finding the perfect paint for art journaling

Marian ParsonsArt, Artistic Endeavors, sketches, Uncategorized, Watercolors44 Comments

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.

MISS MUSTARD SEED TV

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.

Golden Hillside, gouache 5.5×5.5”. This one felt a little wild!

A post shared by l a u r e n b r a n d y (@laurenbrandyart) on

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.

finding the perfect paint for art journaling

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44 Comments on “finding the perfect paint for art journaling”

  1. Your clouds have really improved since you started sharing your art with us! You’re teaching me the value of practicing. Your trip will be so much fun!

    1. Ha, and I’m learning the value of practicing, too! It’s been so fun for me to see progress and to know those hours in the studios and “miles” at the easel are paying off.

  2. Your guache clouds are really loose and fresh. I personally despise the texture of guache but you seem to be doing really well with it.

    1. Thank you! I have a lot of work to do to get them where I want them to be, but I think I’ll get there… 🙂

  3. Andrew Wyeth also painted with gouache!
    I LOVE your style with gouache, whether you were caught up in a blendy mode or not, I really like how your painting sketches are turning out…your stroke work is captivating!!!!!!! AND really pretty….all looks like you’re a pro. to me!
    Maybe you’ll see this question, Marian, but I’ve been checking and checking for the finish or the varnish or last coat you put on your oils and missed it, or just can’t find it…

    1. Thanks so much! I’ll check out Andrew Wyeth.

      The finish I use on my oil paintings is Gamvar Gloss by Gamblin

  4. Try a bristle brush or even a mop brush and pounce on top of the paint to smooth out any harsh lines. That is what I use in Acrylic when the lines will not blend correctly.

    1. Gouache won’t really blend like acrylics or oil in that way. You really need to lay it down and leave it alone or you can start pulling up the paint.

  5. Completely unrelated to this post, but wanted to mention that I just watched your “Prove Yourself Wrong” video and I loved it! You took the thoughts right out of my head – and those of many others’, I suspect – and issued a challenge I want to take. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! I love that video we made and it still makes me a little emotional! Jenn really nailed it. 🙂

  6. I know it is hard to not think your art isn’t up to snuff, but that is how we learn. Just FYI, I use a clean toilet paper roll to blot my brushes. When it gets too soiled, I just unroll it a bit. Learned this from my first watercolor instructor and have used it for years. I just keep it in my bag or on my table, also you can pull off a long run for an oopsy spot, spill or a runny nose! Your art work is lovely. Enjoy your gift!!

    1. Oh, interesting! I have never even seen that! I just blot on a paper towel, but I’ll have to give that a try.

  7. You are so talented! I would love to work with paint but feel that everything I do looks like it belongs in kindergarten art class! You inspire me to try….

    1. Ha! Something interesting (and encouraging) that I learned when I read “Drawing from the Right Side of Brain” is that most people draw at the level when they stopped practicing art, which makes complete sense. If the last time you drew regularly, let’s say several times each week, was kindergarten, then that will be your approximate skill level. But, if you start drawing regularly, it will improve! 🙂 If you’re so inclined, of course!

  8. Marian,
    Thank you for the wonderful tips. I love to paint with watercolour when vacationing but often long for a stronger sense of color. I just might try gouache. You have inspired me to step out in many areas that I know God has gifted me…….to be continued

    1. Good for you! Gouache and watercolor also look great together, so you can have that transparency of watercolor, but the richness of gouache.

  9. I have a small covered palette box that has a foam liner that you wet and use palette paper that you soak in water when I use acrylics. Will keep paints moist.

    1. Yes, I have a larger Stay Wet palette, but I couldn’t find a smaller one. Where did you find yours?

      1. Not sure what size you have but Dick Blick sells the Sta-Wet Handy Palette which 8 1/2 x 7 – https://www.dickblick.com/products/masterson-sta-wet-handy-palette/ . I also like the Mijello Fusion Palette https://www.dickblick.com/products/mijello-fusion-airtightleakproof-palettes/

        And if you haven’t yet seen their websites both James Gurney (Gurney Journey) and Roz Stendhall (Roz Wound Up) use gouache extensively and have tons of helpful information on their websites.

  10. I’m hoping you’re going to be spending some time in Province (the south of France). There’s a reason it is a Mecca for artists. The light is totally different. I cannot describe it to you, but you’ll recognize that fact when you go there. I lived in Germany for a good many years (opera singer) and regularly traveled either to or through (to get to Spain) Provence, and it was one of my very favorite locations — largely thanks to the unbelievable landscape and LIGHT. Inspirational.

    1. We are not going to Provence, unfortunately! I had to just pick a place, so I picked Paris. I’m sure I’ll be going back to France again, though. 🙂

  11. I love watching how far you have come.
    I’m not an artist, but when I was in Paris for two weeks it was all I could do to just take photos of all the beauty. It took days to cover all the art museums going hard day and night.
    I wish you much luck getting some of your sketches and paintings in.

  12. Do you ever use or carry with you when traveling water color pencils? I found watercolor pencils and fell in love with them. What a difference they make.

  13. Thank you, thank you!! Perfect timing for me to read this! Favorite tips: using the cream paper so white will pop…and. masking tape on pants to make it come off the paper more cleanly. Mind blown. Thanks!

  14. Andrew Wyeth is from Chadds Ford. I just “inherited “ a print from my in laws that he did early in his career 1930s…Marshall Point Light, Maine. I believe the print is considered rare because there was a fire that destroyed most of the prints. It’s interesting to learn from another reader this is the paint he used. Just adds more to what I am learning about this print.

    1. His art is beautiful! I looked it up after the other reader suggested it. Apparently, he used gouache and watercolors along with other mediums, like egg tempura. He had such a unique style. What a treasure to have one of his prints.

  15. I love that you are experimenting with different mediums, gouache, at the moment. Gouache is actually opaque watercolor. you can make your regular watercolors opaque by adding a little white to them. Many illustrators, especially wildlife and bird artists do use gouache, and with practice, and a little dry-brushing, you will find that they can be blended nicely. You are very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to such a lovely part of the world and have the time to paint while there. I would encourage you to take some of your transparent watercolors with you–the transparency of them gives more of a glow to work than the duller gouache will especially for landscapes. , I understand that you love the look of your oils, but they are most easily duplicated by acrylics–watercolor and gouache are not generally used impasto. You’ll find it will be apt to flake off the paper. — Have fun–that’s the main thing. Anna.

    1. Yes, I plan to use watercolors and gouache for my travel sketchbooks. I haven’t tried using them together, but I plan to! I had thought about acrylics, but I like the fact that I can rehydrate gouache if it dries out. It seems like that would travel a little better in a small pochade box that I’ll likely set up on a table or my lap. Once it warms up here, though, I’ll do some plein air painting and see how it goes!

  16. Forgot to mention–there is a tape called “Artist’s Tape”, available in several widths (I like the 1″) It is white in color, and is used by artists to preserve the borders of watercolors for that matted look. It is low-tack, and keeps paint from seeping under the edges to preserve a clean edge. Available in art supply stores.

  17. I haven’t even thought about Gauge lately. There is definitely a learning curve to get to the point where you see an object as opposed to brush strokes. Have fun.

  18. I paint in acrylics and learn on-line from Ginger Cook, a wonderful teacher. She has free lessons on YouTube and an art acedemy you can subscribe with over 300 lessons.
    Sometimes she broadcasts lessons from cruise ships while on vacation.
    She suggested using gouache for travel because of their easy portability.
    Jerry’s Artarama sells wonderful sets of them in small tubes, all boxed together—perfect for travel. There is a nice set of about 12 basic colors for about $20.
    It’s Turner Acryl Gouache. I’ve only tried one painting with it so far, some bright pink peonies. They are intriguing, very bright! And you’re right, not so blendy.

    I’ve been told by art friends that they make their own Sta-wet palette with a kitchen plastic reclosable container of their chosen size. Put a damp kitchen towel in and cut your palette paper to size to place on top of it. Of course you could cut the sta-wet palette sponge to size also.

  19. Marion you are quite the inspiration to me. What I like about this post is that you are honest and not afraid to try something that is unknown to you and you do it until you get it right. I like you have a hard time with the fact of wanting to create a perfect picture. Sometimes this even stops me from picking up a paint brush because I think it will not be perfect. Thank you for posting about gouache I like that the paint is a little more vivid, it’s very pretty. Have a wonderful day! Jo

  20. I will bring some gouache next time:) Love your tip on just lay it and leave it..I agree..I always found it looked lacklustre..your tip makes everything pop.
    I like reading the comments too:) Always helpful hints.
    We took our eldest grandson out for lunch yesterday..I love this busy place..he encourages the arts..so many of his tables..square..3ftx3ft max..are artists works..I don’t know the process they use..but it’s the original art..and like a thick ,hard fully transparent top w/ wood bull nose edge.Oh so beautiful.We were at a table that featured the most glorious alcohol ink work..looks like the most ethereal watercolor.You would love it.
    PS save some euros for some precious art supplies as fond fond memories:)

  21. May I suggest listening to the audio book by David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris? I just finished it, and now I am itching to go to Paris. The stories take place from 1830s to just after the turn of the century. Brilliant read by David McCullough and Edward Hermann.

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