Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nearly-Notan Gouache with Yellow Underpainting

I ask Jeanette if she wants me to help her in the supermarket, and she says, "Really, I'd rather not. Why don't you go do a sketch?" I know what she means. I'm always distracting her with other topics while she's thinking about food.

Behind the VW Dealership, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I've got 45 minutes and two tubes of gouache, white and black. That's OK, because I'm in a film-noir mood today. I walk over to the edge of the supermarket parking lot and there is a white van parked behind the VW dealership. I like the way it's halfway in the light.

The sketchbook page is already primed with a bright yellow acryla gouache underpainting. I did that to cover up a flubbed diner sketch (can you see the outline of a ketchup bottle just to the left of the van?). 

Over that dry priming, I draw some perspective guidelines with watercolor pencil. The "acryla" part of acryla gouache seals the surface against later wet layers of regular gouache, so the yellow won't pick up with what comes next. 

I like the bright yellow because it forces me to use opaques, and it makes me paint across edges. I lay down the big masses of near-white and near-black tones, using a flat half-inch brush, with no attempt at detail yet.

I'm interpreting the scene as a "Nearly-Notan" statement. By that I mean two families of tone: "very-dark-plus-black" for what is in shadow, and very-light-plus-white" for what is in direct sun.

I can allow myself a little definition within each of those principalities, but I want to avoid middle tones. There should be a deep valley in the middle of Histogramland.

I move to smaller brushes for details. A guy comes out on break and sits to the left of the van to check his cellphone. The sun goes behind clouds for the whole rest of the session, so I have to remember the lighting.

Jeanette has finished the grocery shopping. I've got to wrap. I use black watercolor pencil for the wires. 

I'm nearly done, but I want to add a little more glare to the sky. I add a little white artist's chalk in the area adjoining the sky and rub it in with a soft cotton cloth. If you scroll back up to the top, you can see the subtle glare effect with the chalk.
Acryla gouache (this is like regular gouache, with some acrylic medium)
Regular gouache for the black and white


Jennifer Branch said...

I like the yellow underpainting. Nice glaring glow. Fun sketch! Thanks for sharing the sketch and your process!

Jared Cullum said...

This is gorgeous. Nathan Fowkes recently did an interview on youtube where he talks about travel sketching exercises. He breaks down the steps to one of his landscape sketches and the tools he carries. He also uses a relatively similar method to this where he lays down a yellow wash and blocks in with colored pencil for an warm-glow. It's neat to see two titan-artists I admire using a (again, relatively) similar method and coming up with their unique results. Beautiful and inspiring. :)

Emanuele Sangregorio said...

Mr Gurney, thanks for explaining in written words this concept. I heard "Notan" several times, but my english capabilities couldn't trace it to that 5 letter word so even the wikipedia page was miles away from me. Also, your books and videos are amazing.

James Gurney said...

Jared, thanks for mentioning Nathan. I admire his work greatly and have had a chance to meet him a couple of times. One of the best painters in gouache and charcoal.

Thanks, Jennifer and Emanuele. I'm pleased to know it was helpful.

seadit said...

Love it! You make it look so easy, but that motivates me. Cheers!

James Gurney said...

Seadit, thank you. Actually, this is a really great exercise for beginning painters, because the elements are ultra simple and you get automatic results.

Carlos said...

Hi James. Great sketck. I'm a bit more used to acrylics (and working at home) but his makes me want to try my hand at gouache. Do you find it easier than watercolor for sketching? What is that White artists' chalk you mention in your materials? I've never heard of it. Cheers.

Ник said...

James, sketch is fascinating (like all of yours are). However, I do not make very well paintings with watercolours on location (i could get too messy in watercolour pencil portrait or make much more bigger shadow in a landscape) I am practicing a lot, but I can't get the whole thing about anatomy, and how do you think, will the practice and only the practice save something! I want to start with gouache too now, and what are the pros of Gouache comparing to Casein? I know that the Casein looks and behaves much like oil, but.... I guess there is nothing more. I carried a tube of Schmincke HKS white gouache, but it ripped apart... How do you carry them?

Ник said...

Thank you for posting. I guess it takes a lot of time for doing this.

Jack Hornady said...

Thanks for posting. These are so fun and inspiring. I'm gonna go out and do a sketch right now. Great work!

Adriana Guidi said...

Thanks for sharing James! As always I
look forward to your travel sketches.
I'm going to try this .

seadit said...

Thanks James. I'll pick up some supplies and give it a try :)

Leif said...

Thanks for letting me discover the idea of "notan". I googled it and found out about the Dorr Bothwell book. One more dimension, to make the world fun to look at.