Four Talking Boxes 2056

“Green Dress” Gouache on Paper

I pulled out my pan gouache set this week. Gouache is a watercolor that has white in it so that it’s opaque. It usually comes in two forms: tubes and pans. The pans are dry little circles of paint that you have to wet in order to use. You’ve seen them. They make them for kids too. I know I used pans of watercolor back in grade school. I haven’t painted with them in a while and it was almost nostalgic to do so. Pan gouache is the first type of gouache that I learned to paint with way back in the early 1990s. It’s not a fancy set. It’s made by Pelican and it’s the set that can be found in most arts and craft stores. It’s the bigger of the two Pelican sets. It has twenty four colors as opposed to the smaller twelve color set. It’s about twenty five dollars on Dick Blick. Here is the set.

I used to paint a lot with this set. They’re a nice bunch of paints and very convenient. After I learned to use them way back when I switched over to the tube gouache. There are a lot more colors in tube gouache but it’s a lot more expensive too. A tube of gouache can go for anywhere between four and twelve dollars. There are also cheap sets of tube gouache but the colors are limited in those. I used my tube gouache in conjunction with small plastic containers (cubbies). I’d squeeze the paint into the cubby so that I could use it and then seal it up for later. I’d also mix new colors from the tube colors and put them in a cubby to store. That saved me a lot of time and trouble mixing colors.

I have a bunch of brushes in with my watercolor set. There is a spot for them in the box. They’ve been there for years and years. They’re good ones too. Windsor Newton Series 7 brushes. Numbers 0, 2, 3, and 5. I use Windsor Newton brushes for both my painting and my inking but I don’t mix the brushes. Paint brushes are for paint and ink brushes are for ink. Good watercolor brushes are made with sable hair and will last for a very long time unless you use them with ink. Since they’re the best brushes around I use them with ink but then the ink eats away at the sable hair. There is a clock ticking on the brushes after they’re dipped in ink but the clock is unreliable. I’ve had ink brushes last for months or years. The brushes stored with the pan gouache set are from the 1990s and still going strong.

I think this is my second set of pan gouache but I don’t remember for sure. The pans are really worn down with holes in the middle of them where the paint was used. I know I’ve replaced some of the pans over the years. At some point I bought the cheaper twelve pan set and swapped out some old pans for new ones. I can’t even tell which ones I swapped out since they are all so used now. Except for the silver and gold. I don’t even know why those two colors are in the set. They’re like paint with glitter in it. I never use them because they don’t fit in. This is really a twenty two color set for me.

Watercolor paint is flat and transparent. That’s why watercolors are often referred to as drawings rather than paintings. Paintings have a thickness and surface to them. Drawings don’t. If you were to see a lot of famous paintings, especially modern paintings (from the Impressionists on), the paint itself plays a big part. Parts are thick and parts are thin and that makes a difference. It’s part of the vocabulary of painting. With watercolor everything is thin. There is not a lot you can do with the surface of watercolor. To paint in watercolor an artist puts down one wash of paint or layers many washes of paint but in the end it’s generally all the same thickness. Watercolor uses more of the vocabulary of drawing than of painting.

Gouache is slightly different than normal watercolor but there is still not a lot of surface to it. Tubes of gouache have plenty of opacity to them, at least certain colors, but the paint still can’t be built up like an oil or acrylic paint can be. If you build up a gouache too much the surface of the paint cracks. It’s not flexible. The pans of gouache have less opacity than gouache in tubes. Since you have to wet the paint the opacity also depends on how much water you add. Over the years I’ve used small bottles with dropper tops to hold my water. One ounce bottles that once held eye drops of some sort in them. That is I have a relatively large reservoir of water to drop into my pans. I put five to ten drops of water in each pan I’m using and then add a few more as I go. Sometimes I add too much and have to wait for some to evaporate (it doesn’t take long) and sometimes I need more water. It’s a constant balancing act but it’s not hard to do.

I made three art cards with my pan gouaches. Two faces and a fantasy landscape. In the old days I usually worked at a five by seven inch size but I wasn’t that ambitious this time around. I think I did a good job with these three and you can see my basic technique for the pan set. I used the darkest blue as a line and then used the rest of the colors in pairs or threes. There aren’t enough colors to use in three values like I normally would so I keep things simple and don’t try to model the forms. Instead I use pattern and texture.

Overall they’re nice little cards but I’m a little bored with them. Since I haven’t used gouache in a while they seem a little conservative to me. That and I’ve recently been photographing some of my old gouache paintings so I’ve seen a lot of good ones (and ignored the dull ones). I’ll have to paint some more and see if I can get something more exciting. We’ll see.


I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got six new comics.

  • East of West – 35
  • Invincible – 142
  • Maestros – 2
  • Mage: The Hero Denied – 4
  • Retcon – 3
  • The Wicked + the Divine – 33
  • Check them all out here:


    I dug out a bunch of old paintings this week. I tend tuck things away in boxes and in cabinets and there they sit for years only to be taken out and looked at on occasion. This box has a lot of small gouache and watercolor paintings in it. The sizes are from around art card size, 2.5×3.5 inches, up to about what looks like 6×8 inches. They’re from before I jumped on the art card bandwagon though so none of them are exactly that size. The closest ones are 2.75×4 inches which is a little bit bigger. I have no idea why I decided on that size back in 2003 (as the date on the paintings says) but it seems a good size.

    I made these small painting specifically to be really nice objects that you can hold in your hand. Their tactile “Pick them up and look at them” nature is integral to why they exist. They’re all on nice watercolor paper that feels good when handled. There are some 4×4 inch ones that are on smooth 150lb watercolor paper and the 2.75×4 inch ones are on an even thicker 300lb rough watercolor paper. I could never decide if I liked a rough surface or smooth surface better so I worked on both of them.

    I’m going look at three of the 2.75×4 inch inch ones because I just put them in my Etsy store so why not give them a look?
    My Etsy Store.

    The first of them is called “Double.” It also has the number 13 on it so I must have numbered them at first and then went back and gave them names at some point. The name “Double” seems pretty literal for this one because the painting is of a person with a face on his shirt. Two faces therefor “Double.” I don’t usually name things so literally. I like the colors on this one. It’s a nice mix of earth tone oranges, reds, and yellows. Nothing is too bright. The blue in the eye on the shirt really stands out as it’s the only blue in the piece. The “Hold in your hand” part works well as I like to bring it closer to my eyes and look at the faces and the edges of the green background. Overall it has a simplicity that’s appealing to me.

    The second one is numbered with a five and is titled “Brian in Blue.” Once again a very literal name despite me having no idea why I used the name Brian. I’m guessing it was just for the alliteration. I remember using these blue colors for a bunch of paintings. I mixed up about ten different shades of blue gouache and painted a bunch of small paintings with them. This one seems to have a Cubist bent to it but upon close inspection the shapes don’t define the space like Cubism does. It reminds me more of a Mondrian type geometric abstraction. A couple of the shapes on the face vaguely follow the cheekbones but the shapes aren’t very three dimensional as Cubist shapes would be. It’s an odd thing to be sort of Cubist but not really.

    The third painting is numbered one and named “Sentinel.”Once again this name seems very literal to me as the woman is giving us the side-eye and watching us as a sentinel would. I must have been going through a very literal naming person back in 2003. This painting is notable for its bright and low contrast line.The other two have dark lines and though they aren’t black lines they create enough shape separation as if they were. This one has a red line with another purple line inside it. The red line acts line a dark line in the face but in the rest of the painting it vibrates with the purple line and makes it hard to focus on either. It’s as if the line starts to fade away. That her shirt is dark brown adds to the effect. The hints of blue do more to anchor the shapes than the outlines do. That doesn’t happen very often.

    Since I mentioned my blue paintings I’m going to pop over to one of the blue faces that I painted back in 2003. I have about eight of them in this box but we’ll look at the one named “Dream State.” It also has the number two on it. Though it’s on a 4×4 inch piece of paper the painting is only about 1.5×2 inches. I usually don’t leave that much blank paper around a painting but I think I did it to give the painting more of a presence as you hold it in your hand. This might have been the only time I’ve painted this small. I’m not even sure what motivated me to make these tiny faces. They are obviously not photo referenced as they are very simple and filled with asymmetry. Just glancing at this one neither the eyes, nose, or mouth is symmetrical. Why is that? I have no idea. It looks like I took great pains to make the hair and face smooth so I was going for some sort of realistic look but the features are awkward. I obviously meant them to be but looking at them now the awkwardness is hard to take. And all of them share this awkwardness. Weird.

    The last one I’ll look at is from 2005 and is called “Mummy Girl.” Another literal title. This one is tall and skinny at about 2×6 inches. Of all the paintings I’ve looked at so far this one has the brightest colors. Bright green, bright magenta, and a strong blue make this one more typical of my work. I’m not sure about the imagery though. It’s a little bland. It’s a basic elongated figure that looks like it was drawn on the spot in paint. It’s not terrible but I’ve done better. The horizontal lines that go across her body are the most interesting thing in the painting. I’m guessing that I put those on last to add some more visual interest. Overall I do like the color and shape of it.

    So there you go. That’s what happens when I dig through boxes. I get paintings from fourteen years ago to look at and maybe figure out what they’re all about.


    I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got five new comics.

  • Strange Cerebus –
  • Injection – 15
  • The Divided States of Hysteria – 6
  • Birthright – 28
  • Moon Knight – 188
  • Check them all out here:



    In deciding what to write about this week I dug through a box of old drawings. I’ve got lots of boxes of old drawings. Some of the boxes are store bought and some of them are homemade. My fanciest store bought box is an 11x17x4 inch aluminum box. I don’t remember how much that one cost me but it must have been somewhere near fifty bucks. I can’t fathom now why I even wanted to spend that much money on a box to hold some of my art but I did. I must have made some extra money that month.

    The aluminum one is a great box. It’s easily the best box I have to hold my drawings and it’s tough to describe how cool it looks and feels. The top totally separates from the bottom and it’s a matter of holding the top as the weight of the bottom slides away with tolerances so precise I cam feel a cushion of air between them. I wish all my art boxes were aluminum. That would be really cool.

    The one problem I had with the metal box was that it was nearly an exact 11 inches wide. I had some of my favorite drawings and prints in mylar sleeves that made them slightly larger than 11×17 inches. So I couldn’t keep them in the sleeves if I wanted to put them in that box. A minor annoyance but an annoyance none the less.

    The next type of store bought box that I have is the type that’s made out of archival cardboard. It’s closer to a matte board or a illustration board than the cardboard of a cardboard box. These are usually sold to store photographs and can get pricey but nowhere near aluminum box pricey. I only have a couple of these and I think I have photos in both of them. I remember liking them but thinking they weren’t quite sturdy enough for the price. Not that I was building pyramids out of them but when I spend money on a box I don’t want it to feel flimsy. On a flimsy to sturdy scale of one to ten I’d give these a seven. That means they were sturdy enough but not sturdy enough for the price.

    The third type of store bought box that I have is one made out of a corrugated plastic. These ones are tough but ugly. Both the cardboard and the plastic ones are a clamshell design. One side of the box is hinged and the top and bottom pieces can’t be separated. The hinge is just the plastic or cardboard material compressed so it’s not the fanciest of designs. The tolerances on the plastic one are especially clunky.

    In order to make the hinge work the bottom of the box has no wall on the hinge side. After closing the top it makes the missing wall for the bottom box. This design works fine for the stiff cardboard boxes but the plastic ones have too much give. Every time I try to close a plastic one the top and bottom hit each other and it doesn’t close smoothly. That makes the drawings slide around and block that open side from closing too. It’s not the end of the world and really only means that the box takes an extra four seconds to close but it annoys me every time. That’s the price I pay for the cheap boxes.

    The next type of box that I have is the homemade ones. I’ve always liked making boxes but I usually make small boxes for art projects and such. I’ve made boxes that fit sets of my art cards, I’ve made boxes that fit small paintings, and I’ve made boxes to carry dice in. Whenever I needed a small box I’d make one.

    When I used to play Magic the Gathering in the 1990s I made special boxes that were narrow so I could carry a deck of cards in my art portfolio. A normal box for MTG cards is about two inches thick (or more depending) and my portfolio was thinner than that. So I made boxes at a quarter that thickness but four times the width and height (2.5×3.5 inches). That made them much easier of me to carry. I even decorated those boxes with classical paintings pulled out of old wrecked art textbooks (which I think were from my college days working at a book warehouse). Those were cool little boxes.

    I used to have all my drawings stacked in cabinets on shelves. That worked for a lot of years but eventually the stacks got too high. It was then that I decided to put all my drawings into boxes and it was then (over a period of time) that I bought all my store bought boxes. I eventually decided that none of them were perfect and I would make some boxes of my own.

    I needed three size boxes that corresponded to the size paper that I used. 11×17, 9×12, and 5×11 inches. I’d want them a little bigger than that. I learned my lesson with the aluminum box. I decided I wanted a plan so I measured everything out and built a diagram with measurements on it in Adobe Illustrator. That way there would be no mistakes. I decided to make the boxes out of foam core board because it was sturdy. I could have chosen the cheaper route of matte board but it was too flimsy. I didn’t want to put in all the work for flimsy.

    I measured out and drew one of the designs on a piece of foam core board. Then I cut it out with a straight edge and an X-Acto knife, folded it in the proper places, and taped all the edges. Foam core board is a quarter inch thick so the edges are broad and vulnerable to breaking. Tape helps out with that. I repeated this process about ten times until I had all the boxes I needed. It took a while.

    In the end I think my box design depended too much on tape. I used a white paper tape that lasts a long time and the boxes are solid but they look a little sloppy. They’re not out in the open so no one ever sees them but every time I take them out I notice. I’m still glad I got them made because it makes storage a lot easier. Too bad they couldn’t all be really cool aluminum.