Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Seven Gouache Hazards and How to Escape Them

Gouache in the Wild—72min. DVD and HD download release date June 22
Like bunkers and water hazards in golf, every art medium has its pitfalls. The key to success is figuring out how to avoid them, or if you fall in, how to get out.

In my 40 years painting in gouache, I've screwed up in every possible way. So let me outline the Seven Gouache Hazards and suggest how to get around them.

1. New layers reactivate previous layers of paint.
--Leave half-dry passages alone! Let them get really dry before you add a stroke.
--Think before you lay down a stroke; Commit to it and leave it.
--Place the wettest layers first, and use the paint drier and drier as you build opaques.
--Instead of regular gouache, use an acrylic-based gouache or casein, which doesn't reactivate.

2. Gouache changes value when it dries.
--Darks tend to lighten and light values tend to darken.
--This is only a problem for big, flat areas or swatches. In that case, mix plenty of paint when you cover an area that needs to be flat.
--If you practice enough, you get used to it, and it becomes second nature, like keeping a violin in tune.

3. Surface is fragile and easily ruined.
--Paint in a hardbound watercolor sketchbook to protect it.
--For separate sheets, use plastic sleeves, paper flaps, or frames with glass.
--(One time, the wind knocked over my easel and the water cup splashed all over the finished painting. I just let it dry and it left a few droplet rings, but the damage was hardly noticeable.)
--The matte surface is one of gouache's virtues. It photographs well, and is receptive to drawing media, something you can't say for many other media.

4. On a hot, dry day the paint dries instantly.
--Squeeze out the paint on a damp paper towel on the palette. Spritz it with a sprayer.
--Use a priming with a sealed surface, such as gesso or casein. That will reduce absorbency.
--Shade the painting and palette with an umbrella or diffuser.
--Move to Seattle.

5. The opaque paint covers up the underdrawing.
--Start more transparently and gradually build up opaques.
--Keep track of the eye level, vanishing points, and a few key points, and construct forms with the brush.

6. "I'm hesitant to get opaque enough" or "I can't get opaque enough." 
--Use pure watercolor (or a gouache without opacifiers) for the transparent bits. Then bring in plenty of opaque gouache or titanium white in mixtures.
--Experiment with different brands; avoid student brands, which use fillers to extend the pigment.
--Get in the habit of re-squeezing palette colors that have run out. Don't run on empty.
--Do a grisaille over a bright yellow acrylic gouache underpainting. That forces opacity.

7. There are almost too many vivid colors to choose from. 
--I agree! Too many colors on the palette leads to troubles with middle-value-mumbling and disharmony.
--Use a simple warm-cool palette. You can paint almost anything with six or fewer.
--Another option is to pick a red, blue, and yellow at random (plus white and black) and paint a picture with those colors and no others. Then switch to another primary palette.

YouTube thumbnails for some of the upcoming 3 min. freebie vids.
Edit: My new tutorial video, "Gouache in the Wild" is now available.
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at Kunaki.com (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50

Disney and Dreamworks development artist Nathan Fowkes says of the new video: "I so enjoyed my copy of James Gurney's Gouache in the Wild! The practical painting knowledge is intensely useful and the insight he offers about his subjects makes you feel that you haven't lived until you've captured your experiences in paint!"


jongie said...

Thanks for this. I find gouache extremely difficult, but I keep trying....

Robyn said...

Looking forward to this release. I've been loving tinting white gouache with watercolors and will be happy for you to teach me more.

chuck pyle said...

This is already such practical knowledge shared. I look forward to the full collection.

SE said...

I love demo vids I can afford :}

Tom Hart said...

Not having much background in gouache, or that much experience in acrylics either, I wonder: What differences are their between gouache (either regular or the acrylic version) and painting in regular acrylic which can (at least as I recall) be painted in pretty wet washes and certainly opaquely? Wouldn't, for those of us with a stock of acrylics in the drawer, that be a convenient way to try many of these same techniques? What would the differences be?

HNK said...

I definitely will buy it in a first day and will try to be «in a beat» of this gouache week. This is totally worth it because, of course, this is James Gurney!

Markku Mujunen said...

From my experience, gouache (at least the traditional type) differs from acrylics by two things; it reactivates with water and it dries into quite an even surface. Large impastos can be done, but they can be quite brittle (I destroyed one heavy impasto trying to bending the paper just a little bit because of the buckling). And with the colors never being quite the same when dry, goauche is challenging, though some times the reactivation opens up interesting possibilities.

By the way, I thought I'd share a trick. It's a little different from mixing the paints on the damp paper towel. I use a DIY stay-wet palette with gouache (and acrylics too). It's quite manageable; just a damp paper towel under a wax/sandwich paper which is used as a palette. I put that into whatever box I've in hand, and presto! Palette is ready.

The wet palette keeps gouache quite moist, especially if you spray it with water now and then. After the painting session, I wrap the palette into a plastic bag and put it in the fridge to keep it moist.

A word of warning though, the fridge tends to make the colors fully liquid. But it works at least in a studio environment and I've used it for plein air too. The most rewarding thing about this palette is that it has absolutely saved me from buying new paints for many a year, since almost every color is used 'til the last drop!

EDIT: Forgive me for the message above, I noticed a few typos. Blogger really needs an editable comment system...

Unknown said...

"Move to Seattle"-humor is one of many reasons I love this blog!
Any words of advice on storing artwork (not just gouache pieces), including sketches? Much of my work is loose, not bound in sketchbooks.

Rindy's Art said...

Looking forward to the upcoming video. I have tried gouache and would like learn more about it.

Anonymous said...

This is perfect as I've just started my adventure with gouache!
Can't wait for the video.

Unknown said...

Can't wait to see it Jim! It was great chatting with you again at the IMC at breakfast.

Francois du Plessis said...

James, to further Tom Hart's comment, will it be of any value for me, a predominantly acrylic painter, to obtain your DVD?


James Gurney said...

Francois and Tom, If you paint in acrylic, or oil for that matter, I think you'll find the gouache video very useful, as the principles of painting that I demonstrate really apply to any opaque paint. The only thing that might be a little different is one episode where I combine the paint with watercolor pencils. That might not work with some acrylics if they dry with a glossy surface.

And as Robyn said, you can start with a tube of white gouache that you add to watercolor. I often travel with my watercolor + white, or just black and white gouache.

Aaron, yes, good to see you too. IMC went by so fast.

DZART, HNK, Jongie, and Rindy that's the spirit! A sense of risk and adventure and experimentation.

Chuck, great to hear from you.

Blix, flapping it with paper or a plastic sleeve from a stationery store is a good idea.

Thanks, Markku! I haven't tried those stay wet palettes yet.

Mario said...

I hope you don't mind if I share some of my experience with gouache:

- "Use a priming with a sealed surface, such as gesso or casein. That will reduce absorbency."
I strongly agree. Watercolor paper is often considered the standard surface for gouache, but in my experience it's by far too absorbent. A less absorbent surface allows some more time for blending. I usually size watercolor paper with matte acrylic medium. Papers targeted for acrylic paint may have the right absorbency "out of the box", but I haven't tried them yet.

- "Squeeze out the paint on a damp paper towel on the palette. Spritz it with a sprayer."
Although gouache is rewettable, the rewetted paint is very different from the fresh one: thinner, chalkier, less opaque. Also, a thin paint changes its value more dramatically when it dries. I use the same device described by Markku Mujunen in his comment. In general, finding the right consistency is crucial, as the properties of the paint change rather abruptly with dilution.

- "avoid student brands, which use fillers to extend the pigment."
I don't completely agree on this point, I have found that "it depends". Some very cheap paints are really terrible, but some student grade paints are good, and they may have better handling properties than the "extrafine" colors. Gouache has its own characteristics, adding some filler and other additives may help to keep the behaviour of different colors consistent and predictable.

Anonymous said...

Cool i cant wait for the release of the video and the gouache weeek. I have a question, will there be a promotion of buying the gouache and the whatercolor video toggeter? Love your books and artwork James, you are such an inspiration.

Dragonlady said...

"--The matte surface is one of gouache's virtues. It photographs well, and is receptive to drawing media, something you can't say for many other media."

Agree with the photography part. But up to a certain point acrylics also allow some media. It's one reason why I use them rather than oils, I still need to be able to fix a few details with pencils here and there especially in the first stages. And I do highlights too with pencils.

James Gurney said...

Sunila, yes, on the receptivity to drawing media, it probably has less to do with the medium itself and more to do with how completely filled the paper fibers are with paint, and how much sheen or gloss there is to the paint. Any kind of thick paint, especially if its the least bit glossy, will resist dry drawing media, and if the paint is thin enough, the pencils will go on fine.

Andre, I don't know if it's possible for me to configure a group price, but I will certainly discount the gouache video for the first few days after release.

Mario, thanks! Those are great points.

Nancy L. Vance said...

Looking forward to Monday! Been waiting for this video!

Virginia Rinkel said...

Hi James,

You've actually sent me the actual CD before, "How I paint Dinosaurs", and "Watercolor in the Wild" as I can't get it downloaded here in the country, even at the library. I'm currently working on making my own outdoor setup for painting outside that you so graciously gave directions for, and will love it when it's done. Been to a few camera stores, and they said your idea was 'cool'.
Could you do that with this video, and what would the cost be for a CD of this gouache one?

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Nancy.

Virginia, yes, the gouache video will be available as a DVD. It's a Region 1 encoded NTSC format, designed to work in North American players, and it will be available through Kunaki to ship anywhere.

Eutex International INC said...

Great knowledge about The Seven Gouache Hazards and How to Escape Them.Thankss
Eutex International INC

Unknown said...

"Move to Seattle"

Unknown said...

Am I going to have to miss work because I stay up till midnight to sign up? I guess I'm pretty excited about this class. I have gouache and have been playing with it for a while but I think I've experienced all of the negatives that you mentioned. I'm a specialist at muddy gouache paintings (especially portraits)

James Gurney said...

Sandra, no need to wait up til midnight. We should go live at a civilized time, say around noon on Monday.

Faisal Tariq said...

Hi James,

I have enjoyed your three videos very much. I am particularly enjoying the Gouache medium for plain air work. My question is, how frequently do you change your water when doing a gouache painting. Because once I put my gouache brush in it to clean the brush, the water becomes totally murky... do you typically continue with the murky water? Or do you change water quite frequently.


Faisal Tariq

James Gurney said...

Faisal, If I'm working on a larger painting, I have a small cup near the painting if I need a little water to wet the brush, and a larger vessel of water — at least a quart with a wide open mouth — to wash out dirty brushes. I also like to travel with a bottle of clean water to resupply the small cup if it gets dirty. Often, though, when painting in high pressure situations, I just use the small cup and try to dirty the water as little as possible.

MDWIII said...

Hi, I've been working on a painting w/ gouache. It seems the more I work it the shinier it gets. Does anyone know why this is happening. I definitely prefer the matte look.

James Gurney said...

MDWIII, That's odd, I'm not sure why that is happening, since most gouache is supposed to dry matte. You can spray it with a matting spray finish coat, but it's usually best to leave it as is.

postpunkmamma said...

Move to Seattle...LOL! Thanks for tips...I have just started with goache :)

Patrick Dizon said...

Hi James, I bought your video and a set of gouache paints a few days ago. I'm having a difficult time getting thin washes. Adding a lot of water doesn't seem to help much at all. Haha! I'm sure I'm doing something wrong. I'd appreciate the help! :)

James Gurney said...

Patrick, some gouache pigments don't look great in thin washes. If you want nice pure thin washes, use transparent watercolor at first, then use gouache when you want to add more opacity. You can mix watercolor and gouache together.

Unknown said...

Hi Mr. Gurney. I admire your work and your advice. I learnt so much from your book on color and light. I am currently exploring gouache and have been using it for some years now. the paintings I made a few years ago I hung in a plastic sheet in my room. They're exposed to indirect sunlight at certain hours of the day. They were not sealed with anything chemical agent except for the plastic sheets which let air through. Recently, when I touched the paintings, a powdery substance came out from the painting. Is my hard work returning to dust?? How do I prevent my paintings from letting out a dusty smudge later on?

Unknown said...

Hi Mr. Gurney. I admire your work and your advice. I learnt so much from your book on color and light. I am currently exploring gouache and have been using it for some years now. the paintings I made a few years ago I hung in a plastic sheet in my room. They're exposed to indirect sunlight at certain hours of the day. They were not sealed with anything chemical agent except for the plastic sheets which let air through. Recently, when I touched the paintings, a powdery substance came out from the painting. Is my hard work returning to dust?? How do I prevent my paintings from letting out a dusty smudge later on?

Robert Ardill said...

Hi James
Thanks to your videos I'm experimenting with gouache and I have one or two observations:
- I find that gouache does not appear to work well over casein: it doesn't adhere well unless I work it in (in which case the casein will partly dissolve). On the other hand, gesso seems fine although I think I prefer to paint directly onto watercolor paper.
- Gouache does dry fast, especially if it's painted on a more absorbent surface like watercolor paper. However one trick that seems to work well is to use a diluted watercolor binder instead of water (except for thin washes). This gives the gouache a lovely buttery feel and makes it quite easy to paint over thick paint, even as thin on thick (as long as one is careful to just lay a stroke and not mess with it). Have you tried that? If you don't have a pre-mixed binder (Sennelier sells one), gum Arabic, water and some honey will do the job. The honey helps the paint to remain moist longer. But it's important to get the water to binder mix right otherwise the gum Arabic will be sticky and will dry shiny.
- I bought the gouache from Winsor & Newton and Holbein, and luckily I checked the lightfastness of the paints before purchase. Some of the colors are very fugitive (for instance Holbein Lilac and Brilliant Pink or Winsor Newton Opera or Alizarin) and some of the Holbein gouache paints have no lightfastness rating, which is worrying! None of the fugitive colors are in their watercolor paints, so I guess these are only intended for use by designers. Schminke and M Graham are a whole lot safer, but they have a much more limited range of colors (for good reason it would seem!).

James Gurney said...

Robert, thanks for that detailed information. I will add that the manufacturers of casein actually don't recommend using it for an underpainting medium. I agree that if you put it on to thickly, the gouache tends to bead up. If you put it on thinly, though, it has worked out OK for me.

Charmay said...

Happy Holidays from Australia :) I have picked up gouache and have turned to a lot of your content. But I have a conundrum not mentioned on this list. I have a few W&N designer tubes, here is my hazard. Mixing flame red with ultramarine blue (straight out of the tube), after a while the red separates and pools on top of the blue?

do you know why this is?

James Gurney said...

Charmay, that's strange. I have no idea why that might happen, especially if they're from the same brand.

Vied said...

Hi James, today was my first day experimenting with gouache and due to poor research, I purchased traditional thinking it was acrylic gouache and am getting the hang of reactivating paint. I painted on super thickly gessoed wood, which did not allow for much absorbency. My research is telling me theres no way to "seal" this painting without ruining it, and I saw you mention a matte sealing spray earlier. In your experience, is it true that traditional gouache is impossible to seal without dramatically changing/damaging/reactivating the paint? Looking forward.

Mr. Bob said...

Howdy James, I'm wondering if you have ever faced the problem of a glittering finish on the surface of painted gouache (not gloss, sparkle)? Maybe bad batch or too much much water dilution?