).

To see more of Adam’s paintings visit, to read his blog posts visit and Facebook at

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