Thursday, May 19, 2016

Your Questions on Gouache

A lot of you have asked me questions about gouache, so I've gathered up the answers here for the benefit of everybody:

Carlos says, "After watching Gouache in the Wild, I'm finally going to buy some gouache tubes. I was wondering if the same colors list you posted on the Watercolor in the Wild post serves as a guide to build my first set."

Carlos,  those colors would serve you well. Basically a high-chroma yellow (such as a Permanent Arylide Yellow), a bright red (such as Flame red), and then earth color versions of yellow and red, such as yellow ochre and burnt sienna or Venetian red.

Then you'd want to get a couple of blues. I like cobalt, ultramarine, Prussian, and cerulean, but I rarely take more than two of them at a time into the field. I also like having Viridian and a brilliant purple. Again, these are mainly for limited palettes, or if for some reason I need high chroma (saturation). And of course you'll need white. And black, especially if you ever want to paint in pure black/white grisaille.

Concept sketches for Scientific American "Ascent of Mammals."
Watercolor, gouache, and water-soluble colored pencils.
Mary says, "I sketch in watercolor with a minimal kit (Maria's tiny card-sized kit) and would love to be able to bypass colored pencils if possible. Do you think it's possible to sketch as quickly and realistically without them?"

The answer is yes, definitely. Painting with pure watercolor is totally fine and you can get any effect you want with a brush alone. You might want to use the brush both wet and dry -- the drier brush, splayed out, will give you all the textural effects you might otherwise get with a pencil. The only problem with those extremely tiny kits is that you can't mix generous washes of either transparent or opaque watercolor for skies or other large areas.

Vodka Fashion says, "I just stared implementing gouache in my paintings. My question is, do you travel with the actual tubes, or have you made a gouache travel kit? I tried making a travel kit, but the paints dried out."
I travel with a small set of tubes in a plastic bag, anywhere from two tubes (black and white) to about eight or 10 tubes. Sometimes I carry just a limited palette of three colors plus white. That forces me to do what I can with those colors. Although you can squeeze them into a watercolor-type palette, in advance, let them dry, and then rewet them, they don't reconstitute into the smooth consistency that they had when they came out of the tube. And there's the problem of them breaking up. If you just want to solve that breakup problem, you can mix them with more of the water-soluble glue-like binder gum arabic, which you can get in liquid or powdered form.

Suzy Powell says: "So you just rewet? Where I live we have 00000% humidity. Haha (West Texas)
No, I don't rewet dry gouache except as a last resort. I've used gouache in low humidity and it does dry quickly. It can get very frustrating on a hot day in the sunshine in a desert, in which case oil would be a better medium. But for gouache, using a damp paper towel under the paint you squeeze from the tube will help it last longer. You can also extend the time by misting your palette with a little water from a spray bottle. But once it's totally dry or used up it's best to reset the palette by cleaning it off and starting with freshly squeezed paint. Don't keep dabbing at the spot where the paint used to be.

Matt Urbanowicz says: "I wanted to ask about the colours bleeding: I have a problem that while painting in gouache or poster colours when adding layers I tend to pick up and smudge the colours from the layer underneath, even when it's dry. Am I doing something wrong?
Matt, yes, gouache will tend to pick up if you put a wet layer over a previous layer, especially if you work it with the brush at all. The fact that the surface can be reactivated can be a good thing if you want to soften edges after the fact. But if you don't want those previous layers to come up, there are two remedies. The first is to lay down every stroke quickly and without any extra brushing. Make it your motto to "Make every stroke count." Or "Think twice, touch once."

If that doesn't work, you can use Acryla Gouache or Casein, which have a closed surface when they dry.


Fred said...


This comment is a little off topic, but upon reading your advice to consider Acryla Gouache, I'm compelled to ask about your thoughts on paining with standard acrylic paint. I am a fan of your work and have been inspired by your use and experimentation with most all painting media. However, it seems apparent that you don't prefer acrylics and I've been curious as to why that might be. (Sorry if you've addressed this before and I missed it.)

James Gurney said...

Fred, you're right--I don't often take acrylic (or acryla gouache) outdoors for painting, and I don't use it for studio paintings. But I don't have any baked in bias about acrylic. I do use it for painting maquettes and for priming and sometimes underpainting. Back in the early '80s, I found most acrylic to be too sticky and too transparent, so I mixed it with gouache when I needed more opacity.

Acrylics have come a long way since the early '80s, and you can get them in all kinds of formulations. I'm sure they're great to work with. I just never looked into it too much because it would mean investing in a whole new set of paints, and I'm happy with gouache, watercolor, casein and oil. By the way, I'm going to have a painting in the Society of Casein and Acrylic Painters' show at the Salmagundi Club this June.

Pilgrim said...

Will your downloads play on an Ipad?

James Gurney said...

Yes, as long as you can play .MP4 files. Make sure you have a robust connection and enough hard drive space to download the 1G file.

Glenn Tait said...

I have tested different "Sta-Wet" palette options with gouache and found the following to be very effective.

Take a piece of soaked 3/8" micro fiber sponge, cut to the size of the container you will set it in, and wrap the sponge with baking parchment paper so that the paper surface is saturated. I keep mine in a medium sized watercolour box with the pan holder removed so I can take it on location.

It works really well, especially with the tube squeezed colours. The mixed colours don't last as long due to their being thinned out more. Even after a couple of hours working outside on a windy day the colours were still fresh.

I did a test to see how long they would last inside. The palette was left open for the duration of the test. I was surprised that the colours were still "tube" fresh after about 10 hours and usable up to 13. I used the M. Graham line in my tests.

The sponge is the type used to put under dish racks to absorb excess water - I picked mine up at a Dollar store. The sponges come in different colours, the one I picked up is a medium gray which works nicely as a pallet surface colour, as opposed to the typical yellow cellulose sponges from regular Sta-Wet palettes. Another advantage is that when the micro fiber dries, it stays soft and doesn't twist out of shape or go hard like the cellulose ones do.

gyrusdentus said...

Doesn't your 300g sketchbook sometimes wrinkle a bit when you get really watery with Gouache or watercolor?

Bobby La said...

Just to add my two cents to Glenn's excellent "Sta-Wet" comments - I use a small square of chamois leather. It can put up with the scrapes from a small palette knife that I use, doesn't get out of shape and doesn't contribute any fine hairs or fibre to the mix. It also holds a lot of moisture.

Finished watching "Fantasy in The Wild" the other day too James. Fantastic work. Highly recommend it.

Patricia Wafer said...

Thanks for the Q & A it was very helpful esp the question about re-wetting. I forgot about the wet paper towel trick so I am glad to be reminded. I really enjoyed the video and it was very helpful.

Mateusz Urbanowicz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mateusz Urbanowicz said...

It's Matt Urbanowicz. Thank you for the answer! It really confirmed all the things I got form my experiments. I guess I'm too much used to the digital process so I will probably stick to acrylic gouache. I also made myself a Gurney style easel which proves to be great! I went with it to do some on-location painting near the famous (or infamous) Akihabara in Tokyo. Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting up the q and a, this certainly adds to your Gouache in the Wild video. I have a question about toned paper (if not too late to ask!) Many of the twentieth century gouache masters used this, often a buff or ochre colour, but try as I might, I can't discover what the paper is, much less where to buy some. I've tried canson pastel paper, and various other papers, all of which seem too thin and flimsy.
Do you or any readers have any suggestions on toned paper?
Thanks, Karl

Glenn Tait said...

Bockingford makes a line of tinted 140lb watercolour paper. I have never tried them but would like to at some point.

James Gurney said...

Gom Jabbar, nice painting of Tokyo, and I like your mods on the easel.

Thanks, Glenn for the paper tip. Also, I'll do a post with your Stay-Wet system so that people can see the photos.

Karl, I'm not sure if there's a sized paper or board on the market. You're right: the Canson paper is nice but too flimsy. I usually just use mat board if I want to paint on toned board, and a lot of frame shops will give you scraps. Also, I like to tone white paper with watercolor.

Thanks, Patricia and Ross / Bobby.

Gyrus, I haven't had problems with any watercolor sketchbooks, although the Moleskine book is a bit on the thin side. The Pentalic and Strathmore watercolor books have beefier paper.

Jobot said...

I paint/sketch in gouache from a small palette. I keep my gouache completely dried in place. When I am getting ready to paint, I spray the palette down with a bunch of water from a spray mister bottle. Finally, I use ox gall in my painting water which I feel helps to re-wet the stuff and allow it to flow better with less water. Or maybe it is all in my head? I don't know--but I seem to be able to get plenty of opaque color and without having to work hard to do so. I use a mix of Schmincke, M. Graham and Winsor & Newton Gouache colors and a couple Dan Smith watercolors--so I don't have a magic brand that is allowing things to re-wet for me.

I'm without my painting sketchbook or any digital images of recent gouache sketches currently (at work). The following link is one I did 1.5 years ago for DANIEL SMITH using gouache from my dried palette and ox gall in my water.

Lucille said...

Why can't you just re-wet the paint with a spray or a dropper with water? Maybe I'm missing something?