Gouache and Watercolour Exploration 2020


I am delighted to have received funding from the Arts Council of Wales to embark on a new project where I will explore plein air painting in water-based mediums- gouache and watercolour. This is a project I have been hoping to begin for a while, so I am excited to begin!

I have worked solely in oils for the last 10 years which I absolutely love but I wanted to try out water-based mediums as work will try faster and will be easier to carry on day trips out in the landscape or on island residencies especially! I have found transporting a weeks’ worth of oil paintings over the sea on a small boat is a challenge. So, this project will begin a lighter approach to painting, allowing for prolific study.


I am drawn to the transparent textural effects in watercolour paints and their luminosity on the page, they possess such a wonderful light quality, and a life of their own which best reflects the elemental landscape and the lightness of birds. Equally I have been intrigued by the potential of gouache paints- their rich, vibrant opaqueness. I really wanted to try working with them both individually and together to see what range of marks and effects could be achieved.



New paints have arrived! I've tried to match my colour palette across watercolour and gouache.



I sketched out a rough idea for a palette then got to work! It’s made from wood that is glued and screwed together. I then added correx for the panels and paint wells using a hot glue gun. I taped the outside edges up with a strong tape!



Watercolour to the right, gouache to the left. (Above).


I did a long wash that met in the middle to see how well matched the two different paints were. It is seamless apart from that cobalt turquoise meeting with Cerulean... I also opted for a Yellow/ orange in watercolour as it looked nice and bright, it is hard to judge a pigment on a computer screen! I have tried to keep to a palette I am familiar with by going for the pigments I use in my oils.



A number of various brushes to get me started... I particularly like the Jackson Arts Raven mop brush, the Handover synthetics are also great for gouache.



Homemade correx box to hold various loose sheets of paper. This is essentially my sketchbook; I also have a piece of correx as a board to work on. Correx is so stiff and light weight, it is ideal, particularly when working through the telescope as I am usually holding my work up just below the eyepiece. Sketchbooks can get a bit heavy!


... So of course I rushed out into the landscape with my new paints and palette to try them out! It was slow going as I struggled to get the colour mixes that I wanted quickly enough, I wasted paint whilst discovering their varying tinting powers and searching for the colours I wanted to mix. Also, I didn't have a clue on how to manipulate the paint to create the marks I wanted so I was quite tentative with them. I later tried to be bolder with them and created some painting disasters! Much to learn! It is going to take some time getting my values right too especially when combing both mediums as they behave very differently. Best to start working with each medium individually.



Below are some colour mixing charts I did with my watercolour paints. This is such a helpful process for getting to know pigments indiviually (granulation, transparency, tinting power etc) and to see how each pigment behaves with the rest of the palette. I learnt more than I expected doing this exercise! I will keep refering back to them too.


- The full palette


- Pyrrol Scarlet

- Alizarin Crimson

- Cadmium Yellow Orange

- Cadmium Yellow Medium

- Cadmium Yellow Light

- Cerulean Blue Chromium

- Ultramarine Blue

- Manganese Blue

- Yellow Ochre

- Transparent Oxide Red

- Transparent Oxide Brown


(Main colours in bold).


More extras to play with:


- Lunar Black

- Amethyst Genuine

- Cobalt Blue

- Cerulean Blue



Lunar Black. Amethyst. A mixed Grey. (Below).


Going through my brush collection to see what they can do with watercolour. Also a look at various watercolour techniques and approaches to manipulating paint:



Gouache Palette:



Gouache experiments


I repainted my oil plein air paintings to learn how gouache pigments behave without the pressure of a changing scene or fleeting subject as I had been struggling to work fast enough against the changing light.


I experimented with gouache on board, primed with watercolour ground. (Night scene below).

It was extremely absorbant which made spreading the paint even slower which was a shame as I'd been intrigued to try it on canvas, maybe with some extra coats it will work better.



Watercolour + gouache experiments.


A selection from the many studies now attempted! Really enjoying exploring both mediums together now after having spent some time working with them individually. I'm finding overall I prefer to begin with watercolour as it is transparent and faster at covering the page. Gouache is used occasionally as final touches of opacity, usually for highlights. On occasion when watercolour hasn't achieved my desired effect, I work over it it with gouache which can produce some interesting effects. Gouache dries very fast, much faster than watercolour which means its ideal for applying last on to a painting as I don't need to wait for them to dry. Also in scenes where I want to add more details quickly such as birds in flight over a setting sun I find I've needed to use gouache over gouache as the watercolour paper I've been using is very absorbant and has a very slow drying time. Higher quality cotton papers will work better.


5.5'' x 7.5'' studies.


There have been many moments where the light is changing fast during spectacular sunsets and I've been wishing for my oils but the time pressure plein air painting forces on you really helps me to work fast and make quick spontaneous decisions which is the best way to make discoveries in painting techniques.


Sketchbooks and loose sheets of cartridge paper are suprisingly nice to work in with watercolours, I've enjoyed bringing colour into my sketches.



Sheep under the Shade, 5.5'' x 7.5''.


Gouache studies 5.5'' x 7.5''.


The first on primed board and the second two on Fabriano cellulose paper. Gulls and then crows in the freshly ploughed fields.



I have experimented with a number of surfaces, including Golden Absorbent Ground over board, a large block of Fabriano Not (pulp based) 280gsm, Jackson Arts Two Rivers not watercolour paper, Arches not watercolour paper and many samples of others. Pressed papers seem to hold more water and can withstand multiple washes/ layering- ideal for beginners! Hot pressed paper could also be positioned vertically on the easel without watercolour running down.


The Fabriano not 280 gsm block became quite frustrating as I learnt its limits. It works best if I don't wet the paper too much, colours loved to separate and bleed out and it easily 'cauliflowered'. The Fabriano Watercolour paper is made of a mixture of lignin free cotton and cellulose. In general, watercolour papers are made from one of two materials; cotton or wood pulp. 100% cotton papers are professional quality, and are considered to offer the best painting surface. Cotton gives incomparable stability. Wood pulp paper is made using a chemically treated pulp with lignin removed. This paper is an inexpensive alternative to cotton paper, ideal for beginners- until you get tired of it!


Some papers are described as being ‘mould made‘; this refers to papers made on a Cylinder Mould Machine. Mould made papers have heavier weights, watermarks and superior surface stability. Other papers are machine made; made in one continuous sheet on a wire belt. These types of papers are not as stable as mould made papers and do not have a deckled edge.



Experiments with a variety of papers


Sunset study. Saunders Waterford not 300gsm.


Misty dawn studies on Arches cold pressed 140lb watercolour paper. 4.5'' x 6''. Really lovely paper to work on!


Attempting a dramatic sky study on a watercolour HP sample paper. I found I could work with my paper verticle on the easel as the paper held water so well, the paint didn't run.



Sketches and studies, watercolour on cartridge paper.



Charcoal pencil on paper, (cartridge and wallpaper liner paper).



Watercolour and gouache sketches, (cartridge paper, 130gsm and 300gsm). The 300gsm cartridge paper was a bit disappointing, the watercolour paint loses its brilliance somehow, the paint seemed to swim about in the surface and fade. It's good for drawing on though and the gouache worked better on it.


Mini sunset study, Arches paper, cold pressed. I love this paper!



Full moon study. Arches cold pressed 140lb, 4.5'' x 6''.



Starling Flock. Saunders Waterford. 5.5'' x 7.5''.



Female House Sparrow.



Blue Tit.


Barn owl studies, watercolour.



'Glowing Blue Tit'.


'Tweeting House Sparrow'.


'Blue Tit in the Rain'.


'Sunlit Blue Tit'.


'Great Tit in the Cherry Tree'.


'Blue Tit watching the Feeder'.


'Male House Sparrow'.


'Hidden from View'.


'An extra Fatball'.


'Female House Sparrow'.


'Great Tit in the Rose Bush'.


'Great Tit in evening Light'.


'Sparrow about to go'.


'Great Tit in afternoon Light'.


'House Sparrow in Winter Drizzle'.


'Starling in the Sun'.


'Blue Tit in the Rain Shower'.


'Upside down at the Feeder'.


'Fluffed up'.


'Visiting the Fatballs'.


'Ready to Go'.