Posts Tagged ‘fixing failed watercolor paintings with gouache’

It’s that time again—when it’s all about flowers and most anything green. Spinach salads, trips to the local garden center to find more INDOOR PLANTS, dreaming of the outdoor gardens while the temperature beyond our doors and windows hovers below freezing, and frequently below zero.

The end of our lane contains a pristine white mountain, where the plow has heaped snowfall after snowfall so that we in our condo community can get out of our garages. This is Wisconsin, USA, and that snow mountain may be with us for several more weeks. But all I can think is FLOWERS.

The above allusion to flowers has seen many mutations since its beginning in late January. Several times it almost got pitched in the recycle bin, but with each frustrating session I came back with renewed vigor and determination. I simply had to have something to show for the New Year!

This painting is 16″ x 20″, and is now framed in a lovely antique wood frame, on the wall beside my piano. I like the rendering, but up until a couple of days ago I definitely did not! Here is why: It started out with a photo realism approach—something that normally doesn’t work for me! The flowers were a dark magenta, with blobs of yellow here and there and something that was supposed to represent sky—in overly predictable blue.

The magenta was overpowering. My well educated husband walked by my art table and preempted my thoughts by commenting, “It needs some white.”

So I attacked the magenta flowers with white gouache (always my friend in coverups.) But somehow the white took over. More yellow. More magenta. Then some alizarin crimson to deflect the winey magenta.

Then more yellow to light it up even more, more blue to anchor the piece to the table—but this time aqua blue, always a winner. This all sounds fast and frenzied, but it took weeks punctuated with days for drying (I tend to gob the paint on thickly), excursions to our local medical clinic where our body parts are kept in running order, and time out to eat and be sociable. And sometimes I slept.

Finally the paper was so clotted with layers of watercolor and gouache IMPASTO style, that I had a fleeting sense of nausea. “You are going to have a bath,” I almost shouted at the paper which was actually curling up on its edges from the barrage of paint.

A bath indeed. Not a shower, but a soaking in our kitchen sink. I brought the dripping mess back to my table and plunked it down thinking I would attack it once again, as it began to dry. But then the magic appeared.

The gross top layers of paint were gone. Somehow much of the yellow had turned to a soft green when blending into the aqua. The magenta/crimson combo had turned a light lavender when confronted with shades of blue. While the paper was still damp, I covered it with plastic food wrap and squished the wrap with my fingers to create creases.

When I removed the plastic the next day, I felt like apologizing to what I found—a lovely bit of art for which I could hardly take credit. As is so often the case, the paint knows best! ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — March 2nd, 2019

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. . . go for the gouache! 

I have plenty of¬†failures¬†with transparent watercolors.¬† Glazing is tricky.¬† Using the wrong colors on top of¬†certain other colors, or trying to layer while the underpainting is still damp, can create murky mud in no time at all.¬† And although it’s a common and successful procedure with pastels,¬†layering light colors over dark normally¬†results in¬†an unsightly mess on traditional watercolor papers made of cotton or linen.¬†

So what do you do when you make a murky mess?¬†¬†Some artists might¬†trash¬†the paper and start with a clean sheet,¬†but to me that’s a last resort.¬†¬†I could (and sometimes do) flip my paper and start anew on the¬†clean side.¬† But first of all, when my watercolors fail, I go for the gouache.¬†

Gouache is actually a form of opaque watercolor, sometimes called “body color”, although much thicker than watercolor paint.¬† It tends to sit on the surface of the paper, like oils, rather than diffuse.

You can make your own surrogate gouache by mixing Chinese white with your transparent paints, but I buy the gouache by the tube.¬† It’s wonderful stuff, and you can slap it on and trowel it around to get an effect similar to that of oils.¬† Like acrylics, gouache will cover anything and give most any painting a new start in life.¬†¬†But gouache does not ruin brushes, and¬†acrylics definitely will.¬† When used for gouache, brushes wash out beautifully—just as they would when¬†used solely for transparent watercolor paint.*¬†

The above rendering was a disaster before my last ditch stand with gouache.¬† Rather than¬†flip or toss the sheet of paper, I covered some jarringly rough (or just plain useless) areas with Holbein Artists’ Pearl White gouache mixed with watercolor tints in layers of lavender, green, and cobalt blue.¬† Holbein makes many other beautiful hues in gouache:¬† Pearl Gold, Pearl Copper, and most any solid color you might want.¬†

Warning:¬† avoid¬†Holbein’s Artists’ Acrylic Gouache—unless acrylic painting is your thing, and you are accustomed to what that substance does to brushes.

I also use Winsor & Newton gouache, which is very good.¬† I’ve even managed with some low grade students’ quality gouache purchased from a craft store.¬† But the artists’ brands are far more satisfactory, and they leave a¬†richer impression on the paper.¬† Like many things in the world of material goods, “you get what you pay for”!

When gouache is left in a palette for considerable time, it will dry up to the point of cracking and crumbling.¬† For that reason, I press out only as much as I need from the tube, onto a paper plate.¬† You wouldn’t want to put¬†the gouache¬†into your watercolor palette.¬† But on paper,¬†especially when a painting is protected behind glass, the better quality brands of gouache should last without cracking.¬† I’ve seen gouache paintings from former centuries, on the Antiques Roadshow.¬† There’s a textured elegance to this age-old medium, especially when combined with transparent or semi-transparent watercolors.

Margaret L. Been, 2012

* My brushes are very precious to me.¬† I’ve invested in some excellent ones, and they’ll probably last a lot longer than I will on this earth.¬†

Two cruddy, cheap brushes have been set aside for¬†my occasional foray into acrylics—for collage work, or¬†that inspired¬†fling of Golden’s liquid Interference¬ģ to add a bit of sheen to a watercolor painting.¬†

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