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.