Monday, June 16, 2008
Last summer when I was doing a lot of outdoor watercolor sketches, I was also interested in using gouache. After crawling Amazon.com and the web, I came to the conclusion that there was no useful technical information out there on using gouache as a legitimate art medium. So, I was delighted to find that Diane Tesler, who is an oil painter, was offering a gouache workshop, and I signed up. I attended the 2-day workshop “Gouache for Field Studies and More” this past weekend, and was really taken with the medium and her technique, which she spent a number of years developing. Her goal had been to find a way of working with a water-based medium that was similar to working with oil; that is, working from dark to light.
Critical to her technique is the paper. She uses Rives RFK printmaking paper (250 gr), which has a velvety texture and—get this—does not buckle or warp, so does not need to be stretched, taped down (aside to keep it from blowing away if you are working outside), or otherwise fiddled with. The paper is absorbent, so rather than floating on top of the paper, the pigment is drawn down into the paper. I found that this makes it possible to put a layer of color over a previous layer of a different color, while it is still damp, without disturbing the first, so the colors do not become muddied the way they would be when working on watercolor paper, where the paint sits on top of the paper. (I was working with both watercolor and gouache.)
Back to Diane’s technique. She does her sketch in charcoal pencil and then fixes it with a wash of thinned acrylic paint (one of the umbers, sienna, red oxide, ochre) so that she has a mid-toned surface. Next, she uses a fairly thin mix of gouache to block in her dark masses, similar to using a thin oil wash at the beginning of an oil painting. She then starts working the mid-tone colors. The final layer is the lights and highlights, and there the gouache is the thickest, though not as thick as an oil impasto, because if gouache is laid in too thickly it will crack and likely flake off.
Because it is water-based, gouache can be mixed with and used in conjunction with watercolors, which opens up a range of possibilities. I am inclined to try this without toning the paper first, use watercolors to put in the darks and then go in with the gouache on top of that. I don’t know how much the acrylic wash seals the paper, so may have to put on a clear acrylic wash if the paper is too absorbent. I found the absorbency of the Rives with one layer of acrylic wash on it really nice to work on. One of the really great things about using gouache is how easy it is to make corrections and change things around. And I am totally in love with the paper—it completely changes the water-based painting experience. This brings to mind Ross Merrill’s discussions on Sergeant and Homer and the paper they used—in that it wasn’t sized the way that contemporary watercolor paper is and was more absorbent—I seem to remember his mentioning that from one of his lectures.
This was the first time that Diane had done a gouache workshop, and I hope not her last; it was a terrific workshop and I recommend it highly. It was also highly edifying to watch her work. The onion painting is my first whack at this.
Posted by Lynne