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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ramblings on watercolor and gouache

Both watercolor and gouache are water media. Theoretically, the difference between them is that with transparent wc you work light to dark laying thin glazes and washes on paper; gouache is opaque (dense), so you build up layers with brushstrokes, working dark to light. In actual paints, however, the distinctions are not so clear. Pigments used in all media are generally the same, so if you're using a certain color in watercolor, it's made from the same pigment used in gouache, oil or acrylics.

It's confusing to watercolor painters to learn that some pigments in transparent watercolor are highly opaque, for example, the cadmiums, cerulean blue and chromium oxide green. These pigments are naturally opaque, so they have more covering power than most watercolor paints. But they aren't as dense as gouache. Gouache has additives that make the paint more dense and opaque.

A gouache painting looks more like an oil or acrylic than a watercolor, although it's possible to make a watercolor that looks like gouache simply by using less water and more paint. The concern with either method is that thick paint may crack or break off the surface, which is one reason a more rigid support is needed, such as heavy illustration or watercolor board.

Transparent watercolor as a pure medium takes a lot of abuse these days from artists doing mixed watermedia and gouache. They claim watercolor's old-hat and everything has already been "done" in the medium. I don't agree with that. I love the splash and spatter of watercolor and the texture of the paper, the richness of a fine wash. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, as fine as a pure watercolor masterfully painted. I'm disappointed when I go to big watercolor shows and find most of the paintings appear to be acrylics or opaque watercolor. I can remember when the best artists in the country painted pure transparent watercolors and they were amazing.

I'm going to try some gouache, because I really haven't given it a fair trial yet. But I can't see myself giving up my watercolors.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Michelle Himes said...

I'm glad to hear you say that, Nita! I too am disappointed when I see so many acrylic paintings in the watercolor shows, as well as the "watercolor" magazines.

Michelle

7:38 PM  
Blogger Martha Keim-St. Louis said...

I have been reading about gouache, and saw a demo by Barbara Kellogg, who uses Holbein Acryla Gouache. It was fascinating; all the drips and pours and runs.
I bought some Absolute Matte at the CNY Watercolor Society's annual meeting. It's a new acrylic/gouache combo that made me curious. But I'm hesitant to try it because I'm so in love with transparency.
In fact, now I'm trying to slow myself down enough to experiment with multiple transparent glazes. Mostly I do fast, wet-in-wet stuff, with detail added later. So I'm learning to watch paint dry!

Martha

8:22 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

Martha--
Wish I could have seen the demo. I admire Barbara Kellogg's work. I met her when I taught a workshop for the Cazenovia Watercolor Society several years ago. Gouache takes a whole different mindset, I think.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous dal lazlo said...

i am an artist see stuff at www.dallazlo.com and i am using gouache that has been diluted almost to watercolor,transparency wild violets and blues that really glow, i use them along with watercolor but do not do wet on wet w/ them together, am i going to regret this someday, i hope not, i really like the look.any hazards with this technique combo i should know about about?

12:17 PM  
Blogger Daniel C. Boyer said...

As an artist who works primarily in gouache and very secondarily in watercolours, while not disagreeing with any of what you've said about transparent watercolour, I'm attracted to the celerity and immediacy of gouache. A tiny and perhaps not-that-relevant footnote -- in addition to diluting gouache with water, as expected (http://www.artbreak.com/work/show/2994-the-rapist-daniel-c-boyer) I've also diluted it with Coca-Cola instead of water (you can see an example at http://www.artbreak.com/work/show/2995).

8:41 AM  
Blogger Nita said...

I wonder what the point is in using Coca Cola to dilute gouache. I would be worried about insects attacking the painting.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Daniel C. Boyer said...

I haven't had this problem, although I can't say for sure it's not a possibility, and there may be other technical problems as well. All my gouaches diluted with Coca-Cola are currently framed, however. Coca-Cola gives a darker and roughly grainy, sometimes heavily sedimented look to the painting, although probably not as much as one would expect. If you aren't bothered by the difficulty of working with it, you can get some amazing results if they are the sort in which one is interested.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

Whatever works, right?

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your website! As a new artist I appreciate all the work and wisdom and the fact that you are willing to share. Thank you.
On to the topic of gouache...
In observation and trial I have come to the realization that transparents and opaques truely complete one another.
I attribute my findings to the push/pull theory.
The diversity of using warms/cools, light/darks, continuous lines/broken lines, intense/soft, shadow/light, sedimentary/staining, transparent/opaque...seems to appeal to me as a viewer and artist. The diversity pulls me in and keeps my attention. The purity of transparent paintings I can also appreciate and think it is the symbolizm that resinates a feel-good pure feeling in the viewer.
Through experimentation I have given myself the permission to pollute my transparent watercolor paintings with a little gouache here and there and have found it to be a happy ending and also the solution to my paintings looking washed out and dull. I agree with whatever works! Sometimes (a lot of the time) it has to be about breaking the rules to move forward. I guess I will be filed into the Mixed Media file! Once again it's all about the beauty of diversity.
Thank you again for sharing your talent.

12:51 PM  
Blogger sonshine in the mountains said...

Hey there, artist folks! I am a REAL newbie at dabbling in paint. I just happened upon this blog and I am immediately attracted to what I am reading. My latest experience during an art lesson led to a decision that I was not ever going to be a watercolorist! Is that a word?
However, I have been hearing that many people use watercolor to do what I love to do just for fun and that is pretty detailed landscapes with buildings like old barns, etc. I also have been reading up on the use of gouache and have reading up on how to use it. This is so exciting to find this blog and I appreciate the one who writes it as well as those who post to it. Thanks, all of you, for sharing!

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Annonymous, I totally agree with what you've said. Gouache ahs helped add impact to my normally washed out looking watercolours. The only challenge I have is its lack of unpredictability versus the transparent watercolours. The run and flow is lacking but I've realised that I can't use it that way. I have to use it to brighten and make my watercolours glow. Very nice blog and quite interesting reading the different comments.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Ronnie Daelemans for Artbooksexplorer said...

Ronnie Daelemans and the other members of the Abe-x-ency team working on the encyclopedic ART-database of Artbooksexplorer, under construction, have downloaded this site under ref.n° 21.II.01.05.W.060 Watercolour and gouache on paper. They thank and greet sincerely the author(s), editor, and collaborators as well as all Art-lovers around the world.

11:42 AM  

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