Aquapasto February 04, 2018 19:59

A couple weeks ago I bought a medium made by Winsor Newton and others called "Aquapasto." This medium is meant to give a small amount of texture to watercolor brush strokes. It's based on a 19th-century formula and consists of gum arabic and fumed silica, so it does not take the user out of the watercolor category. Watercolor artists of that time had a yen to paint with watercolors like oil painters so they could charge oil paint prices for their works, and this medium is one outgrowth of that. 

I tried it briefly and saw right away that I would not be able to just jump into using this stuff. It did indeed allow me to create some texture, as you can see in this practice scrap, and I even tried using it with a knife, as they recommend, but I knew that it would take me a lot of experimentation in order to find a way to best use it in my art. Partly that's because even when I painted in acrylics, I almost always painted flat and only the last painting or so did I incorporate even a small amount of texture. I was looking forward to exploring texture, but then I got sensitized to the ammonia given off by acrylics. The only other painting medium that really makes use of texture that I know of is oils. And I just don't like the smells of even the solvent-free method of oil painting.

So I pretty much gave up on the idea of texture and just went ahead exploring casein and watercolor and their flat world, making my own paints from pigment dispersions and either casein binder I made or gum arabic in solution. 

I think it was precisely the fact that I was making my own paint that made an opening for this aquapasto stuff.

This weekend I got the idea of messing around with gouache, since there are way more people who use it than casein. I looked at some not very good videos on youtube about it. Read some stuff about it. And went to sit at my easel to think. After all, what I was doing already with the amount of gum arabic I was using was pretty gouachey. And I didn't want to start buying paint in tubes again.

Meanwhile, I'd begun working on my third try at "Bones of Our Mother," which is based on a view of some weird hills in Death Valley. I really like the way they intersect, but I tried it in oils and watercolor and just couldn't stand the way it was turning out and abandoned the painting both times.

The other day I decided to try it in watercolor again, because the image kept poking at me. But once again I really didn't like where my painting was headed. It had no oomph. It felt thin and timid. I could barely stand to continue it and was glad I'd had an excuse not to work on it for two days. It seemed I was just baffled how to attack this thing. I sat there staring at it.

This work in progress is on paper glued to a panel, so it's not like I can just paint over it, but I thought about doing just that with a bunch of casein.

Then I saw the tube of Aquapasto sitting there and thought, "Well, I can't screw up this painting any more than it is" and put a bunch on my palette.

I spent much of today messing around with it and finding a way that it works for me that I never would have expected. I am not using it to make texture but instead of make the paint feel and behave differently. This is still a work in progress and only a section of the painting. You can see where the original watercolor is in the gold parts. Still lots more to do. But I am so much happier with it now.

I put a dab of the paste with pigment and with some extra liquid gum arabic. Then spritz with some water and mix. Not much water--just enough that it isn't sticky and I get a very thick and creamy paint, about like heavy cream in consistency. Painting with that using a bright (got in the bright habit with acrylics and still like using them even with watercolor), I started dabbing. The medium made it much easier to blend and didn't encourage any unplanned lifting, which is something that has always bothered me about every painting medium I've used--yes, I am impatient about things drying (a not completely dry bottom layer will often lift when painted over).

The medium also allows me to paint without getting all hung up in brush stroke. I can make very short brush strokes that don't look square, like they would if I were not using the medium. In acrylic, I liked being able to smudge paint (and for that reason have often considered soft pastels). Oddly enough, even though this medium was created so watercolor artists could emphasize their brush strokes, it is helping me obliterate them by smudging their edges. 

The medium itself is transparent once you mix it with paint (it's translucent out of the tube), but today I added titanium to the pigments I was using because I wanted pastels. Even so, thin dry strokes allow what's below to show through. 

I feel like this stuff has great possibilities, opening up another way for me to paint opaquely. I encourage other folks to try it.