"Green Dress" Gouache on Paper

“Green Dress” Gouache on Paper

This week I’ve been working with some gouache (an opaque watercolor) for the first time in a while so that inspired me to pull an old gouache painting out of my files and give it a look. This one is dated December 1996, is named “Green Dress”, is 6.5×9 inches, and is done on 300 lb cold press watercolor paper. That’s a pretty literal name so it is obviously from back before I named things with random phrases. I’m sure I moved to random phrases because if “Green Dress” was the best I could do then I was quickly going to run out of distinctive names.

This is an early gouache painting of mine. I had probably only been working in the medium for a couple of years at most but I can see some of the things I had down and some I had to learn. It’s also more illustrative than my later work turned out to be. It’s not super-illustrative but there is a lot of moving from dark to light and rounding of forms on the arms. I get bored doing this technique which explains why I moved away from it but I can see that I haven’t quite let go of it yet.I’m not quite sure I ever let totally go of that illustrative dark to light shading but it’s no usually as evident as here. The gouache I was painting today had more of an illusion of shading than actual shading.

This is also from a phase when I was drawing a lot of dancing people. I can remember first being interested in drawing dancing people back when I was in college (1984-1988) but I didn’t have the drawing skills to pull it off. I tried a few times to come up with a composition of dancing people but it never worked out. By the time I made this drawing I had more skills and had made a few drawings of dancing people. This is one of them. I think my love of drawing dancing people comes from those animated “Peanuts” specials because all of my dancing people dance oddly. This is a strange and awkward pose but that’s what I wanted.

One of the things I find unusual about this painting is that I have her face hidden. Since I love to draw faces it’s odd to find many pieces of mine without a face. But here is one of them. I think that’s because I really wanted to make this piece about the contorted figure and a face might take away from that. And, by the way, she’s also got some big arms. Most photography and drawings about dancers are about slenderness and grace and I was going for the opposite of that. There is no grace here but plenty of strength. You’ve got to be careful around this dancer because if you accidentally get in the way you might get knocked down. Now that’s dancing.

One of the things I see in this painting that I never do anymore is contour lines. Those are the blue stripes that surround the dancer. They’re sort of like action lines found in a comic book and sort of define the negative space around the dancer and sort of just get in the way and make a mess. I can remember using them a bunch of times when I was first learning to use gouache but I never really liked them. Though they work okay in this piece I think they show lack of confidence in the spaces I create. There are better ways to emphasize negative space that don’t include filling them up with lines.

I like the blue of the lines though. They work well to calm down the orange background and red boxes underneath them. I imagine that’s the reason I decided to go with the blue lines in the first place. Those orange and reds were too hot and overwhelming the woman in the green dress. One thing you never want in a painting is for the background color to overwhelm the foreground color. In this case the blue lines team up with the green dress to put the red and orange in their place.

It’s the arms and the green dress that make this painting for me. As I wrote before the arms are illustrative but the green dress is more stylized. There are indications of dark to light modeling but down around her legs the dress takes on a more modernist quality. The lightest green ceases to be a highlight on a form and starts to be a decoration or some such. It flattens out and becomes graphic. It starts reminding me of a Chinese dragon. I find that interesting.

The hair also teeters somewhere between illustrative and stylized. There are some dark to light transitions but it’s not hair I would call realistic. That red hair tie is something I can remember using a bit too. It’s made in a fairly realistic manner so it’s a way to ground the hair in a little more realism without the hair itself being too realistic. It’s also a way to bring a little color to an area in the painting. The red of the hair tie plays nicely with the red shoes.

There is an interesting technique that I am using here that I haven’t done in ages. The brown line around her arms is underneath the final layers of paint. I painted the brown edges first and then put the lighter skin tones over it. The brown line lightens and darkens in places. This means the line becomes a negative shape. It’s defined by the positive shape of the lighter color put down after it. This is the opposite of what I normally do since I’m an artist who loves line and like to give it a lot of importance. Rarely do I make the line a negative shape.

One final observation about this painting is that most of my bits of shapes and colors seem to disappear on this one. I have red and yellow along the left and bottom and green, blue and, yellow along the right but I barely notice them. The blue lines and orange background dominate so much that the other bits fade away. This one was a learning experience.