Thursday, January 17, 2008


I've begun some investigation into gouache. In fact, I'm trying some Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache and several tubes of M. Graham gouache as well.

I know, if you're an artist reading this you're probably thinking "nobody uses gouache anymore." And you're probably right. Mostly acrylics have replaced gouache and besides, gouache was once the medium of illustrators because it reproduces well owing to being matte once it dries. And since it was an illustrators' medium, a lot of fine artists turned their noses up to such a plebeian medium. There are others who decry the paint because it may be impermanent. And it is pretty impermanent. One reason is mostly because it was never intended to be permanent, so certain colors aren't rated as lightfast as most oil colors which are generally quite lightfast and likely not to color shift very much.

Anyway, gouache is interesting. It dries very very quickly--sometimes it seems faster than acrylic paint. But the good news is you can rewet it and manipulate the paint layer very easily--you can mist the layer and smooth out brushmarks, blend, or even wipe off excess paint and redo a spot. It's opaque, which takes some getting used to, given the water-based nature of the paint. What I mean is, the opacity is highly dependent on having the right thickness of paint. If you paint too thinly (here I mean spreading out the paint too much, not thinning it excessively) they're pretty transparent. Still, applied properly, the opacity of gouache is quite satisfactory, even when painting light over dark. Mixing gouache--say getting a precise green from mixing--seems harder than it is with oil paint. Part of the reason is that gouache shifts color quite a lot when it dries, so experience with each color combination is essential.

One thing I've liked about gouache is that it gives a bigger sense of freedom than I've felt using oil paint. I think the reason might be a sense that "what the heck, it's just a gouache." After all, it's done on illustration board, usually, or some other smooth surface like hot press watercolor paper, with water-based and potentially fugitive colors. You can always whomp up another one, with less trouble, expense, or emotional involvement. It's only a gouache.
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