Today I thought a lot about what I want to do and where I want to go with my art over the next few weeks. I’ve decided to look seriously at painting in gouache. So far I’ve only really been playing about with this medium – just seeing what it can do and how it behaves in different circumstances. I’ve discovered that gouache behaves like watercolour when it’s quite dilute and you can get a lot of watercolour type effects too (although not all of the effects you can get with actual watercolours and some are not as pronounced). I’ve also found, yesterday mainly, that when I use gouache quite thickly then it behaves much more like oils. Although it dries quickly (which is the opposite of oils) it can be really easily reactivated with water – so for all intents and purposes it can be worked and reworked like oils. I really like this.
I do have a hankering to work with actual oils again (I did this a little when I was at university) but what with the mediums and the turps cleaners and the work required to clean brushes, plus the time required to let oils dry between layers the whole idea requires more time and energy than I have with my health being as it is. So, I’ve come up with an unsual solution – I’m going to work through an oil painting course I’ve got in a book, but I’m going to use gouache as my paint and see how much of the course’s learnings can be transferred to this medium.
This is the course I’m going to follow:
It covers all the basics. I’ve read about four chapters so far and I like Ms Staiger’s style. I like the fact that she’s very clear and precise about all the details of the work.
And an Experiment…
So the first chapter is on Shading. It covers the way light falls on regular 3D geometric shapes and how to capture this illusion of three dimensions in drawing and painting. Now one thing that’s always confused me about this is the idea of a reflected shadow. My mum, who studied art as part of her teacher training, taught me that you have an object with light coming from one side and you have the highlights, the light part, shading down to a half tone part, to the darkest part and then on the far side there is a little lighter bit which is lit up by reflected light beyond the object.
You can see this in this image from Stanislav Prokopenko’s excellent website. In fact you can even see the colour of the reflected light…
(Mr. Prokopenko’s site is really brilliant. You can find it here: http://www.stanprokopenko.com/)
However, I’ve often found that I can’t see the reflected light in many circumstances in the real world so I’ve always been reticent about drawing or painting this thing I don’t see so much. So I decided to find out when and where this reflected light hits objects and when it doesn’t (or when it’s so low that you can’t differentiate between the reflected light area and the darkest dark.
I thought that a white shiney surface might provide good reflected light and a dark black matt surface my discourage it. So I got a paperweight and, in the dark with only one lightsource shining from one side I photographed my paperweight with different surfaces below it and no other light in the room.
This is the photo with the light shiney surface:
You can see how there is reflected light but because the lightsource is only one side in an otherwise darker room it actually appears as a band of light with darker tones before and after it. This is not how the standard light and shadow drawings look.
This is the same object under the same lighting conditions but with a dark matt surface underneith:
The reflection is gone and there is nothing to see at the edge where one would expect the reflected light to be but there is a small reflection near the front of the object on the light side.
Then I wondered about a hollow cylinder, or in this particualr case a tea cup. The standard drawings have reflected light on the outside just beyond the darkest area but not on the inside. I wondered if this was correct. So under similar conditions I photographed my tea cup. (It was daytime when I did this one so there is a little more light in the room despite drawing the curtains.)
As you can see there is some light reflection on the dark side of the inner surface although it’s not where I would have predicted it.
So my conclusion to this experiement is that relfected light definitely does appear in light conditions and is not there, or is very low, in darker conditions. However, the actual places reflected light is found is very strongly dependent on the lighting conditions and although the standard drawings are correct in general diffuse but one-sided light conditions (like you would find in a room with windows on one side during the day), it is not always like that and the patterns of light and shadow in the real world are varied and complex.
I have enjoyed looking into this. It’s fascinating to really really look at something in detail. Having done these experiments to find reflected light I find that when I’m looking at things now I’m seeing it more and more. It’s a joy to see it – my heart does a little jump!
Tomorrow I’m going to do the first experise from the book. 🙂