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Gouache ~ Wet on Wet

October 20, 2011

Most artists, ambitious or otherwise, wouldn’t think of knowingly putting a bad painting up for the whole world to see.  Although, I will admit, I’ve looked back and wondered why on earth I posted this one or that one.

Most artists who share their discoveries will still put up the successful discoveries:  “I tried this, and by golly, look what I came up with!”

But I occasionally take a different approach when it comes to this blog.  When I started painting five years ago, I couldn’t find many artists who painted landscapes extensively in gouache.  They’re a lot easier to find today.  In fact, I seem to discover another one every week.  But back then, I could count them on one hand: Tiemens, Paquette, Fowkes, to name three off the top of my head.  I was very active on wetcanvas.com back then, and found that a lot of people (who apparently couldn’t find many gouache painters, either) had questions.  Some were surprised at the versatility of the medium.  Some were surprised at the finished product I was able to produce.  And I was just getting started!  But my point is that so many wanted to know about this strange medium, that I started the blog in order to share what I was discovering.

Some of those who were already using gouache have since created videos and are doing workshops.  Some who have since discovered the medium have done the same, and begun to build reputations as gouache artists.  I’ve said that it was my hope that, at the very least, maybe some future, very famous gouache painter’s biography will contain a small footnote to say I was one of their influences.  Believe me, my ambitions were much loftier in years past, but as I push closer to being only a couple of years away from 70, ambition takes on a different flavor.  Paint.  Learn.  Share.  And if I can sell a few paintings along the way, well, that will buy gas for the motorhome.

The comments on the blog, and the emails I receive, tell me that there are a lot of people still looking for information about gouache.  They have been very gracious in their thanks.  And I have found that very encouraging.  I’m occasionally asked if I do workshops.  I’ve told Nell that, while I’ve done two-hour demonstrations, I wouldn’t have a clue how to put on a two or three day workshop.  So for now, I keep sharing here as best I can.  And so we come to the point of this article.

Occasionally, part of my sharing has been to show a painting I’m not terribly happy with.  The purpose is to show, first of all, that we’re all human, and second to lay lessons learned out there for others to gain from.  So… having said all that, here’s how I spent several hours yesterday:

Untitled Study, 8x10, Gouache

The original intent was to take pretty much of a broken color impressionist approach.  I chose a scene I’ve painted before (probably my first mistake).  Somewhere along the way, I became so caught up in little brush strokes that I lost control of the whole thing.  But that’s still not the main lesson I want to convey here.  The lesson is, always remember that gouache isn’t necessarily going to dry the way it looks when you put it down on the painting surface.  Light values will dry lighter!

I know that, and I normally try to compensate for it.  Still, I continued to build up the light in a couple of areas: the background tree foliage; and the odd high clump of grass in the left foreground.  Here’s a blowup of that clump of grass:

I know, the colors are different.  That’s operator error as I still try to learn to use Photoshop Express instead of regular Photoshop.  Color isn’t the point here.  Value and intensity are the things that were affected as I continued to try to enhance the light coming down through the background trees and on the foreground bush.

The problem is that I was working wet on wet.  Gouache can fool you.  You know it dries quickly.  So, when a passage just doesn’t seem to have the intense light we want, the tendency is to keep lightening the paint and stroking it on.  After all, it’s already dry, right?  Well, not exactly.  Fresh paint and recently wet paint will continue to blend together.  Within just a couple of hours, the paint was noticeably lighter as it cured.  I’ve seen colors change as well.  A few more hours, and it was just simply white, with a little color suggested.

I lightened it because I have a tendency to paint dark.  So the idea that the areas surrounding the light areas could simply be darkened doesn’t necesarily work for me.  So I lighten.  More yellow.  More white.  Until, at that moment, it looks right.  But later it appears to be more than a highlighted area.  It appears to be almost totally devoid of color.  Or, as in the background tree foliage, the fresh, wet paint, unlike oils, slowly blends into the existing, recently wet paint.  The result isn’t definite broken strokes of separate colors, but more of a blended watercolor effect.  Not what I was going for at all.

So, the lesson for today is… before hitting a passage with more and more light, especially when using white, let it dry overnight.  The color will have dried as much as it’s probably going to.  And then you will know what you need to do to address those strong highlighted areas.

Sometimes, unless you’re working very small, being able to say “I did it in an hour” doesn’t accomplish much.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Robyn Lovelock permalink
    October 21, 2011 2:30 am

    Even so….I thinkthis is lovely Ralph. I do so want to have a go a this Gouache.
    I guess there’ll be somewhere on this blog…where you suggest a starter palette?
    Then I’ll get myself some and have a go myself. You do lovely work.
    Ro x

    • October 30, 2011 10:35 am

      Thanks Robyn. Keep your starter palette simple. Primary colors and titanium white. From there, it depends on the subject matter and the way you want to paint. Then you can start investing in other, specific colors.

  2. October 21, 2011 10:57 am

    Thank you! I appreciate you sharing what you have learned and glad you will post the example!

    • October 30, 2011 10:38 am

      Nancy, all the artists whom I respect have always been willing to share. This is just my way of doing the same with a medium many aren’t familiar with. Thanks for the visit.

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