Monday, July 11, 2016

Gouache Materials List

I was putting together a gouache materials list for an upcoming workshop, so I thought I would share it with you, too.

You can use illustration boardwatercolor paper in sheets, a watercolor paper pad or spiral bound watercolor sketchbooks. However, I prefer to paint gouache in 5.5 x 8.5 inch hardcover stitched-in watercolor journals.

The two I recommend are Pentalic watercolor journal (which has 100% rag, 100 lb paper), and the Strathmore 400 Watercolor Journal  (which has 140 lb paper and comes in hardcover and softcover formats). The Moleskine book is OK too, and has more pages than the other two, but the paper is thinner, so I'd recommend that one if you're doing more drawing and dry media compared to watercolor.

• Flats, synthetic 1/4", 1/2", and 1"
• Rounds, synthetic or Kolinsky sable, assorted sizes 4-10

A good bargain is to get a watercolor brush set with carrying pouch (regular length handles) or a short-handled water media brush set with carrying case. The latter will fit over the left hand page of the open sketchbook.

There are a lot of brands available, including very expensive Kolinsky brushes, but I don't think you have to spend that kind of money for most purposes. The cheaper synthetics can be very good. If I find a good brush, I buy a few extras to have on hand. I've found brushes of acceptable quality at the big box craft stores for very reasonable prices, but you have to check them out. What you want to look for are brushes that have good spring or snap, not floppy. The brush should come to a fine point — or edge in the case of a flat. That way you can use a fairly large brush to paint your picture.

If you're painting in casein, use only synthetics; don't use natural hair brushes (bristles or sables) because the paint can be hard on the fibers.

The Holbein gouache sets are good quality, and you get a lot of colors for a good value. Holbein makes a set of 12 colors of the normal size 15 ml tubes. They also make a set of 18 that sells for an inexpensive price, but the tubes are much smaller, only 5ml.

They also make an Acryla Gouache line, which has a closed surface after it dries, meaning water won't dissolve the dry paint.

Winsor and Newton's set is good quality, but overpriced at $139. Edit: Here's a W/N 10-tube set for $43

Royal Talens  makes a set of 8 and M. Graham has a 5 color set, but they lack earth colors, one of the joys of gouache. You can always buy the set for the pure primaries and then supplement with individual tubes of raw sienna, yellow ochre, raw umber, and Venetian red or burnt sienna, plus black if the set doesn't come with it.

Shinhan Pass makes a 48-tube set of "hybrid" gouache/watercolor paints. They're pigment-rich, non-toxic, and use gum arabic as the binder and most of the colors can be used transparently or opaquely. But note that 8 of the 48 colors are not lightfast pigments, so they're better for designers or sketchers than gallery artists. The set is priced around $180, not bad considering they're 20ml tubes, while most other brands are 15ml.

Here's a link-rich previous blog post about the various brands you can choose from. You can always buy individual tubes from other reputable firms but the price will add up rapidly.

What I do in practice is try all kinds of brands and colors. At any given time I carry around about 12-15 colors of different manufacturers. When I set up for a painting, I select the smallest possible set of colors that I need to paint the scene. I store unused tubes in large glass jars with lids that seal tightly. That keeps them from drying out.

It can be a plastic or metal tray of your choice, and it should be white or painted white. There are gray palettes, but I don't like them for watercolor and gouache because they make it harder to judge transparent mixtures.

I use the lid from a a colored pencil box spray painted white. It attaches to the bottom panel of my lightweight sketch easel with magnets.

Rags or Paper Towels
Paper towels made by Bounty are lint free. They can be dampened and applied to the palette to extend the working time of the paint, and of course they can also be used to clean brushes. Another solution for brush cleaning is old T-shirts cut into foot-square pieces.

Water Cup
I recommend the Nalgene 2 oz. jar for a palette-side jar and a 32 ounce plastic food container attached lower on the easel for cleaning brushes.

A graphite pencil (HB) will do for the lay-in stage. If you want to use watercolor pencils, I recommend the Caran d'Ache Supracolor set of 18.

I use a Waterman fountain pen with brown ink for written notes. Remember that fountain pen ink dissolves in water after it dries, so unless you don't mind your lines being blurred, save them until the end. If you prefer to do linework before adding washes of water, you can use waterproof pens, such as the Microns, which come in many colors, including black and brown.

Water Brushes 
I use Niji Water Brushes with round tips. I normally carry between three and five water brushes. One is filled with water, and the others are filled with blue, black, brown, and gray water-soluble ink, such as Higgins Eternal ink.

Transparent watercolor kit
Having a watercolor set as an add-on isn't essential for gouache painting, but if you have a transparent cake set, it opens up many more options. I recommend a small set with in an enamel steel box so that you can hold it to your easel with magnets.
Blockx Watercolor Set (24 half pans)

I carry two erasers, a Kneaded Eraser and a White Latex-Free Eraser.

I've used a Kum Pencil Sharpener, which not only catches the shavings, but also has a little flap that covers the hole, so the shavings don't leak out and pollute the pages of the sketchbook as well as anything else in my sketch bag. Another good one is the Staedtler pencil sharpener, which has a flap to protect from shaving leakage, and two holes for graphite and colored pencil.

Plastic clamps
Here's a 2-Inch Plastic Clamp and a 3.75-inch Clamp. Of all the clips and clamps that I've tried, these seem to be the most versatile for holding the book open or clipping the watercolor box to the easel.

Chair and easel
The biggest decision of your setup strategy is whether to sit or stand. A tripod folding stool is a strong and lightweight option. I usually like to sit if I'm painting something that's close to the ground, like a flower, or if I'm painting an upshot.  It's good to have a chair if you want to hold the sketchbook in your lap. I use a homemade sketch easel that I described on an earlier blog post. The nice thing about a tripod easel is that it will work for either standing or sitting.

The workshop
The workshop I mentioned earlier will be in the Denver Botanic Garden in Denver, Colorado on September 15-16, 2016. Sorry, it's sold out, but FYI, it's called
Painting on Location in Opaque Water Media with James Gurney.

Video tutorials


Steve said...

Thanks for such a comprehensive list. I especially appreciate you giving the reasons behind your choices.

The odds of me being able to be in Denver the second week of September are astonishingly slim, but when clicking on the link to see about registering, I received the following message.:

We are sorry, but there does not seem to be any available dates for Painting on Location in Opaque Water Media with James Gurney. Return to Sales Home Page

Don't know if that means the workshop is full, or the Botanic Garden is not yet geared up to do registrations.

School of Botanical Art and Illustration said...

This workshop got sold out quickly as soon as it was opened for registration on June 7th. James will also give a Cafe Botanique lecture here on September 14th, 6:30-8 p.m. ( Perhaps you can attend that if you are around.
You can find our Summer/Fall 2016 course catalog here: - there might be something else you like to take if you are in Denver.

Newt said...

Thank you kindly, James! I've started buying a few tubes of gouache every time I venture to the Big City (local art stores don't carry any) in anticipation of trying it out as a sketching and color study medium, so this list is very helpful and timely to me.

Warren JB said...

"Winsor and Newton's set is good quality, but overpriced"

Blimey! It's under three figures from another US seller, and on this side of the Atlantic, thankfully. (I'll leave it to personal opinion whether it's still overpriced or not)

I'll echo Steve: thanks for the extensive list! And the chances of me being in Denver at any time are even more slim...

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Steve and Mervi, for that. I've added to the post that the workshop is sold out. Sorry for those who couldn't get in.

Warren, I'm glad you found that Winsor Newton set on Amazon for $89 instead of $139. I found an even better deal of a 10 tube W/N set for $43 --a good deal if the shipping isn't too much—, and added that link to the post.

Jared Cullum said...

Just a silly aside...
I decided to dive in head over heels with gouache a while ago and saved up a chunk to buy 12 tubes to match my watercolor palette. I went to the local store and bought all W&N tubes full price (Many series 4). The NEXT morning I got an email that it was "Gouache weekend" or something and that Weekend they were all 50% off.
Oh well haha- at least I used every drop out of those tubes since I wanted to make it worth it. I learned to surf around cause it seems like art stuff is usually on sale somewhere online.

Anonymous said...

I have a question Jim, how long do your water brushes last on average? Do you ever have problems with the brush discharging water through the brush end?

James Gurney said...

Micah, funny you should mention that. I've had my Niji water brushes for years. When filaments get splayed out sideways, I trim them off. But I notice my older pens are all discharging ink faster than I want them to, and I wonder if it's because they're old. Anyone else have that problem?

Glenn Tait said...

I like the Strathmore sketchbooks and have used them for a few years.

During the Weed Challenge I started buying sheets of Fabriano Artistico in 90lb and 140lb to make simple pamphlet and double-pamphlet, hand made sketchbooks. It is immensely cheaper, 100% cotton, easy to make and the signatures can be later rebound into larger books when they are finished. One sheet of 22 X 30 will yield 32 pages of 5.5" X 7.5", for about $4.50 to $6.50, depending on the weight. By traditionally tearing the watercolour paper you get a sketchbook with decaled edges, which I love.

Regarding water brushes I use a few brands. Ink in the Niji I have found has always flowed more quickly than the water. The Pentel brand have the fastest flow of water compared to the Niji with the Sakura/Pilot being slowest. I am hoping to try out a Caran Dauche waterbrush soon as it has a completely different system for pumping the water.

Recently I have been using the1/2" Niji flat over the large round and prefer the results. Have you tried the Niji flat?

Warren JB said...

James: I probably should have pointed it out more directly, but I was still in shock from that first price!

Jared: on the flipside, I thought I was being canny, waiting for Prime day to see if Amazon casein would get a discount or some shipping knocked off. It didn't! So I went and bought some Turner acrylic gouache* in an approximation of James' 6-colour casein set. We'll see how that goes.

* On the topic of sales: Jackson's Art - in the UK - is having one for the summer, with lots of gouache and acrylic gouache discounts.

Patricia Wafer said...

This week I painted with gouache on Ampersand Aquaboards and was very pleased with the results. I used Holbein Acryla for the underpainting and regular gouache for the rest of the painting. I did rinse them with water before painting as recommended and had good results. Lastly I sprayed a few light coats of Lascaux UV varnish on them. I did not however test to see that varnish will protect them from water. My guess is it does not so I will test that in future.

voscuate said...

Just made it over to this blog after following your utube and instagram all year. I'm so sad I didn't know about the Denver workshop! I live here and sketch with the local urbansketchers chapter sometimes. Any plans to return in 2017???

voscuate said...

Just made it over to your blog after following you on utube and instagram all year. I'm so sad I missed your Denver workshop! I live here and make plein aire sketches around town all the time. Any plans to return in 2017???

Terrace said...

Why don't gouache colors seem to come in the usual colors? I find it hard to locate gouache that are familiar colors to me such as burnt umber, ultramarine, raw sienna, phthalos or quinacridones, etc and the colors that are available all have unfamiliar, seemingly made-up names, and so I'm not sure what hue they actually ARE.

The only brands that seem to buck this trend are Winsor and Newton, and Schmincke - both of them frightfully expensive.

James Gurney said...

Terrace, I'm with you. I like the familiar pigment names. I've found M. Graham is also good for that. And any reputable maker should say on the label what the pigments are.

Unknown said...

Hi. I think at least one Amazon link needs to be updated (Caran D'ache Supracolor)

kbates said...

Good morning James, I just discovered you on YouTube. What a fortunate blessing for me! It's a long story, but your smaller easels and canvases and entire set up is exactly what I needed. Thank you for providing this materials list.

I did wanna point out one link that doesn't seem to be working your "Holbein set of 12 colors" link is leading to a handheld sewing machine on Amazon.

Thanks again. I can't wait to get my materials and get started!


James Gurney said...

Thanks, Kirk. I try to update links when I can, but sometimes they don't work after a while.

Ameen said...

Nice post

Unknown said...

Where I live, holbien and m. Graham aren't available anywhere. Winsor and Newton kinda expensive for me rn. I don't know which gouache set to go for. I plan on buying a good professional tube of while gouache and a beginner's gouache set. Can't decide which one to get since an year now.

Unknown said...

Dylan Evenson

Hi. What media can be used for underpaintings in gouache, as I have found that casein is expensive (at least in the UK)?

James Gurney said...

Dylan, you can use acryla gouache or any matte acrylic.

Becky said...

Hi James! I love how convenient your palette is. What paint did you use to spray your colour pencil tin white? Thank you

James Gurney said...

Becky, I used a spray enamel.

Click said...

Hello, James!

I noticed on your watercolor supplies post that you listed a good starting set of colors. Do you have a list of must-have colors for gouache (or watercolor tubes that you use with gouache)? I've been collecting mostly M Graham gouache & have been very happy with them. :)

I'm so excited about getting your book in the mail soon!


James Gurney said...

Amber, I like having a large assortment of colors at home and bringing 10 or so colors in my sketch pack at a given time. Then out of those I pick 4-6 colors for a given painting. It differs each time, and I like experimenting.

Unknown said...

Hi James

I tried putting gouache from tubes into pans with a drop of glycerine to keep them moist and placed them inside a closed container. But I found that over time the set started smelling very badly to the point I had to discard the lot

Would you be able to shed some light on what might have caused this? And what can I do differently to try again?


Bonnie said...

Hi - can you tell me what the best sealant is for gouache work? I want to maintain the matte appearance, but would like to protect the painting from damage without putting it behind glass.