Last year I taught myself how to use gouache, which is an opaque watercolor. Unlike regular watercolor, gouache will wipe off the paper if you get it wet. That means once you put your mark down, it is fairly difficult to rework. Muddy, messy and miserable is the consequence of an indecisive gouache painter. Colors also have the nasty habit of changing as they dry and they dry in seconds. I find the whites dry darker and more blue. Since white is ubiquitous in paintings, this change effects the whole piece. Meanwhile, the darks appear to dry lighter. Working with this fickle medium is kind of like dancing; you need to anticipate your partners moves in order to stay on your feet.
I picked it up with the hope that gouache would bring a new facet to my oil painting. With oils, I tend to work slowly in layers, glazing color over color. Working “indirectly” is a methodical approach and requires planning and forethought. Bold or spontaneous mark making has not been my way. With gouache, you simply cannot glaze or refine as you can with oil. It needs a dictator, not a diplomate. Practicing with gouache, I hoped, would translate into more expressive oil paintings.
Despite the inconveniences that I mentioned earlier, there are some real benefits to using this medium. If you are painting outside, the gear is light and easy to set up. The paintings are completed quicker and clean up is a breeze. I also believe gouache is much less toxic.
I painted in gouache last fall, but when the paint started freezing on the palette I switched back to oils. Now it’s warmed up and the painting above is my reintroduction to gouache. I’m surprised how excited I am to be using it again. I actually like that little dance you do with the colors and the authoritarian way I’m forced to make marks. Hopefully you will see many more of these as the summer progresses.
I’m even thinking of offering a workshop for other artists who might like to try their hand with something new and difficult…(oops) I mean different.