Gouache and Lifting July 14, 2021 13:43

I've tried various paint mediums--watercolor, oil, casein (made my own casein!), acrylic (made my own paints from pigment dispersions and acrylic binders), egg tempera (made my own paints from pigments and egg  yolk)--but I haven't really given gouache a chance, since I read it was all too easy to rake up a lower layer and since lifting seemed to be a thing that was just built in. 

For decades, lifting was my enemy. I would rather paint white in watercolor than lift. But then I discovered how enjoyable it was to cover a watercolor ground with Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Payne's Gray. I could create all sorts of glimmering by lifting lines and then highlighting with titanium. Wow. I could even paint over the titanium to tint it, as I did in the painting "Bloom." 

I don't know what gave me the idea to try gouache. But I think it was due to a large painting I had planned for first, oil, and then watercolor. I spent four days creating a complicated (for me) drawing featuring six men in front of a store. This was based on a public domain photo that doesn't have any info about where and when it was taken, but it looks like Australia and maybe the 1930s. 

So I got the drawing done, being super careful to use a 6H pencil, which I really hate using because it is too pointy and digs into the paper no matter how careful I am and the lines are faint. I couldn't even get a good photo of it because it was so faint. But I also really hate how watercolor will get schmutzy from pencil lines. Totally hate it. Especially with yellow, which is pretty much always transparent. Pencil lines turn yellow watercolor dingy and dirty. Gross. So super hard leads it is.

This would have been a much larger painting than what I've done before in watercolor--22 x 30". But in order to do credit to the full figures of six guys in front of a shop, I had to use a big support.

The thing was that once I finished it, I didn't want to actually paint it. It seemed like it would be a big PIA for a result that would probably not be worth it. Too much transparency leading to too many errors and too many attempts to erase or paint over to ill effect. So I actually tore it in half and used the back for other things. Never accuse me of being a wasteful painter.

The problem I've had all along with painting is that for me, the viscosity of paint has to be at most like cream. And this is darn hard to achieve in oil if you don't use solvents. With acrylics, even Fluid acrylics were too thick and gloppy. And watercolor was too watery. 

I saw some gouache paintings (especially the paintings on medieval illuminated manuscripts, which I totally LOVE) and they had tons of detail. How could these folks get all this detail? I wanted that. I love the Splendor Solis images (like the one above), but just generally I love gouache medieval paintings, like in the Tres Riches Heures-->. I want to be able to paint like that. I even love the wonky perspective.

It has not only been technique that has prevented me, but medium--at least, in my estimation. I just couldn't find a medium that would allow me to paint fine detail but also offer some decent coverage without the use of stinky, toxic solvents.

And then I asked myself, well, what do you think these illuminators used to make the paintings that you love so much? They sure weren't painting with watercolor, or egg tempera (requires a stiff support), or oils, which weren't yet a thing. So what does that leave?


(By the way, check out the detail on this illumination. :) Our European ancestors not only had a sense of humor; they shaved their crotches. They are warming their crotches in front of a blazing fire. Hell yeah!)

Anyway, I bought a set of Winsor Newton gouache. This set gave me a good selection for color mixing. 

I have to tell you that this paint fills the bill for me. I can paint detail without having to use any solvent outside of a brief mist of water on the palette. I can get full coverage without having to glaze over and over, and I don't have to worry about pencil marks because the paint just covers them, period, and doesn't spread the graphite around like a dingy smear. So I can draw with a HB pencil to my heart's content, no problem. It will not show in the final painting. No schmutz!

I super love the way the gouache paint spreads. It is creamy. Thick without being gloppy. A sensuous experience. The paint sits on the surface of the support, and so the colors are BRIGHT. If you get good quality, the paints are opaque because the pigment particles are not gound so small rather then the paint being opacified with white. You do add white yourself to make the color lighter instead of thinning it with water, like you would with watercolor, which is a different approach that I know will take some getting used to, but I so love the look of gouache. It is opaque without feeling heavy.  

The lifting is now a feature instead of a bug, since I learned from painting on watercolor ground how to exploit lifting instead of being tripped up by it. 

All in all, gouache is a yes for me. I've already purchased a couple more tubes in favorite colors--some perylenes, which I love and which so fit the nightshades, which I also love. And I am going to try some cadmiums as well for the sake of their opacity. 

I'm always changing horses in midstream when it comes to art, but this time I think I've finally found the right one.