As I shared a few weeks ago, I have a fun trip coming up this fall! I’m going to France and Italy with my mom for a part person, part business trip. I am so excited about just being there and taking in all of the beauty. I am also looking forward to painting and sketching in parts of the world that are so rich in art history. I just want to soak it all up.
So, I’m already trying to get my art supplies selected, so I can practice with them and have my creative routines down before I get there. When I went to Florida earlier this month, I was planning on doing a lot of watercolors, but I found I was just not enjoying them as much as oils. I am going to practice with them some more, though, because watercolors travel so well. I’ll probably use them for light washes over sketches.
And, of course, I’ll bring some sketch pencils, since those are really easy to carry in a small bag and pull out on a whim.
Some of you might be wondering why I don’t bring oils, if I love oils. Well, I would, but oils are very slow drying. They can take several days to dry, meaning I can’t close a journal for a few days if I use oil paint. I could bring panels and special panel carriers for wet paintings, but they are bulky and I need room in my luggage to bring home treasures I purchase.
So, the oils will be left at home, but I wanted to find a paint medium that was opaque and rich like oils, but with faster drying time.
Acrylics seemed like a good option, but they can dry out quickly on the palette and might still not travel the best. I turned to a lesser-known form of watercolor, call gouache. (Pronounced “gwash”.) It’s sort of a cross between acrylic and watercolor.
Like watercolor, it needs water in order to flow like paint and it can be revived with water if it dried out on the palette. I squeeze it out onto a wet paper towel to keep it moist while I’m painting…
It could be put in a watercolor palette and allowed to dry out as well, although it does get a little messy.
Like acrylic, though, it has a rich, creamy texture and opaque coverage.
One of the tricks to gouache is that it doesn’t blend very well. You really have to lay down your color and just leave it alone. I’ve been practicing with it and it’s going to take a lot more practice to get the hang of that.
Right now, I find myself habitually trying to blend and it just makes a mess with gouache. It looks best when you mix the color on the palette and just lay it down. I have found that it’s great practice for oil, since too much blending on the canvas can muddy the colors. Oil painting tends to look more interesting if you lay down the color and leave it alone. It takes a good eye and some planning, though, and I’m working on those skills with gouache.
It’s coming along. I have to write the note “don’t blend” on just about every painting, but I’ll get it one of these days!
If you’re interested in trying gouache or just learning more about it, here are some of the details of things I’m using and resources I found helpful…
For the paints, I’m using mostly Holbein and Windsor & Newton. Like other paints, if you buy professional grade, they can get expensive, because the pigments are expensive. Just pick a few key colors to get started if budget is an issue.
For paper, I would suggest any papers or substrates that are suited for watercolor. I bought a leather-bound watercolor journal from Etsy (affiliate link) and it’s beautiful and perfect for any kind of art journaling I want to do.
I am also using this toned mix media journal that I purchased from Hobby Lobby (I wasn’t able to find one online.) It’s nice working on paper that has a neutral color instead of white, so it’s not so stark. I think it makes the colors pop a bit more, too.
I use a date stamp in my journals, because it’s just a fun touch. I picked that up from Michelle Wooderson, who is a champ at sniffing out cool art supplies. I couldn’t find the exact one I use, but HERE is a similar date stamp.
Now that I look at it, I suppose mine isn’t a date stamp specifically, but a six digit numerical stamp, like THIS ONE. I use a mini gray ink pad from Hobby Lobby, so I can tuck it into my sketch pencil bag.
I have also found bulldog clips to be handy. They hold the pages open, which is nice if you’re towards the beginning or end of a thick journal that wants to flop closed on you. It was also necessary when I was sketching on the beach. The wind kept turning the pages until I clipped them.
And a roll of delicate surface painter’s masking tape. It’s nice to tape off edges to create a “mat”. Just stick the tape onto your pant leg to pick up some fuzz before sticking it to your paper. That will prevent it from sticking too well and ripping your paper.
As far as resources, I had found that there really aren’t many books about gouache specifically, which is disappointing, because I love learning through art books! I did find this You Tube video, which was very helpful…
For more inspiration, I found Carrie Shryock on Instagram. She does amazing work in gouache. I especially love her landscapes and hope mine can be this good one day. I can see she has the knack for just laying the color down and leaving it alone, so her work looks crisp and clean. She’s also just a fun creative to follow.
I also love Lauren Brandy’s work in gouache and in oil. I scrolled back to when she first started her Instagram feed a few years ago and I can see how much she’s grown as an artist (from already good to really, really good) and that was encouraging to me. If you like clouds, as I do, you’ll want to follow her.
One last note about art journaling, if you’re interested in art, journaling is a great place to start. The key is you have to give yourself permission to create bad art. I find that’s hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not hard for me to create really bad art! But I find it difficult to do it, see it as a part of the process, and be okay with it remaining in the pages of my creative history. I want to rip it out and throw it away, so no one will ever know how bad it was.
I wouldn’t want anyone to see the first chair I upholstered! It was sooooo bad. But, even though I shutter to think about it today, just the memory of it reminds me how far I’ve come and that’s an encouraging thing.
In the same way, I know seeing that the first had I drew looks like Yoda’s hand will be valuable when I can draw a hand that looks like it belongs to a real human.
All of my mushy, over-blended gouache clouds will one day be a visual measuring stick of how far I’ve come.