Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Using Gouache with Colored Pencils

One of the things I love about gouache is that you can draw directly on the matte surface of the paint with colored pencils. (Link to 30-second video teaser) This is especially helpful for subjects with a lot of linear detail.

Rutsen Swamp, gouache and colored pencils, 5x8 inches

Rutsen Swamp is such a subject. It's a complex tangle of grasses, branches, twigs, and saplings, plus layers of transparency and reflections in the shallow water. Here's the painting in front of the subject.  

This detail shows the range of textures. 

Painting Sequence 
I start by toning the paper in my sketchbook with gray watercolor (covering over another sketch that I screwed up). When that is totally dry, I sketch in the main trees with a dark colored pencil

Then I lay down a foundation of the big tones in gouache. I paint freely across the smaller forms and concentrate on the big underlying gradations. The gouache is best suited to areas of flat tone or smooth transitions with precise value control, such as the cast shadows slanting across the dark reflections of the trees. 

In the final stages, I render the smaller twigs, alternating between gouache and colored pencils, weaving light over dark and dark over light. I also look for areas that I can suggest with the grainy textures of light drybrushed gouache, or dark scumbled pencil.

It's impossible to capture every detail of the infinity of the scene in front of me, so I have to invent a strategy to suggest the textures. I find what works best is a mixture of precision and impetuous energy. 
More resources
The swamp painting is part of my video download Gouache in the Wild, which is also available as a DVD
Pencils: Caran d'Ache Supracolor II water-soluble colored pencils
Sketchbooks: Either Moleskine or Pentalic watercolor sketchbook. 
Gouache (I've been using Holbein a lot lately)


Bobby La said...

I've been using the coloured pencils over gouache since watching "Gouache in the Wild" and have been happy with the results. Taken to using the waterbrush loaded with a 1/3 sepia/sienna Schmincke acrylic ink and water mix to act as a glaze over the foreground....just thought I'd share :)

Unknown said...

How would you "seal" the surface of a gouache painting? Would you simply use workable fixative spray?

Unknown said...

Great painting. That's an interesting idea to combine gouache and colored pencils, the sharp points of the pencils can really make some intricate details on top of the gouache. I have to try that some day.
Speaking of materials, I have been thinking recently how great kneaded erasers are. They really are great erasers, and are perfect for charcoal drawing. I've been wondering, do you know the history of kneaded erasers? Was Sargent using kneaded erasers, did they have them back then, or did they only have fresh bread to use as an eraser for charcoal drawing like Harold Speed mentioned in his book. Harold Speed didn't mention kneaded erasers at all, and only mentioned using bread to erase charcoal with, so it doesn't sound like they had them back then. All the great erased highlights in Sargent's charcoal drawings, did he do all those with bread? Do you know when the kneaded eraser was created?

James Gurney said...

Ross / BobbyLa, Thanks for the share on the Schmincke acrylic ink. I haven't tried that kind yet.

Abraham, I don't seal the surface, because it's protected in a sketchbook. Framing behind glass is the best protection for a separate painting. But if you want, you can spray it down with Crystal Clear. Just experiment first on a test piece and make sure you want to do it, because its irreversible.

Bob, I'm not sure how long the history of kneaded erasers goes back, but I have read several reference to them using bread for erasers in the academies. I somehow remember a lot of the folks in my parents' generation using those gum erasers that leave tons of crumbs.

Unknown said...

I like it..
Succes for you...

Unknown said...

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Thank you so much for this wonderful article really!
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