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.