It’s been a while since I pulled out my gouache paints and made a painting with them but that’s just what I did this week. Gouache is a specific type of watercolor paint. It’s opaque watercolor instead of the normal transparent watercolor. I started using gouache a few years out of college and really liked it. I was never much of a watercolor fan but the ability to have either opaque or transparent watercolor got me into it.

I think it was my freshman year of college when someone gave me a book on painting techniques. It was a big book filled with all sorts of tips and how-to’s on all sorts of painting styles. If memory serves me there was only one small section on gouache but I always liked the look of the painting they showed as an example. Gouache was never mentioned in college as everyone used, oils, acrylics, or watercolors so it took until after school for me to give them a try.

I have two types of gouache: tube and pan. The tube ones come in a normal paint tube and the pan ones are the type that come in little open cakes that you wet the top of with drops of water. Most people are familiar with them as they are just like the watercolor sets that are made for kids and are everywhere. I have a 24 pan set made by Pelikan that I’ve always liked. It’s the same kind of set that I first bought when trying out gouache and it’s still a favorite. It’s not high end and not expensive but it’s good.

When I pulled out my gouache for the first time in years the pan set was ready to go. After all it’s hard paint that gets softened with water. But some of the tubes of gouache were dried out. Like I said, it’s been a while. I don’t think I’ve used gouache much since I picked up acrylics about five years ago.

Acrylics are also water based and made me change the way I store paint. I started mixing my acrylics in little plastic cubby containers. They hold about a liquid ounce and have an air tight lid. My acrylic paints stay moist in one of those for months and months. Now I mix my acrylics right in a cubby and dip my paintbrush in. Less waste and less mixing. Cubbies are quite handy.

I used to get my cubbies at either the local arts and crafts store or at Dick Blick on the internet. But for some reason both places stopped carrying them. I have no idea why. They are only about three or four dollars for a pack of ten cubbies so it’s not like they’re an expensive item but I couldn’t get them anymore. I looked around the internet a bit but every place that had them charged as much for shipping as the item. Somehow that turns me off.

I did have a few cubbies that I cleaned out to use again so I wasn’t completely out of them. One of the good things about gouache is that even though the tubes of paint were rock hard I could cut the tube open and re-wet the paint. Hence the need for cubbies. So I used up a few of my remaining cubbies on a few tubes of hardened gouache and made them liquid again.

Gouache is also not a medium where you need to lay down a ton of paint so I used to mix what I needed in a watercolor tray or palette. Now that acrylics have taught me the use of the air tight container I decided to mix my gouache that way too. I managed to find some slightly smaller and slightly more expensive containers at the local art store but I still like my old ones better. Either way I was ready to make a couple of small gouache paintings again.

I even harkened back to my high school art class when I started painting. Our art teacher used to have us try unusual ways to lay down paint like letting watercolor run over a piece of paper as water is poured on it. I never could quite make anything that way back in high school but now I find it’s an interesting way to make a toned ground to paint over. I took a big sheet of paper and used both wet-on-wet and dry-on-wet techniques to throw down various watercolor colors. There is random spontaneity to the end piece that I like.

I also took some smaller pieces of paper and made some stained color field paintings to use as a toned ground. Once again I was mixing wet-on-wet and dry-on-wet to make geometric drawings to paint over. Some are only vaguely geometric as color blurs into color but sometimes there are hard edges too. I know I’ve done a good one when I don’t even want to paint an image on top of it.

I still don’t get this “Paper stretching” thing that goes with watercolor. The problem with making a watercolor is that when paper gets wet it warps and you no longer have a flat surface to paint on. “Stretching” paper is when you soak it through, let it expand to its maximum, lay it down flat, secure it to a board with tape, and let it dry. After this process the paper supposedly won’t warp anymore. I’ve done this process and after I start to lay down watercolor the paper warps again. It’s real annoying. I’ve followed the step by step directions so why does the paper always warp again? I don’t know.

I’ve actually tried a couple of times before this to get some gouache painting done. Over the last five years I’ve probably tried three or four times to get something started but they were always false starts. Somehow things didn’t work. I didn’t want to repeat my old techniques and couldn’t fine any new ones. This new technique isn’t quite new but it’s a distillation of a few things. So far I’m happy with how it’s working out. We’ll see if that lasts.