Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas: East and West

Samadhi Series:  I See the Emerald Buddha for the First Time (detail)
In September, I went to Thailand for the first time. On the first day when the Dean and her husband took me to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I saw the Emerald Buddha in the temple.  The Emerald Buddha is so beautiful.  It is set up high on an altar, high above worshippers and admirers. I cannot capture the beauty and the feeling of experiencing the Emerald Buddha.  So I think of Buddhist philosophy.  The title “Samadhi” refers to the state of enlightenment. It is explained this way:  “Neti! Neti! It is not this!  It is not this!” In the book Light of Yoga the author says that this state of enlightenment can only be expressed by profound silence.  I felt complete silence and joy in the presence of the Emerald Buddha.  This painting for the exhibition in Viet Nam is the first time I try to express my feeling about the Emerald Buddha.  I put him closer to us, looking serenely at us and also not looking at us, the state of enlightmenet is devoid of ego. I looked at this painting every day I worked on it of this exhibition. It is not good enough at all.  I think in my whole life I cannot express the quality of the Emerald Buddha.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

See This Exhibit in Chicago: The Gray Collection: Seven Centuries of Art

Able to distill light and shadow, pre-camera, they came, they saw, they drew.  The Gray Collection: Seven Centuries of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, is a must-see exhibition of masterworks for serious artists and especially valuable for watercolorists and any artist who loves to make work on paper. The exhibit began September 25 and runs through January 2, 2011.

When you first walk into the exhibition, a large-scale ink drawing on paper by Bernardino Lanino comprised of six sheets joined together hits you.  It is Mother and Child, Warrior Saint and Group of Worshippers, 1563/70.  The drawing is tender and magnificent; the touch of the pencil delicate, making it clear Bernardino studied Leonardo DaVinci carefully.  Brown, black, and white ink on blue-green paper give this a mystical feel.

First corridor to the left: you should look for the Ubaldo Gandolfini’s Flagellation of Christ, a sepia pen and wash drawing, from the early 1700’s.  The red chalk and evidence of scale precision make this worth studying. There is a powerful, tender, youthful, Guercino of St. John the Baptist seated by a spring, 1652. The extravagant and original Salvador Rosa is represented by free, abstract brushwork to animate the subject by raising of Lazarus.  It is early 1600’s, pen and iron-gall ink with a red chalk under-drawing.  Canaletto Riva Degli Schrivon’s, Venice by St. Marks Sq, 1755, is seen from the market at the Pier. Pen and iron-gall ink contrast with the beautiful gray wash, reminiscent of the English method.  Anyone who loves Venice will note the two famous columns of St. Theodore seen up close and St. Marks’ winged Lion on right and Palazzo Ducale squarely on the left. In a time before contemporary tourists, St. Marks is seen alive with Venetians at work.  A delicate Guradi Lagoon and his study of 1780’s view of San Campo Zampolo, both scenes of Venice, balance light and shade.  They are drawn impeccably and there is no need for strong contrast.

A fascinating work of Tiepolo, Democritus and Heraclitus Laughing and Sorrowing over the Follies of the World, 1742/43, commands much thought. Tiepolo made a large number of drawings, besides paintings and frescos for which he is famous. This work on paper, considered one of Tiepolo’s most monumental and enigmatic pen and ink composition - with Democritus holding his compass and globe in a world that is resting in the dry Earth.  An animal and human skull litter the earth. A serpent coils on a staff; Heraclitus leans over Democritus’ shoulder to participate on the evaluation of the world’s folly.

In the Gray Collection, the 19th century is superbly represented as well: Gericault, David. Ingres, Cezanne, Daumier, Delacroix, Degas, De Chavannes and Seurat give anyone an art history lesson.  
I was especially taken by a remarkable Odilon Redon, a black charcoal and chalk drawing Primitive Being, 1867. This drawing features the David and Goliath theme with a naked 'primative being' contemplating the enormous decapitated head of a giant on the ground.  This was part of Redon’s ‘noir’ series of mid 1880’s. We all think of Seurat and his Sunday Afternoon masterpiece painting.  Don’t overlook his stunning landscape revealing his segmented synthesis of form and tone. Vuillard’s In the Salon 1899/1903 used longer, structured brushwork than other of Vuillard’s interiors.  Featured is a gem of a Cezanne, his small portrait of Madame Cezanne, 1833/85.

A beautiful Van Gogh landscape is his Avenue of Pollard Birches and Poplars, March 1884. This masterful ink drawing was inspired by the poem Tristement (Sadly) by Fran├žois Coppie, describing a mourning widow. Here she walks away for us between tall narrow plane trees. Van Gogh used reed pen with his signature stunning intensity of pen-work using iron gall ink on tan laid paper. Ingres' work is stunning in any media, so enjoy a pen and ink wash drawing, Borghese Chapel, 1824 or a careful line portrait of Countess de Castellane 1834. Be surprised by occasional sculptures in the Gray Collection: Rodin’s bronze St. John the Baptist Preaching, 1878, rounds out the 19th century room.

Next, the 20th century:  first, an abstract and delicate Hans Arp bronze, Mediterranean Group 1941-42.  Giacometti’s oil portrait of G. David Thompson, shows a touch of tenderness in the face, was created in 1955. Thompson was a Pittsburg industrialist who was Giacometti’s largest collector at the time.There are other 20th century titans: Le Corbusier, Klee, Matisse, Rodchenko, Leger, Kandinsky, Schwitters, and Gris. A huge delightfully muted Miro collage of tan and brown paper with black conte and touches of white gouache and pen shows his relaxed confidence.  Miro makes buoyant cut forms, and linear astronomical elements in black ink. In my opinion, the show also contains a rare Miro work on paper with ink/ wash, collage, watercolor, black chalk and transfer decals of butterflies, a moth, humming bird. The recognizable shapes of grapes, cherries, and lime decals were handled in the same superior compositional bravura as his free-form and lines caprices.

There is a fabulous Picasso 1933 Artist and Model watercolor and pen and black ink.  It is commanding, having no traces of under-drawing.  All Picasso’s works are exquisite and represent variations periods of his oeuvre. His colleague Juan Gris is represented by La Carte- Lettre, 1921, a beautifully-fragmented still life that shows the power of combination dry and wet media: a careful graphite drawing has several delicate black ink lines and the lampshade in solid black ink.  Gris is seeing color in monochrome.
In the final area of the exhibition loom three large Jim Dine portraits, one of his characteristic mixed media drawings, including dry media, acrylic, spray paint collage and abrading.  This man can pick up any material, combined in unexpected ways and make commanding work.  

20th century Brits are represented by two David Hockey works on paper and Lucien Freud's small oil, Annie and Alice, 1973, his first double female portrait.  It features his eldest daughter, Annie who is pregnant with her first child.  Americans of course are well-represented. Roy Lichtenstein, he gets more bang out of graphite and colored pencil than anyone I know. There is wonderful figure work by Alex Katz, Cornell, Diebenkorn and De Kooning.  In spite of the pull of abstraction in the 20th century, figure works retain their power. There is a pulsing, abstract Sam Francis watercolor with gouache, in his early signature drip and pull style, called Black and Green, 1935. Delightful to see is the provocative George Segal Still life assemblage that is homage to the cubist Braque: Still Life w /Pipe, Chair, and Apples (Braque.) This piece is deelply instruction, showing the interplay of art historic awareness with contemporary trends that Segal was 'trying out' in the radical 1960's.  Keep smiling; there is an Oldenburg Typewriter Eraser and his crayon and watercolor study for the sculpture.  The Art Institute prepared a a fully illustrated catalogue available in the Museum Shop or online at

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Magical Thailand

This is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.  It is beyond description.  I was an invited professor to Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok in September and October.  I taught a faculty workshop in preparing fine arts articles for publication in English.  I am returning next year to teach graduate students and continuing in the 28 year exchange between SWU and my university, ISU.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drawing Seminar at the Newberry Library-Chicago

If you ever wanted to learn how to draw, or realize that you need to gain or brush up on drawing skills, now is your chance to do it.   I have now taught two successful watercolor classes in a row at Newberry (Summer 2009, Winter/Spring 2010) and was asked by several students to offer a sketching class. This Fall Schedule proposed seminar is for those who want to know how to get started learning to sketch freehand, or for those who need to brush up on sketching. People love to be able to sketch things they see when they travel or when they observe something noteworthy and this course is designed to give people confidence with sketching what they see.

I find that all levels of participants benefit from drawing practice. More advanced artists can experiment with colored drawing materials like pastels or colored pencils.  All the masters spent countless hours drawing, and people feel quite rewarded when they can capture what they see accurately. Supplies are inexpensive.  You already have some materials at home. A recommended supply list is given.

Four Saturdays, 9AM to 12 Noon
Sept. 25, Oct. 2, Oct. 9, Oct. 16

4 sessions, $160 (supplies not included)
Register Online

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Watercolor USA 2010 at Springfield Art Museum, Missouri

Watercolor USA 2010 opened on Friday, June 11 and continues through Sunday, August 8 at the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield Missouri.  This is the 49th continuous running of this prestigious exhibition.

Here is my joyful romp through this wonderful exhibition on opening night, offering up my standouts:  As you walk into the first gallery, there is a color blast from Cynthia Peterson’s Dish.  The large scale, 36 x 51,” takes it beyond mimetic photo-realism and into the revelatory world of abstract color.  Who says there isn’t enough humor in fine art?  Althea Jones Stopping to Paint Along the Way offers up artist as dunce (?) yet causes serious questions to arise as to how we look at and how we perceive things (the European labyrinth she depicts) that are right in front of us.  Stealing the show in the first gallery, Kathleen Jardine’s The Little Goddesses is necessarily large, 40 x 51” and rich in content.  There is a beautiful balance between the content – granddaughter perhaps, pet dog, and two small cultural icons – and the stunning, naturalistic rendering of the hand-crocheted tablecloth.  No photo tracing here.

A rich nugget of expressionistic paint handling ala Emil Nolde is Jane Carter’s Thelma Louise, benefiting from the density of acrylics.  Watercolor USA embraces all water media and though transparent watercolors held central stage throughout the show, experimental and mixed media work contributed toward a lively totality of contemporary works on paper in water media.  Next, I was drawn to a stunning, bold blast of old-school observational watercolors, a large palm tree painted with verve and coloristic bravura. I was happy to see it was painted by Alex McKibben, an emeritus professor from Miami of Ohio.  We juried shows together when I taught in the Cincinnati area and are featured in some private collections together.  Next to this was a spectral rendition of a tree by Margaret Huddy, Sycamore, 8:30 AM, April, revealing that a simple and majestic subject, a tree, has an infinite number of interpretive possibilities.  A humorous, trompe-l’oeil of men’s ties and post cards of three famous male portraits, Real Men, is a tour de force gouache by Margie Kuhn.  It uses the same scale, 22 x 30” and same trompe-l’oeil device as the big winner in Watercolor USA, Kent Addison.  Kent’s On Target with Jan Van Eyck #2172 is a color-rich and obsessively detailed watercolor balancing Old Master portrait with campy ephemera.  I hope his next step is to use art history in a tougher way with richer content and connections to the ephemera he chooses.

Cooling it down is Charles Novich’s Six Above, a small focused representation of a woman in a winter landscape that naturally draws you closer.  A truly Zen landscape is painted by Scott Zupanc, Trailway.  It is a virtuosic monochrome winter landscape.  In contrast, two summery scapes are Harold Gregor’s Above Weibring II  (#451) a small aerial view done in his newer, emotive style.  Some may not know that when Harold was painting on a hillside in Europe, he broke his right arm.  Undaunted, he painted with his left hand till his right arm was back in action quite some time later.  He is certainly my personal hero.  A waterscape of sorts is Ken Landon Buck’s Emily at Play, a beautiful
33 x 44” gouache on paper.  Here too, the scale offers up abstraction in good balance to representation.  The exhibition juror, Richard Ash III, emeritus professor in Wichita Falls, Texas included some solid abstract works, two of which are Stephen Vosilla’s A Journey Through Art, a big, raucous cartoon-style romp and Jason Mejer’s Repelling Herakles, a deft, involved mixed media abstraction that carefully avoided the decorative.

I did not go back the next day and re-think my decisions.  I like to stick to solid first impressions for a review like this.  Each exhibition bears the mark of its juror and of the state of water media on paper.  It is a testament to the Springfield Art Museum for wearing this august mantle for 49 years and we artists can all thank the museum Director, Jerry Berger, and his staff for continuing what Bill Landwehr began in 1962.  More information

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

Small statue I painted
at the Temple of Isis site,
 Dion, Greece

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Newberry Library, Chicago: Three Saturdays for Watercolors

From My Greek Watercolor Series:
Painted at the temple site, Dion, Greece
If you ever wanted to paint watercolors but felt they were difficult, now is your chance to find out otherwise.  Watercolors can be fresh and spontaneous or complex and carefully developed. Learn watercolors anew or if experienced, brush up on drawing, composition and color mixing while making meaningful personal still lifes. We view the Newberry's collection and a cornucopia of watercolor samples from start to finish. The exciting part is making meaningful paintings from your heirlooms, mementos from travel, flowers from the garden. Supplies are inexpensive.  You already have some materials at home. A recommended supply list is given.
Weekend Watercolor Intensive
Saturdays, 1 – 4 pm
April 24 – May 8
3 sessions, $120 (supplies not included)
Register Online

Why I Love Gouache - Part I

My Ostraka:  History IV:  lii      22 x 30" 
watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and traces of carbon transfer on Arches paper 
For March, I have been focusing a lot on gouache (opaque watercolors) since we had several sessions on gouache in my watercolor class at Illinois State University.  Most students have minimal and unsatisfactory experience with gouache.  Often they use the insufferable pan set of gouache for two-dimensional design.  Anyone would hate gouache after using the stubborn pan colors.  Or, students get a cheap gouache set.  The colors are harsh and coverage and workability insufficient.

For professionals, gouache is as much a ‘magic elixir’ as it is for students.  For me, transparent and opaque watercolors knit together beautifully.  Fortunately, we are past the rigid days when a true watercolor had to be exclusively transparent watercolors.  I admire and myself make many transparent watercolors.  I also find that most often, my visually richest work is layered with both transparent and opaque watercolors.  Long live gouache.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Classroom Buzz: Gouache- Eric Burton's Research

It is great teaching my watercolor class with so many talented and enthusiastic students who are participating. For his class presentation, Eric Burton covered some general points on materials needed for gouache which is featured on this blog. Most students have tried it and love it. I call gouache “the magic elixir.” Here are Eric’s basic materials for anyone wanting to get started:

The definition for gouache is rather ambiguous and is placed under an umbrella of specific to general terms such as casein tempera, tempera, show-card color, designer’s color, body color or any transparent watercolor that is mixed with Chinese white. When studied thoroughly, however, one finds that gouache is not casein tempera nor does it easily lend itself to the over-all term of tempera paint. Neither is it exactly designer’s color as they contain bright pigments that are not lightfast and yet may be “used as gouache colors with certain restrictions” (Mayer “Painter’s Craft” 33). So the word gouache can be applied in very general or specific instances, depending on the user’s intent.
Clearly put, gouache is simply an opaque watercolor. It differs from watercolor in that it contains a greater amount of a binder consisting of gum arabic which in turn gives the pigment more body. The gum arabic is bonded with precipitated white chalk, white paint or both, and provides the paint with a translucent quality. Due to this bond, gouache does not rely on the reflective quality of the surface of which it is placed as watercolors do. The inclusion of the white pigment allows the gouache a “brilliant light-reflecting quality” and since its brilliancy “lies in the surface itself”; it provides the paint with a whiteness or brightness not found in traditional watercolor (Mayer “Artist Handbook” 292).
Gouache dries quickly to a soft, somewhat chalky, matte surface, allowing the finished appearance a “subtle feeling” (Quiller & Whipple “Water Media Techniques” 18). Darker colors tend to dry lighter and conversely lighter colors will dry darker than they initially appear. It is highly recommended that existing colors be mixed a little at a time until the desired color and intensity is obtained. Violet cannot be obtained by mixing red and blue gouache due to their light refraction qualities but instead a brownish, muddy color will result.
With excellent flowing capability, gouache can be used for the smallest of detail or to sufficiently cover large, flat areas. When applied wet on wet the colors blend easily but the fusing becomes much more difficult when the gouache begins to dry. Once dried, the paint may be intentionally lifted with a clean, wet brush but this characteristic makes correcting a mistake difficult as under-layers can lift and may result in an unintentionally blotchy appearance. This can be avoided by combining “ten parts of water with one part acrylic matte medium” to the gouache, thus making the under-layer insoluble and secure (Quiller & Whipple “Water Media Techniques” 16). When used opaque, gouache looks thicker than it actually is and should be applied in layers to avoid too thick of an application. If applied in an impasto manner the gouache will eventually crack due to its brittle properties. Although not designed for washes, when distilled gouache provides a softer more diffused but less brilliant appearance than that of transparent watercolor.

Classroom Buzz: Lyla Browning Shows How to Make Gouache

The video shows my undergraduate teaching assistant, Lyla Browning, who led in the actual making of gouache. She researched gouache last year in my watercolor class and we made some then, a “first” for my watercolor class. With some experience under our belts, we made it again for this class. We made nine different colors in less than three hours! I have stockpiled dry pigment for this class; we use it to make true egg tempera. Now we have added another kind of paint to our repertoire, thanks to Lyla’s research.

Students used our custom-made gouache and found it stronger than the store brands I have on hand for students to use. What is significant is seeing the process and making your own art material, something that was once commonplace for all artists. I believe it adds sensitivity to the handling of materials. At some point, these young artists can investigate other art materials that may be costly, as designer gouache is, and they will feel more confident to make their own paints. They had a unique experience in watercolors and can explore more on their own.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Classroom Buzz- Materials for Painting in Gouache

Eric Burton covered the procedures for using gouache.  He prepared a demonstration in advance that benefited everyone.  He took digital pictures of a banana in four stages to show how he tried to learn how to manipulate gouache. Below is his step by step description and the gouache of a banana he painted in four steps. 

Materials Needed:
Palette – A piece of heavy glass with white paper taped to the bottom provides an excellent surface for mixing gouache. The paints, along with a damp sponge, can be kept in a plastic container that seals to ensure that the gouache remains moist between uses. Plastic palettes with paint wells and a sealable lid are available for the same purpose of keeping the paints in a workable state. If, by chance, the gouache does dry, it may be reactivated by simply adding a small amount of water.
Brushes – Soft brushes are needed for a range of gouache applications, varying from washes to flat opaque areas. Highly recommended are red sable brushes which will keep their shape and spring if properly washed with cold to lukewarm water and hand soap after use. The binder in gouache is more adhesive than that found in traditional watercolor, so cleaning the brush after applying gouache requires more attention. Stiff brushes, even toothbrushes, may be used for textural effects such as spatters.
Painting Surface – For work relying more on washes and thinner layers of gouache, watercolor paper of 140 lb. or heavier is suggested. Lighter illustration board taped to a smooth surface works well with applications of a medium thickness but does not take washes as well as watercolor paper. If the artist wishes to build up to a thicker or impasto appearance then heavy illustration board or gesso panels are needed for proper support.
Paints - Gouache may either be mixed by hand or purchased ready to use in tubes or jars. Some manufactures, such as Winsor & Newton, offer their product with a rating system that classifies the gouache by permanence, opacity and staining properties for the artist’s discretion. It should be noted that gum arabic limits tube gouache to a 3-5 year shelf life. A suggested palette for the artist new to gouache is as follows:
Ivory Black Cadmium Red
Chinese White Ultramarine Blue
Cadmium Yellow Phthalocyanine Green
Yellow Ochre Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber

An Exercise in Gouache:
While studying the still-life of a banana I planned to paint, I formalized in my mind an informal approach to the painting. In the research I had done, I read of another artist’s approach that applied a colored wash which under lays the painting. The color of the wash will influence the painting and provide it with a dominating tone (Blanch, 34).
 With this in mind, I decided to first lay a light primary yellow wash so that the painting might retain a warm tone or feel to it. After the wash fully dried, I then sketched the banana on the paper. I have noted for future reference that I will be sure to use lighter pencil lines as I had trouble covering them in the manner in which I applied the gouache (Fig.1).
Next, using primary yellow and a touch of primary red, I filled in the banana with a semi-opaque wash. I allowed the gouache to be thicker where the banana would have a shadow. Where the banana would be lighter, I diluted the paint to give it a lesser tint (Fig.2).
Once this dried I then combined a bit of permanent green with primary yellow and applied it with varying diluted washes to the stem and edges of the banana. Observing the table the banana rested on, I noticed that although the table appears white, it also contains a slight bluish hue. I decided to give the area around the banana a medium opaque wash of ultramarine blue. Later, after it dried, I planned to go over the wash with an ever slightly diluted layer of white (Fig.3).
These applications quickly dried and I then applied diluted burnt sienna to the ends of the banana. This was a light to medium wash depending on the shade of brown observed on the banana. I then used ultramarine blue as a wash to create two shadows for the banana that was derived from two different light sources. The darker of the two shadows was painted first; when dry I created the lesser shadow which kept a distinct edge between the two. White gouache was then applied relatively thickly over the light blue wash. When wet, the white looked darker where it had been applied than where it had not. This surprised me and I was not pleased at first but after it fully dried, it looked much better. I did notice that the white gouache looked whiter through indirect light than direct (Fig.4).
On the next stage of the painting’s development I deepened the brown on the ends of the banana and darkened its shadow. Both areas required a combination of sienna brown and ultramarine blue; the ends of the banana were painted thicker for a deep, dark brown while the shadow was once again a series of washes to emphasize two distinct shadows (Fig.5).
Lastly, with a series of washes, the shadows and tones that define the segments of the banana were applied. These were created with the combination of primary yellow, burnt sienna and a tad of ultramarine blue. This was initiated with light washes which dried rapidly, allowing for preceding washes to build a darker shadow. Also, the shadow on the table cast by the banana was deepened with a less diluted combination of burnt sienna and ultramarine. Here again the two shadows were defined by allowing enough drying time between the two. The darker of the two was laid down first and nearest to the banana and a second, lighter shadow applied after the former had completely dried. Finally, with a detailing brush, semi-diluted burnt sienna was added to represent brown spots on the banana, giving it an even more realistic and finished look (Fig.6).

In review, I found gouache very enjoyable to work with. It’s a very accommodating medium with more opacity than traditional watercolor and yet shares some of the better characteristics of watercolor, such as its ability to be diluted and used as a wash. Even though I used an inexpensive gouache kit, I found the colors to be vibrant and congruent. Within the washes made from color combinations, wonderful pools of distinct colors can be found and yet while distinct, they are in accord with its partnered color. The semi-opaque characteristic of gouache allows previously laid colors to influence the layers placed afterwards to create lush tones that instill the painting with an evocative mood. Aside from not being able to easily lift unwanted colors with a clean, wet brush as implied, I learned that most of the instruction found within my research to be true. The potential for detail that gouache offers is incredible and for the artist that prefers the path of realism, the medium appears to be almost limitless. As mentioned previously, I agree that the finished look of the painting does contain a soft, subtle appearance and yet the colors are engaging, short of distraction. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my exercise with the medium of gouache and look forward to employing it, and my abilities, to their fullest potential.

Works Cited
Blanch, Arnold.  Methods and Techniques for Gouache Painting. New York: American Artist   Group, 1946.
“Body color” The Free Dictionary. 9, Feb. 2010
Dehn, Adolf.  Water  Color, Gouache, and Casein Painting. New York, London: Studio Publication, Inc., 1955.
Johansen, Tony.  “How to Make Watercolor and Gouache.” 9, Feb. 2010
Mayer, Ralph. 1982. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. New York: Viking Press.
Mayer, Ralph.  The Painter’s Craft. An Introduction to Artist’s Methods and Materials. New York: Penguin Group, 1991.
Quiller and Whipple.  Water Media: Processes and Possibilities. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1986.
Quiller and Whipple.  Water Media Techniques. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1983.
“Show-Card color” The Free Dictionary. 9, Feb. 2010
“Tempera” The Free Dictionary. 9, Feb. 2010
Urdina, Lady Cinara beguy. “Basic Painting Techniques – Gouache.” 9, Feb. 2010.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

Classroom Buzz- Gouache

Lily Anderson covers the history of gouache which is featured on this blog. Her co-presenter, Eric Burton covers the procedures for using gouache. He prepared a series of demonstrations in advance which benefited everyone. I call gouache “the magic elixir” and most of you who have used gouache would agree. I also give students to option to really dislike the medium, as for a while, it may seems unwieldy compared to watercolors.

"Gouache, also known as the "opaque watercolors," has carried various forms throughout history. The name Gouache, however, comes from the Italian word for mud, "guazzo." Gouache, as we understand it today, is believed to have been "discovered" in the 11th century by a monk who added zinc to watercolor for the use of illustrating manuscripts. Its opaqueness and ability to maintain brilliant colors have caught the eyes and brushes of many historical painters, including Durer, Rubens, Poussin, Degas, Vuillard, Picasso, Matisse, among other past and contemporary artists (Gouache Painting). The pre-Renaissance was then the turning point from when the use of gouache became popular as an art form. Although forms of opaque watercolors were used as far back as cave paintings, the distinction of the opaque watercolor as a true medium in art would take some time to be acknowledged.
Forms of gouache have been used centuries prior to the pre-Renaissance era where it grew in popularity. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Votive Panels, made with terracotta and gouache, date back to the 3rd century C.E. in Bactria, (northern) Afghanistan. Little has been preserved since these works, but various art history sites online, including ArtHistory, refer to the ancient Egyptians who used binding agents such as honey and traganth glue to bind pigments to make a form of Gouache. This gouache has been found on the ancient Egyptian form of paper, the papyrus.
Popular artists from the 1940's, such as Adolf Dehn and Aaron Bohrod, discussed how they used gouache, in the book Methods and Techniques for Gouache Painting. Both painters express how they enjoy the vivid colors gouache brings and the ability to also add texture to the medium for their visual goal (p. 43-47). Dehn uses a varnish coating in his paintings to bring out the vividness of color and to intensify the darker areas. He further explains:
The resulting effects are so similar to oil painting that it is difficult to tell the difference. The picture can then be framed as an oil without glass, and shown in exhibitions of oils rather than in water color shows (p. 44).
Bohrod’s methods include a popular technique of using transparent watercolors for the undertones of his paintings before he proceeds to use gouache. Bohrod also chooses to the wet on wet technique when painting the sky; however, he does not limit himself to just one layer. When painting landscapes, he always starts from the background to the foreground to make sure that the objects in front overlap the objects in the back (p. 47). These techniques by both artists continue to be popular in the present day.
More recently, "Designer Gouache" has been marketable primarily for designers and illustrators (Gouache Painting). This form holds all the component parts of gouache, however, all the pigments are intermixable, allowing for a finer degree of color matching which reproduce well.
Attached to this essay, is a list with pictures of past works in gouache that can be found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Please refer to these works to better understand the variety of ways gouache has been used throughout various countries around the world and the different periods within art history.

A. Blanch. (1946). Methods and techniques for gouache painting. New York: American Artists Group.

ArtHistory. (2009). Gouache: the history and development of a medium. Retrieved February 7, 2010 from

Gouache Painting. (2009). Gouache painting. "History of gouache painting." Retrieved February 7, 2010 from

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2009). Heilbrunn timeline of art history. "Painting, Gouache." Retrieved February 7, 2010 from"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Classroom Buzz- Acrylics

This is our first post of student work in my Spring 2010 watercolor class.  Fifteen fabulous students at Illinois State University are making wonderful work in all manner of aqueous media.  We began with some rock solid basics:  flat washes, graded washes and color mixing.

Next, we began special demonstrations either by me or students who chose a specific water based media or technique.  First to be videotaped is our high school honors program student from U High, Nate Holland. His demo is on acrylics.  He favors Windsor and Newton paints and we previewed Dick Blick, Windsor and Newton, Liquitex and Golden acrylics as well as a range of mediums.

Most students do not learn to use acrylics with mediums, most think the pigments should be thinned with water, including Nate.  He took Liquitex medium home in advance of his demo and really worked up some 'do's and don'ts that were really effective.  Funny how our high school chemistry teacher's admonition "Learn this-its all chemistry!" is true.  If you thin acrylics with water, you reduce not only the pigment load, but also the ability of the pigment particles to bind to the canvas, paper or whatever surface you are working on.  I love to share this kind of valuable information to help students make more powerful paintings.

Bottom line:  some people love acrylics, some don't.  Each concept, subject and the working practice of the artist helps to dictate what media is best used.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wolf Moon

My Ostraka:  History IV: I  watercolor and gouache on paper

Tonight is a full moon, what Native Americans called the 'Wolf Moon.'  It is the first moon of the new year. This wolf moon will be special in that it is closer to earth than normal, given the elliptcal orbit of the moon, so it rose as a saucer above the horizon at sunset.

Right now the moon is shrouded in clouds here where I live.  I have my paints ready for a break in the visibility, hoping to see the moon before midnight. I have been painting full moons since August, 1999, when I had a sabbatical and inaugurated it with an invitation to paint on Prince Edward Island.  I will show some of these moons in future posts, they being formatted in the archaic form of slides.

The first image of the Amarna Period Royal Fragment, which I did some years back and which is being featured in a show upcoming in Japan, reminds me of such a wolf moon rising above the horizon.  We need to step outside more, even if it is cold outside, and view nature, the moon, our world.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Weekend Watercolor Intensive
Saturdays, 1 – 4 pm
April 24 – May 8
3 sessions, $120 (supplies not included)
Register Online

If you ever wanted to paint watercolors but felt they were too difficult, now is your chance to find out otherwise. Watercolors can be fresh and spontaneous or complex and carefully developed. Learn watercolors anew or, if an experienced painter, brush up on drawing, composition, and color mixing while making personal still lifes. Use heirlooms, travel mementos, or homegrown flowers to create meaningful paintings. Supplies are inexpensive.
Cynthia Kukla is a Professor of Art at Illinois State University and a member of the U.S.A. Watercolor Honor Society.