“Sunrise Poem” Unfinished

I started working with gouache some time in the mid 1990’s. I wanted to learn it so I bought some tubes of gouache and practiced. Gouache is a watercolor with white added to it so it’s opaque where watercolor is normally transparent. It’s this opaqueness that drew me to gouache. I like opaque paint. It’s solid and makes a statement. If you thin gouache with water it can also be transparent like a normal watercolor so with gouache I could work with opaque and transparent color.

I enjoyed working with gouache as I learned it and after I learned it. It was a good medium for me. The first gouache I ever bought was a cheap pan set made by Pelikan. It was a good set and I still use one like it every now and then. I also bought many tubes of gouache over the years and liked to use them too. Linel and Windsor Newton were two of my favorite brands.

One of the reasons I liked gouache was it’s bright colors and immediacy. I could make a small gouache painting fairly quickly. When I put down some color on the paper it was there in only the time it took the water to dry. That was fast compared to the oil painting I also did. Sometimes fast is its own reward.

It was about ten years ago, around 2010, that I started getting into markers. Once again I was looking for bright colors and immediacy. It took me some time to develop a finished marker technique but after I did I went whole hog into illustration markers. They were really immediate. Markers have almost no drying time so I put color down on the paper and it was there in an instant. There is a satisfaction to that. It allows me to act right away. I put down one color, then another, and then another. I can keep going with color quickly and efficiently.

After getting into the markers I hardly ever used my gouache paints anymore. I would occasionally pull out the pan set because that was easy to use but the tubes of gouache that I had stored in a nice little twelve drawer unit that’s made for nuts, bolts, and other hardware doodads, sat there untouched. I can’t even remember the last time I touched that paint. Until this week that is.

Over the years I developed a way that I used my gouache. I have these little plastic containers called cubbies. Often I’m mix new colors out of my tubes of gouache. A lot of the time they were just tints of white if I needed a lighter version of a blue or some other color but sometimes if I needed more red in my violet I’d mix a new violet. I’d mix these colors in a plastic cubby and store the extra in it. The cubby was airtight so the paint would last in there. I built up quite a collection of mixed colors in cubbies. Those cubbies then sat there for a decade.

Over the last few years I’ve been making big ink drawings. 22×30 inch drawings in black and white made with markers, bushes, and India ink. I’ve enjoyed making them but earlier this year I was tired of black and white so I decided to add some color to one of them. I used some colored ink that I bought a few years ago and though I had some trouble with it the drawing came out alright in the end. The colored in worked well in this situation but it brought my mind back to my gouache.

My small plastic cabinet of gouache was still where it had always been but the paint in the tubes was rock hard. It had been that way for a long time. I also have these ArtBin storage boxes that I keep the cubbies full of paint in. The cubbies were dried out too. But the good thing about gouache, at least designer gouache (not acrylic gouache) is that you can rewet it. That means you can add some water to the gouache and make it good as new again. Most paint isn’t like that but gouache is.

Since I got it in my head that maybe I can add some gouache to my big ink drawings I decided I should buy some new tubes of gouache. I even looked up which tubes I should get on the Dick Blick website. But then I realized that I had still my old tubes of gouache and I should do an inventory first. It turns out I had a lot more tubes than I remembered so I’d use those first. Of course I’d have to rewet them all.

I ordered some new cubbies to get myself started. I ordered thirty of them thinking that would be way more than I’d need. Turned out I didn’t do a thorough inventory of my paint and until I started rewetting the paint I didn’t realize how much of it I had. I ended up needing almost all thirty of the new cubbies plus some of the old ones I still had lying around.

Rewetting the gouache that was still in the cubbies was straightforward. I’s put some water in the cubby with the dry paint, close the lid, and wait. After a couple of days I’d stir it up. The tubes took a little more doing.

To rewet a tube of gouache I had to get the gauche out of the tube. I’d cut off the back end of the tube with some scissors but then use an exact knife to cut off the cap end of the tube. After that I’d run the X-Acto knife along the side of the tube and open it up. When the tube was open I could scrape or dump the dried up paint into a cubby. This was messier work than I thought it would be. Little specks of paint get everywhere. I ended up working on a large rag so I could go outside and shake off the paint flakes every couple of tubes. That kept things neat.

It took me nearly the whole day to rewet all my gouache. I think I started at about nine in the morning and didn’t finish until the afternoon was almost over. It took a solid six hours to get it all done. I had not expected it to take so long. It ended up being quite tiring too. It took a lot of concentration and physical labor. It wasn’t digging ditches but cutting open tubes takes a toll.

In the end I’m glad I did it. When I was working on a big ink drawing this weekend I got it in my head that I could add some color to it. This time I used the colored inks and some gouache. I’m glad I had that choice because the color looks nice.