Gouache and Watercolour Exploration 2020

Updated: Nov 11, 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'm really 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. This will be far more practical when I'm working on island artist residencies. I've found transporting a weeks worth of oil paintings over the sea on a small boat is a bit of a challenge! Also just being out in the landscape all day for long hours amasses numerous oil paintings and studies which need to be carried in large wet canvas carriers. I realised I needed to try a lighter approach to painting to explore more, both physically in the landscape and in my work.

I'm drawn to the transparent textural effects in watercolour paints and their luminosity on the page, they possess such a wonderful light quality. Equally I've 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 sketched out a rough idea for a palette then got to work! Its 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 very 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 pretty seamless apart from that cobalt turquiose meeting with Cerulean... I also opted for a Yellow/ orange in watercolour as it looked nice and bright, its hard to judge a pigment on a computer screen! I've tried to keep to a palette I'm familiar by going for the pigments I use in my oils.

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

Home made 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 ligt weight it is ideal, particularly when working through the telescope as I'm usually holding my work up just below the eyepiece. Sketchbooks can get a bit heavy!

... So ofcourse 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 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!

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

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 my plein air efforts were unsuccessful to say the least.

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

It was extremely absorbant which made spreading the paint slow which was a shame as I'd been intrigued to try it on canvas, maybe with some extra coats next time...

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 gouache which can produce some interesting effects. Gouache dries very fast, much faster than watercolour which means its ideal for using last on 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 papers or pressed papers will work better.

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 studies.

Gouache studies. The first on primed board and the second two on Fabriano 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 280gsm, Jackson Arts Two Rivers not watercolour paper, Arches not watercolour paper and many samples of others. My favourites included Canson not/ hot pressed, Milford not and Bockingford hot pressed paper. I found sketch book paper was nice to work on for studies and composition ideas. Pressed papers seem to hold more water and can withstand multiple washes/ layering- ideal for beginners!

The Fabriano not 280 gsm block became quite frustrating as I learnt its limits. I began to think of it as blotting paper with a texture I grew to dislike! It works best if I don't wet the paper too much, colours loved to separate and bleed out. 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 and ensures that work will stand the test of time. 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. The texture of machine made paper will also appear more uniform.

Experiments with a variety of papers.

  1. Saunders Waterford 300gsm rough

  2. Two Rivers rough extra thick

  3. Arches cold pressed 300gsm

  4. Fabriano not 280gsm (celluose and cotton blend). (very absorbant, not great for detail)

  5. Saunders Waterford not 300gsm

  6. Canson Moulin du Roy not 300gsm

Sunset study. Saunders Waterford not 300gsm, quite nice paper.

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

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

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

The end of the project!

But also the beginning! I'm looking forward to continuing with my experiments and studies and finding new ways to achieve a variety of effects using watercolour and gouache.

A huge thank you to the Arts Council of Wales for enabling me to explore the exciting world of waterbased paint mediums!

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