Tag Archives: Cornwall

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…