Tag Archives: gouache

All set for watercolour

Annual holidays eh? Such a treat! For me they are increasingly a chance to get some mental breathing room to rein back my long-standing depression and let me paint for a while. Change of location I guess, away from everything. Lovely.

So, in a couple of weeks I’ll be off again to my all-time favourite destination, the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall.

I love working plein air, usually with a pochade box, a tripod and oils or acrylics. This year however I’m leaving all that malarkey at home so I can concentrate on watercolour.

Must say I’m nervous. I’m far more comfortable painting in oils or acrylics, but on the plus side this is an opportunity to practice. And, as a bonus, the switch will make my kit considerably lighter. My back’s going to thank me for that!

Personally I’ve always found pure watercolour particularly difficult. I really love the luminosity to be had, but struggle so much to keep things clean and ‘pure’. The very act of mentally deconstructing a scene to paint from light to dark makes my brain bend like a banana in a yoga class…

But, when I work on holiday my paintings are usually only intended to be sketches for pleasure, not finished pieces. Does it really matter how I resolve an image as long as it works for me? I guess not. Big plan then: loosen up and to hell with that transparency gig. I’m taking gouache. And pastel pencils too. I can hear the purists screaming; I feel your pain.

In terms of kit, I plan to take:

  • My trusty Frank Herring Dorchester watercolour palette. I’ve tried many through the years and always come back to this one. Lightweight and with plenty of mixing room. And as I’ve had it since the early ‘90s, I guess it’s pretty robust too!
  • W&N and Holbein artists’ gouache, although I’m not too certain about the latter. Probably my lack of experience, but I find the Holbein extremely strongly tinted and difficult to handle.
  • A self-sealing palette specifically for the gouache. Not tried this one before, (pinched it from Carole…), so let’s see if it really does keep the paint moist without an unholy mixture of runny Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson dribbling into my rucksac… Colourful, but it makes a real mess of your butties. Palette for gouache
  • A plastic rosette palette for mixing gouache – I don’t want to mix it with my watercolours, well, not off the page anyway…
  • Da Vinci sable travelling brushes 3, 6 and 10.
  • A selection of synthetic brushes for the gouache.
  • Pastel pencils. Looks like I’m taking a lot, but will edit down each day depending on what I’m doing. Pastel pencil roll
  • Various graphite and carbon pencils for sketching. There’re a few spares in there so again I’ll edit down to essentials once I arrive.
  • Masking tape (broad and narrow). I like to divide my pages, and a white border always looks so good.

As usual I’m going to keep my colour palette simple with warm and cool variants of the primaries: 2 reds, 2 blues and 2 yellows. I’ll supplement these with a few earth colours and darker variants to create denser areas of tone.

For paper I’ll be using my favourite: Saunders Waterford both in a large hard bound book (my Cornwall book) and in a few pads.

Cornish sketchbook

I’ll also take my Stillman and Birn sketch pad and a Moleskine watercolour journal for ‘light’ days.

And that’s it. Hopefully, Wi-Fi willing, I’ll be able to post more when I get down there. In the meantime remember I’m often more active on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so please check me out there too.

Plein air sketches from East Devon and Dorset

So, here we’re back in what always feels like our second home, Seaton in East Devon and about to start the second week of our holiday.

Sadly, this year, we’re here following a very recent and very close family bereavement. Needless to say our thoughts have been mixed, and of all things our minds haven’t been focussed on making paintings.

However, there have been opportunities to sketch, and I think making the effort has been mentally beneficial for both of us. The weather has been very kind too.  So here is a collection of my plein air sketches in watercolour, gouache and pencil. Hope you like them. I’ll update this post with any new sketches after next week.

Plein air sketches from East Devon and Dorset

Taking a gamble on gouache

You know, I didn’t realise it had been so long since my last post. Rather been letting things slip a bit haven’t I? I had intended to blog during my last week of holiday but, well, you know what it’s like…

To be honest, between getting back to work and navigating some rather challenging bits of ‘real’ life lately I’ve been feeling a bit drained, like my rubber band’s broke. And sadly I don’t always have the luxury of time to devote myself completely to my art.

The holiday was wonderful, such gorgeous weather. The Lizard Peninsular is one of my favourite places in Cornwall and really feels like a second home. It’s unfairly picturesque with a potential painting around each corner and over every rise. I really had to resist the temptation to paint all the time though; it was meant to be a family holiday after all…

Lizard lighthouse
Lizard lighthouse

Even so, I’ve still managed to bring back a fair bit of reference material, both sketches and paintings which will no doubt will appear on here in due course. And I’ve taken loads of photos too which I intend to use through the year, but with the usual caveat against becoming slavishly fixated. Photos can be a mixed blessing. Great for prodding the memory where it’s lacking, but they can also be flat and deceiving in so many ways, and they sucker you into the details.

Nothing beats sitting outdoors in front of a subject and letting it fill your mind. Observation always pays dividends. Not only does it reflect in the work created on site, regardless of its perceived quality, more importantly it reinforces the memory of a place and time for future reference.

In the week which followed my last post about painting at Church Cove I started to relax and find my feet. By the end of that week I was pretty pleased with my efforts. Besides working up some plein air sketches in both watercolour and acrylic, I also took the plunge and tried gouache.

I’d previously only used gouache in black and white many years ago for some professional illustration work. To keep things simple I decided to use just a handful of colours from Winsor and Newton’s Designer’s Gouache range: Primary Blue, Red and Yellow along with Ivory Black and Permanent White.

Thrift wall
Thrift wall

For my first attempt I painted a section of a Cornish ‘hedge’ covered in wildflowers including Thrift. It took a bit of experimenting – too much water at first, then too little – but after a while I started to get the hang of it. Working light over dark, letting each layer dry thoroughly before working quickly and lightly over the top. I was impressed by the covering power. While the sketch may have many problems, it was a useful exercise.

View towards Lloyd's Signal Station
View towards Lloyd’s Signal Station

For my second attempt I sat in our cottage and quickly sketched the view over the back garden.  I kept the paint creamier than my first attempt and started to get the knack of laying paint without disturbing the underlying layer.  This contributed towards a more graphic feel to the sketch, and a particular flatness. Although I have to admit that I quite like the poster-like effect, I can see why some artists don’t and avoid gouache. because it can appear ‘dead’ and chalky.

Chun Quoit
Chun Quoit

I was determined to push things a bit for my third outing and at Chun Quoit, a stunning Megalithic tomb, I deliberately painted both looser and on a larger scale, 60cm wide, on the ever excellent Saunders Waterford watercolour paper. This time I used a mixture of thick and thin washes. Sometimes I’d let the washes dry, other times I blended and pushed the paint about before scumbling drier paint over the top to catch on the texture of the paper. I was very pleased with the result. Sadly the limitations of the photo don’t reveal the more subtle colour modulations or hue the juicy intensity of the stronger passages, but trust me they are in there.

After making this painting I seriously started to reconsider my plein air approach. I use both watercolours and acrylics, but gouache seems to offer a great, easily portable halfway house without the irreversible drying qualities of acrylics. And, while I can make pure watercolours which use and reserve the white paper, gouache fits more easily with the way I like to work; it still feels a bit like cheating though.

Kew Rambler
Kew Rambler

For one more test I added French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow and Flame Red to my limited palette and spent about three quarters of an hour making this painting from my studio window. I think my gamble might be paying off. I’m going to chuck a few earth colours into the kit and see what happens. Watch this space…