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Friday, May 24, 2013

An Update on DaVinci Gouache and Some Thoughts on Economical Choices

Because I posted here earlier about my experiments with DaVinci Gouache in my 2013 fake journal I wanted to be sure to let you all know that I've had more problems with this gouache.

Besides reactivating when I put PVA on the backs of the paintings I was going to glue into my fake journal I have found that simply painting on the backs of pages where other paintings have already been painted will cause reactivation of this paint on those earlier pages. (And the reactivated paint will then print onto its facing page, ruining the painting you left behind, and anything on its opposite page.)

You can read more about this problem of DaVinci Gouache on my blog Roz Wound Up, but these are the main points, and there is no getting around them, especially if you work in a visual journal.

So please keep this in mind when deciding to take the gouache plunge. DaVinci Gouache seems like a good value based on price and tube size, but when you factor in the cost of wear on the brushes and the frustration of having your paintings "reactivate" in this fashion it isn't economical at all, it's just wasteful.

People reading this blog know that I love gouache and that I want the world to enjoy it as well. If you do decide to take the plunge and work with gouache I urge you to buy either Schmincke or M. Graham brands of gouache. Both are excellent quality paints with high pigment loads, no opacifiers, and great consistency and workability. You'll enjoy your gouache experience with either of those brands. (I have never ever had either of those brands reactivate in this fashion.)

The other day I was in Wet Paint (my favorite independent art supply store) and just as I was leaving a woman came up to me and said, "You're Roz Stendahl aren't you?" (The braids are sort of a dead give away. If I'm going to pursue a career as a spy I'll have to do something about that.) "Yes, I am," I said, smiling, "and you are?" (Thinking that she must be a past student I don't remember because of the conk on the head, and I like to know the names of the people I'm talking to.) She introduced herself and told me she was a friend of a friend and that friend had brought her to one of my talks. She went on to say that she had recently read some of my gouache posts and had purchased some Winsor & Newton Gouache at Blick. (Evidently she didn't read my gouache posts closely enough!)

We were standing in front of the checkout counter at Wet Paint (where I had been discussing the latest plot twists in "Hawaii 5-0" with Greg) but even if I had not been standing there I would have pulled a face, which I did, she could have come and purchased that gouache at this independent store. "You do realize that by talking to me you have now invoked my right to advise you on your purchases!" And everyone behind the counter rolled his or her eyes, "here we go."

"I don't care for Winsor & Newton gouache at all. They use a lot of fugitive pigments. They do claim they don't have opacifiers in it now but the mixes all seem more muddied. And the SMELL, it has such a strong chemical odor. I can't stand to work with it the odor is so bad. Really, in the future you need M. Graham or Schmincke brands of gouache."

"But it was on sale," she replied (still smiling, I hadn't totally overwhelmed her).

"I can buy crummy chocolate on sale too, but that doesn't mean I should eat it." I replied.

And everyone laughed (because everyone knows how I feel about chocolate) and we investigated further into her other purchases (which I'm happy to report were all sensible and well chosen).

Life is very short. Life should have a fun factor—even if you are totally overburdened with the worst of everything there should be a moment in each day when you can look out at the cloudless sky (or whatever turns you on in weather) and see the beauty, smell the crisp air, and think a fun and happy thought.

Painting brings more of the fun factor into our lives, or at least it should. Painting is fun. It's work, it's practice, but it is also fun, fun, fun.

It is, gasp, more fun that eating chocolate, and maybe (MAYBE) even a tad more fun than riding your bike.

But it's fun. And to have the absolute maximum amount of fun some materials do matter. As soon as you can budget for better materials as you move along in your art journey, the more fun your art journey will be. This doesn't mean you can't have great times simply sketching with a pencil, but even with a pencil there are brands that have better leads.

I'm an advocate for everyone finding what his or her fun factor is and exploiting that to have the most fun possible when making art. And because of that I will sometimes tests different brands and tell people about them. I am compelled to test things, in much the same way I'm compelled to eat chocolate. But I think that by letting people know about my tests they can better spend their money on something that might give them a greater fun factor—so I like to be clear about what I like or don't like about a product because something I don't like might be just the thing someone else is looking for.

You get to decide your own fun factor. In fact no one else on the planet can decide this for you.

But there are all sorts of "economies" and just because something comes in a bigger tube, or is on sale for half price, doesn't mean it's an economical choice. It might be the most expensive choice you make.

Yesterday morning I had decided that I would continue to use DaVinci Gouache in life drawing sessions where everything is quick and I'm not going after sketches that I'll keep.

Last night I had to go out and buy some more brushes because working with DaVinci Gouache (which is very, very tacky) had ruined some of my brushes.

When I got home I was talking to Dick and he said, "Why even finish using the tubes? They aren't the pigments you like and the brushes you're replacing are more expensive than the paint."


Sometimes we can be in the forest and not see the trees.

The recent discovery that DaVinci gouache reactivated on my journal pages meant I wasn't going to use it in those journals, and I started looking for a way to use the paint elsewhere.

But that's a false economy because of the other problems inherent in this paint—and because of what it does to brushes.

I've had my experiment; I had it through April. It's over now. The results are in. I'm moving on.

(The remaining paint will probably go to my favorite 8 year old—though I sort of kind of hate to do this to him and will have to have a long talk about the ramifications of it with his grandmother who is his art teacher. I do believe we should give children quality products so they can get good results. We'll see what she thinks.)

So I encourage you to be pragmatic in your choices as well. If you purchase a new art product don't get a "set" but instead buy a couple tubes (if it's paint) for a very limited palette. (If you are interested in colored pencils don't buy a whole box, just get 3 to 5 pencils in colors that are your favorites to work with in the brand you currently use, so that you can compare workability with like colors.)

Work with the few tubes or pencils or whatever, that you purchase, exclusively for a couple weeks and really get a feel for what that tool or medium can do for you. Do you like it? Does it improve your fun factor or is it frustrating to use? Don't abandon something because your first efforts are awful. Really work with something every day for at least 15 minutes a day, and preferably longer—every day for at least two weeks. If you work every day this way your learning curve each day will be short, because you'll still remember what you did the day before. You'll arrive at what works and what doesn't work more quickly than if you spend 2 Saturdays 3 weeks apart working with a product.

Only after you have worked daily for an extended period can you decide if a product (medium, paper, tool) works for you because you'll have moved along the learning curve on that particular product. You might not have mastered it, but you'll be in a position to see whether it's worth continued effort.

So, heads up about the problems with DaVinci Gouache.

Go get busy and have some fun!


  1. What are your feelings about acrylic gouache?

    1. Linda, the only acrylic gouache I've used is Holbein and the pigments in the paint are pretty fugitive, often multi-pigment paints (which leads to problems when mixing with other colors) and the quality of the paint isn't the best.

      You also have to work pretty darn quickly, which isn't a problem for me, but I need to mention it. And the portability isn't something that I can work out because it would mean taking a sta-wet palette with me and blah, blah, blah. I'm not always some place that I can fully rinse my brushes on site so that would mean lots of ruined brushes.

      The last time I used acrylic gouache was probably the late 90s or early 00s and I gave all that paint away and have no desire to go back. There may be some other brands now that are better, but the reasons for me not going there remain—or the biggest one—portability and usability in the field. I wouldn't be allowed to go into certain places with such paint.

      I don't have any trouble working with my two favorite gouache brands: Schmincke and M. Graham. They do everything I need. You can read more about them and why I like them and what I do with them on my blog on a page of links called "Gouache Compendium" http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/gouache-compendium-notes-from-roz-wound-up-posts-to-accompany-my-gouache-demo.html

      I've never had any of the problems with these two brands that I had with DaVinci gouache.

      My two favorite brands, which are watersoluble, traditional gum-arabic based gouache paints solve all my needs for great, pigment heavy paint. I can put them in pans and use them in the field. The rewet (in the pans) to a lovely consistency and I can use them in light washes or opaquely.

      I don't have any trouble layering gouache, like any painting medium there are techniques you can acquire that make it possible. YOu can see I don't have issues in paintings like my rock series http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2008/10/project-640-tub.html

      When I used Winsor & Newton gouache regularly (decades ago) I had lots of problems with the pigments bleeding up through the layers so layering colors was something you had to practically be a chemist about. But I don't have that problem with the two brands I like.

      So I'm happy as can be with the two watersoluble brands that I use and have no intention of changing. Acrylic gouache doesn't buy me anything and may bring with it the smell of the acrylic medium it's made of and that wouldn't be pleasant at all (I'm really sensitive to odors).

      The other point I have against acrylic gouache is that if I'm going to use acrylics I'll just use regular acrylics (in brands that I know work for me and don't smell horribly). I don't use gel medium in my paintings so I don't get a plasticy look to my acrylic paintings and so the need for "gouache" to get a flatter matte look seems to me to be a moot point. There are several great acrylic paints on offer from a lot of companies and I am limited only by my ability to deal with their odors. I usually only use acrylics spring through fall when the windows can be fully open. I have used and liked the regular acrylics put out by Steven Quiller, Daniel Smith, and Golden. I have also tried M. Graham (but while they are an excellent paint they have a bit too much smell for me so as long as I have other choices…). Lascaux makes a WONDERFUL brand of acrylics but they are a bit more expensive. I didn't discover them until I had quite a bunch of Golden and Daniel Smith. And since I don't paint often in acrylics I can't justify buying them. But if I were starting now with acrylics I would buy Lascaux. The workability and the finish (very matte) is wonderful and the smell is within tolerance.

      If you're going to use acrylic paints I'd suggest you go for one of the brands mentioned which are all quality paints and skip the idea of acrylic gouache.


    2. Linda, just a clarification because Lascaux has many products (and may even have an acrylic gouache, but I know they have aquacryl or something like that in jars) when I'm writing about their quality acrylic I am referring to their line of TUBE acrylics. I don't have a catalog in front of me but if they have more than one line of tube acrylics than it would be their top of the line tube acrylic. Wet Paint sells the paints I looked at and tested so if you want to get some I know you can call them and talk to them about it. But I don't mean any other product by Lascaux. In this discussion I just meant their quality tube acrylics.

  2. Thanks, Roz. I appreciate your experience and honesty. I took the Strathmore workshop you taught.

    1. Patti, I'm glad you found this post helpful. I hope you are still collaging away and sketching in your Strathmore journals. I just purchased one of their 11 x 14 inch 500 Series Mixed Media journals so that I could work LARGER and having that huge expanse of page has been very fun indeed!

  3. I just purchased some Gouache watercolor paints and I am not sure how I feel about them. i wish I would have bought a small set. I am not one to waste. :( Behhhh. This is the first time that I've had Gouache. I started out with a very cheap set of watercolors from Korea that I am pretty fond of!

    1. Adrienne, sorry you don't like your gouache paints! They are different, that's for sure. One thing I recommend to people just wanting to try out the effect is to get a single tube of gouache white to mix with a dedicated set of watercolors (not your everyday set or your paints will be sullied.) Then you can at least see if you like the effect before investing...

      I don't know if Roz ever suggests this or not, she's the Gouache Queen!


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