Thursday, April 18, 2013

Plein Air Gouache in Monterey

Gouache—or opaque watercolor—is a wonderful sketching medium because it's so portable, opaque, and fast drying. It's well suited to oil painters who want to travel super-light. I had a few tubes with me at the Plein Air convention in Monterey last Sunday.

Good thing, because I needed something opaque to cover a failed page in my watercolor sketchbook (better than cutting a page out).

For this painting, I set out to capture a lineup of painters in a warm color range, gradating both the background color and the silhouettes as you shift to the left. The morning sun edge-lit the artists and their easels, helping to separate them in some places, while they merged into the tone at the base.

(Direct link to Video)

You can watch the painting being made on this short video. Note the skateboard dolly shots by my son Frank and his buddy Justin Critelli, who operated the cameras while steering dangerously between tippy easels.
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Materials: Designers' GouacheCaran D'Ache watercolor pencilsMoleskine Watercolor Notebook, and various sizes of flat watercolor brushes.


Keith Parker said...

Awesome! Now I want to try gouache in my little watercolor sketchbook.

Jonathan said...

Great post! What type of brushes do you recommend for gouache and water colors, meaning flats or rounds,etc?
When traveling do you prefer water colors or gouache? I'm traveling to Switzerland and Italy in less than a month and have never really dabbled in water colors or gouache. I want to start experimenting doing these painted sketches in my stretch book. Thanks again for another great post James!

David Teter said...

Very Impressive James!
I am a huge fan of your watercolors and gouache and this one is one of my new favorites.
Considering you have moving subjects you really managed to get a beautiful rhythm to the composition/figures from front to back. That does not happen by accident I know.
Love it!

tayete said...

That's terrific, Mr. Gurney!
Those cyan touches in that warm picture nearly made me shout!

bill said...

Monterey is one of my favorite places. From there north through Santa Cruz, up to Half Moon Bay and even further was my stomping grounds as a youth. After school, or thereabouts, piling in a car and making the short jaunt over the coastal mountains we could find crowded beached or secluded coves. Love Monterey.

Jim Martin said...

Another masterpiece! Thank you for sharing and for your painting tips!

Nick said...

Lovely as always! Looks super fun to paint with flat brushes like that.

Five Fives said...

A particularly striking piece James. And I love your choice of subject. You have hundreds of artists painting scenery simultaneously, when obviously the painters themselves are a much more unique spectacle!

Tom Hart said...

What a gem this painting is.

I see you're using tubed colors here. I think you've mentioned that you sometimes mix watercolor pigments with white gouache. I've yet to try that. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches?

Eric Rhoads said...

This is my new favorite painting James. I loved it when you showed me at the event. It really shows the feel of the event, it was quite a site to see the wharf in monterey with wall to wall painters (about 700) and it was historic. The day before on the ocean in spite of high winds it was very cool (cold actually) to see 700+ painters as far as the eye could see... painting together. What fun it was. Thank you for your insightful keynote speech and for hanging with us the entire week.

Karen Eade said...

This is just SO inspiring. Thank you so much.

Mary Aslin said...

This is a stunning painting...evident that simple tools in the hands of a master results in extraordinary.

My first thought when I began to examine it critically was that--if I remember correctly--you did the "Howard Pyle analyzes Rembrandt" thing that I remember from one of your prior blogs...putting a dark against a light and a light against a dark in the focal area.


mp said...


Connie Nobbe said...

I love this painting! I wish I had it as a print.
It appears that Pebeo is your favorite brand? I've been wondering which brand of gouache is the best?

Dany Salme said...


WW said...

One day someone will X-ray (or infrared) this and find the portraits underneath. A truly inspiring little exercise. That you could great such an illusion of depth and detail with such a big brush is amazing. Well done, James!

VickiRossArt said...

Absolutely amazing! I tweeted it, hope you don't mind!

Daniel New said...

how do you go about making the titles/ covers for all your sketchbooks? they are always so cool. is it just a kind of gel pen that magically doesn't smear? i've always wondered how you make them.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone!

Daniel, I've experimented with a few things for the title lettering on the covers of my sketchbooks. Acrylic doesn't stick. Paint markers work pretty well, but they rub off. Most recently I've tried "One Shot" sign painters paint, which seems to give the best durability and coverage.

Connie, for the gouache, I just happened to buy that brand in another country. I'm currently experimenting with different kinds to see what works best.

Eric, thanks for having the vision to make this event happen. It was quite an amazing experience.

Tom, the tube colors deliver a lot more coverage and pigment. Using a little white with the transparent watercolors is good up to a point.

Tayete, the cyan is just what's left over from the gray underpainting. It's always nice to have some cool touches next to the warm colors.

Jonathan, I would say just experiment with different brushes and see what works for you. Bigger brushes are usually better unless you really need the detail.

Brenda Boylan said...

Hi James,
I so loved your presentation at the PACon, and enjoyed your humor and thorough thoughts on the practice of Plein Air, but your unicycle was the best. As a child my Dad would put me upon his shoulders and unicycle on our driveway. Scary!

This little painting/sketch is wonderful. I saw you sketching a lot at the PACon and watched you graciously sharing your work with many attendees, all whom learned a lot from you.

Paint on James!

Marta said...

Absolutely amazing! Definitely want to try gouache while traveling

lbdesignart said...

James, I am the third artist, I believe, from the left. Can I purchase this painting? Thank you and I enjoyed listening to you while you painted. I was so involved in my painting, I did not get a chance to see what you were up to. When I finally did, I noticed you were gone. Thank you. Your piece is beautiful.

lbdesignart said...

James, my name is Janet Lombardi Blixt. I just posted the message that I was interested in purchasing this painting if it is still for sale.
Thank you,