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The dark side of gouache

May 24, 2010

One of the beauties of gouache is that one can paint lights over darks.  But one also has to contend with the lifting characteristic of the medium.  I’ve noticed that oil painters tend to paint their dark areas rather thinly.  This doesn’t necessarily apply to gouache.  Below is a detail from an 11×14 painting that’s in progress:

Quite often, when laying in the initial darks to establish my composition, I paint them with thin paint, generally a mixture of ultramarine blue and either burnt umber or burnt sienna, which can produce a good black.  Eventually, I paint over the dark areas with strokes of other colors, building up to what I hope will create a richness in the dark areas.

Here’s an enlarged, sharpened view to better illustrate what I mean:

In this case, I’m using cheap bristle brushes, which gives the stroke texture, but I haven’t necessarily used thick enough paint in the upper darks.  When I stroke over the dark area with a wet brush, the dark paint is lifting, almost back to the white of the board surface (cold press Crescent board).  What I’m hoping to achieve here is a dark, dusty barn interior.  While the strokes are helping to develop that, I really want the upper area to be very dark, with only the suggestion of color.  So… before I continue to put in other color, I’ll go back, with my dark mixture leaning a bit more toward the umber or sienna, and use more opaque paint strokes.  This will give me a more solid base of paint to work on.  Then I can let the stiff bristle strokes do their thing as I add richer color within the same value range.

Of course, if you’re painting solid areas of color, this won’t necessarily apply for you.  In my case, I often build the colors up in “layers”, and let the new paint pick up some of the “dry” paint as I work, allowing for a blending of the colors.

This may or may not be helpful.  It may not even be meaningful.  It just occurred to me as I work on this painting, knowing I need to make an adjustment… and thought I’d share.

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