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Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts on White Gouache

Above: Gull Study with different whites labeled. The acrylic white
gesso was added to the background before I decided to do a gull study
on this journal page. Click on the image to view an enlargement. 
I get asked a lot about my use of gouache both in my visual journals and in my stand alone paintings. Shortly after Kate started this blog I contributed a lengthy post about using gouache—the gum arabic based, opaque watercolor. Today I posted a discussion of my use of white gouaches on my regular blog (Roz Wound Up). Based on the response I've received to my initial gouache post here I thought it might be of interest here as well.

Gouache can be a tremendously fun medium in which to work. It allows for reworking and covering and is therefore "forgiving" in ways that transparent watercolor is not. It can be used in conjunction with transparent watercolor, and in fact, if you are using a quality brand your gouache paint can be used transparently in passages within a painting where opaque passages all exist. For me the great fun of using gouache is the feel of the paint as you put it on the support (I use gouache on paper, watercolor canvas, and Claybord™). I love moving and blending the paint—seeing the strokes or not seeing the strokes as my intention directs.

Gouache has other characteristics that are user friendly—most important for me it doesn't smell (again, if you get the right gouache!). Acrylic paints, which I use for some of my stand alone paintings can be wonderful for opaque techniques and even heavy body textural techniques to which gouache is not suited. But acrylic paints all have some sort of chemical smell which bothers me. And I have to get the stay-wet palette out to use them over the course of a day or a week. With gouache you can decide on the spur of the moment to paint, get called away, and come back at any time to continue.

I use both Schmincke and M. Graham brand gouache. Schmincke has little odor at all; M. Graham smells a bit like the honey that it is blended with. Both brands are pigment without added opacifiers so when you are mixing your colors your resultant colors are rich and not muddy. Both of these brands also rewet well which has allowed me to make my own pan travel palettes of them, for use in the field. (I spritz my pans when I start my sketch and the paint is a lovely consistency when it's time to paint moments later.)

If this brief statement of gouache intrigues you check out what I have to say about white gouache over on Roz Wound Up today. The more options you have in your visual journaling tool kit the more enjoyable your experience is going to be and the more likely it becomes that you'll build a life long habit. I hope you will, gouache use or not.

Note: I use gouache fairly thickly on my journal pages when I paint with it and despite that have rarely encountered a cracking problem. I mention this so that folks new to gouache aren't scared away by comments that "gouache cracks." It certainly will if you slather it on and then keep moving the support (in this case, keep bending the page you painted on), but you will quickly discover the thickness level as you work with it. If you want additional protection for your gouache pieces in your journal I recommend you use Microglaze from Skycraft (I'm not affiliated). It is a waxy substance you gently rub into the surface of your painting. It's acid free. It has a citrus smell. When it dries it has no waxy feel. It will, however, slightly alter your colors (as any finishing agent will) so you'll want to test it first on a sample. And it alters the matte finish of gouache every so slightly; again you'll want to test a sample.  I use Microglaze to give protection to my paper beads as well.


  1. The second time I read this article today. It was enjoyable both times. Have not heard of that glaze before I may have to give it a try. By the way, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and not sure I've ever commented as I sometimes read back to earlier posts, sometimes for hours. Thanks for all the effort you put into it.


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