Keeping it Simple with Gouache

After working on value sketches and simplifying shapes last week I wanted to put what I learned into practice. Gouache is a super medium for this. I really like it because it’s quick to paint, like watercolour. You can dry it off in less than a minute with a hair dryer. On the other hand, although it dries as fast as acrylics, when it’s dry it’s not fixed forever so you can reactivate it if you want to. (On top of that, due to a pain condition, I’m mostly painting in bed and both watercolour and gouache wash out of my duvet a lot better than acrylics or oils!!! Lol)

Norfolk Memories

My main aim was to try to simplify shapes as I painted and keep an eye on the values (how dark or light each colour is). The first picture I did was a view we had from a holiday cottage in north Norfolk many years ago. It was easy to simplify as I couldn’t remember all the details. I didn’t sketch beforehand because I wanted to think in shapes and not in lines.

So here it is…

About Gouache

This was the first sketch I’ve done in pure gouache for a while.  It’s a really interesting medium.  The amazing thing is that you can use it in two completely different ways.  You can use it like an opaque watercolour or, if you mix it up to a thicker consistency, you can use it much more like acrylics and oils but without all the fuss of using mediums or having paint that doesn’t wash out.  I often use some watery gouache in watercolour paintings where I want a less transparent layer but here I decided to go for the stronger consistency option and paint exclusively in thicker gouache.    Another thing I really like about this medium is that there’s no rush if you want to mix all the colours you need at the start of a session because even if it dries on the palette you can get it back to a useable state in seconds.  On the canvas too, you always have the option of reworking something, although there is a limit to how much you can do.

The limitations of gouache are not too difficult to deal with.

  • Because gouache paint can always be reactivated you have to be careful with parts of your canvas which are finished, but the same is true of watercolour.
  • Although you can put light values over dark, and dark over light, there is a limit to how much work you can do on one particular spot before the paint underneath starts to muddy the paint above which takes away the vibrancy of the final product.  Also, when adding paint on top of other paint I’ve found that stiffer synthetic brushes tend to dig into the layer below more.  Pure natural fibre brushes are much better at not doing this but they’re very expensive.  I use mixed natural and synthetic fibre brushes which are a decent compromise.
  • When the paint dries the light values tend to darken a little and the dark values tend to lighten so you need to always push the contrast in gouache paintings a little bit more to have a final picture with a full value range.

 

Clouds at Dusk

My second picture was an attempt to study a YouTube artist’s demonstration. She’s called Lena Rivo.  Her work is really beautiful with a very loose and distinctive style. I really admire the way she paints so freely.  I thought that studying one of her paintings would be really helpful in encouraging me to be a little more relaxed and use bigger simpler brushstrokes in my work.  So I watched her video late one night and then the next night had a go at painting the same scene.  Here’s Lena’s demonstration video…

 

 

Here’s what I came up with…

 

I think her stroke shapes are very different to mine.  Partly this is because I prefer a round brush while it looks like Lena is using a flat brush.  Partly though it’s probably to do with the way each of us paints.  Overall I’m fairly happy with my study, although I still prefer Lena’s work.  I really enjoyed working with gouache again too.

 

Advertisements

Simplification and Value in Painting – Short Studies

This week I focussed on studying tonal value (how light and dark different parts of a painting are) and on how to simplify what I paint (something I find quite hard). My inspiration came from this lovely blog post by Ros Jenke.

I decided on three colours for each picture, a dark, a midtone and a light colour. Then I gave myself a limited time to paint each piece.

Although I began to get a feeling for it later on, at the beginning of this exercise I didn’t really know how to approach this task. Many children I work with are mortally afraid of failure and it stifles their learning, especially in art. So I’ve included my failures here as well as some successes.

I began with a landscape study. I worked with watercolour pencils which gave me a free and easy feeling and got me into the mindset of sketching rather than painting a finished piece. I tried to stick to the idea of looking for shapes and keeping to three simple values.

Here’s the first sketch before I fixed the pencils with water…

And here’s the finished study…

I gave myself 20 minutes but still ended up working on details rather than shapes. I even added some black watercolour to “pop out” the foreground. It’s not what I was planning.

Next, I had another go with a shorter time frame (15min total) making a study of some rocks. Here’s the watercolour pencil before fixing…

And here’s the study after fixing the paint with water…

Again, I wandered into details of the splashing surf. Still not what I wanted!

Then I tried painting directly with watercolour, no sketching at all and really thinking about shapes…

This was simpler and I felt like I was getting there, but then I lost my mind in the last few seconds and detailed the little snowy owl on the fallen tree. Merlin’s Pants! 😀 So I gave it up that night as a bad job and went to sleep.

The next day I had another go. I went back to the pencils and really restricted my time frame for the study down to 10 minutes total. This time I chose lovely retriever…

I activated the watercolour pencils and here is the study…

I could see the shapes making up the picture – and I had no details. I was finally working out what to do.

To try to embed this learning I quickly drew and then painted another picture of a face…

…and it worked out again. The secret, I think, was to make time so short that I could only get the basic shapes down. I am going to continue to work on this process from time to time this until it becomes second nature.

In fact, I think this style would look great with gouache – so that will be next week’s adventure! 😀

Elephant Hawk Moth and LadyBird in Watercolour

I had more fun with painting this week. I was browsing the internet when I came upon this beautiful creature – an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

Often, many of the biggest, most beautiful insects in the world are found in warmer climates, but this pink-lovely is resident in the UK! Apparently it really likes Rosebay Willowherb which is a colonising plant on wasteground, roadside verges and other places. We have it at the side of the Common near where I live. I’m going to look out for it and see if I can see any Hawk Moth caterpillars, pupae, or even young moths this spring. They overwinter as pupae low down on plants or even in leaf litter so I might find one in any stage of development. In fact tomorrow is the 2nd February, which is traditionally the day when ancient people around here used to believe that the earth began to stir again after winter, so it’s a good time to start looking for new life.

Because I had so much pain when I was painting in acrylics at the table I’ve gone back to painting in bed with all of the paintings I’ve done in the last two weeks and it is so much easier. I painted 2 pictures this week – the Elephant Hawkmoth and a Ladybird on a Flower.

Here’s my initial sketch of the moth…

I decided to paint this using a mixture of watercolours and watercolour pencils. The pencils were ideal for the details of this subject because I could get really thin lines, even thinner than with my 10/0 rigger brush. I started with a graded wash as my background with two colours in it to work in harmony with my subject. However at the end I realised that I needed a plainer background for such a detailed, patterned creature so I mixed my watercolour paint with white gouache to make a flat light green colour. I chose it because it’s supposed to be the complementary colour for pink. Here’s the final painting…

My second painting this week is quite simple, a Ladybird on a flower. Here’s the sketch…

I used watercolour paints for this one, rather than the pencils. It was done with basic wet on wet washes and a tiny bit of wet on dry for the shadows. Here’s the final painting…

I was feeling quite sunny when I painted this and I think that got reflected in the cheerful colour palette.

Fun with Friends!

This week I had some realxing fun painting some little friends of mine…

The first was my sister’s little dog ‘Poppy’.  She is such a cutie-pie.  Whenever I visit my sister and her family and sit on her sofa, Poppy jumps up onto the very top of the cushions and then snuffles through my hair.  She does it to my mum and my sister too.  I think it’s her way of being with her family.  She is a real sweetie (and quite unlike my sister’s little tortoise who has a thing for biting your socks and toes – hard!)  So here she is sketched in my sketchbook…

She is a Bichon-Frise and has curly white hair.  On some parts of her body her hair is stained a reddish/brown because of where she licks herself to get clean after a walk.  She’s really interesting to paint because white hair has so many reflected colours in it.  This is my sketch painted with watercolours…

 

My other little friend is R2D2.  I have a little model of him on one of my bookcases in my bedroom.  I’ve done this wherever I’ve lived all my adult life, so he is like a little beeping friend.  This particular figure does make sounds if I put in about a million watch batteries (actually it’s four but it always feels like a lot).  Here he is with a message written in Aurebesh for my fellow Star Wars fans!

While George Lucas was in charge at Lucasfilm there was an ongoing debate about whether Lucas should have updated the original films after release.  It’s quite interesting because when they did get updated it became almost impossible to get hold of the original theatrical releases which understandably upset people who loved the films as they were.  On the other side of the argument the films were Lucas’s works of art and who’s to say an artist can’t alter his work if, on reflection, he wants to?  With painting’s the line is much clearer because as soon as someone buys a painting then the artist could only then change it if the owner wanted them to.  With films available via a mass production process though, someone with enough money could change them indefinitely.

Anyway, one of the changes Lucas made was to correct all instances of written English in “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episodes 4 and 5) into the written version of Galactic Basic, a language called Aurebesh.  I really like the “otherness” of a totally different script.

Seeing, Painting and Pain

Previously when working with acrylics I have painted big gradients of colour across geometric shapes and waves. Here are some examples…

I don’t have any larger resolution photos of these because I was painting for a job at the time so they all got sold.   😦

But now I want to experiment with acrylics again and see if I could get back into them. To do this, last week, I had a go at finding out what the paint can do.

This week I wanted to plan a painting which follows a different style.  I wanted it to have the style of the paintings above but be about real objects and landscapes.  Painting like this involves simplifying the subject and making some changes to improve the aesthetic of the overall piece. I have previously found this difficult because it feels like I’m metaphorically “short-changing” reality. But I have been assured by people who have actually gone to art school 🙂 that this is OK and not “a lie” as I used to define it!

 

Seeing

So, I began by simulating a painting in my computer to see if I can see the shapes I want to paint in a given landscape.For instance, I had a look at this lovely photo of Betws-y-Coed from North Wales – I place I have visited many times and know and love. (This is not my photograph but came from a Wales tourist site.)

Then I painted directly into the computer using my drawing pad to make this…

 

 

It was my first try (and I admit I did get enthralled in playing around with textures so it’s a bit odd in places!) But it gave me a feeling for how I want to try to paint in acrylics now. I got to practice the “seeing” of the painting which is more than half the job – the rest is the more technical side of painting. It’s very similar to improvising in jazz. When I first started trying to learn jazz, in my teenage years, I really had no idea how to do it. But now when I hear jazz I hear the music itself, and then as I get into it, I begin to hear the way my own heart sings inside the song. It’s that which I play when I improvise nowadays and it’s the same with this kind of impressionistic painting. It’s not the landscape itself I’m painting but the echo of it inside my heart.

Then I had another go with this famous picture of Kinder Scout in the Peak District (again not my photo)…

This is another beloved place for me from years ago.

This is how the second simulation turned out (with no playing with the textures allowed!)

These were not finished pictures but sketches done in about 20 minutes each to see how things might work. I love doing sketches of things on the computer because I can do it much faster than with real paints and change things faster if I don’t like where I’m going.

 

Painting

Of the two I liked the Betws-y-Coed one best but felt that the Kinder Scout one would be better for a first try back into acrylics.  So I had a go.  This is the best picture I can get of what I’ve done so far. ( I kept getting lots of shine from my lighting reflecting in the picture of he painting.)

 

I decided to put a little sleeping fox into the picture but he counts as detail and I’ve not added any detail to the painting yet.  I’m still working on the shapes, tones and colours.

 

Pain

I had a very difficult time working with acrylics again. While I can quickly sketch at my computer and paint for a while properly at a table I have too much pain in the evenings to stay up for very long before I have to lay down.  I can’t do something as messy as acrylics in bed.  I can with watercolour, ink and gouache, but acrylics are a step too far.  So I’m going to give myself a break for a couple of weeks to get my pain levels down again and then perhaps have another go.

Watercolour from Paris and First Steps Back into Acrylic

So I’m back to work this week. This is my favourite term of the year. It’s cool and steady with less in the way of ‘special days’ so we can get on with the learning. I’m going to try this year to balance my work and rest time so I have time to post every week. This week I’ve got a couple of paintings I did whilst in Paris in the summer and some thoughts on starting again with acrylics…

Paris

I painted a few pictures while I was over there in various places. They were all watercolour with occasional use of gouache white. Here are the first two. I was always pushed for time with these pictures so I tried to get down at least the main shapes and colours before people moved.

The first painting was while waiting to board the Eurostar at St Pancras International in London. I was feeling a little stressed at this point having been given a pat down search by Customs (because my heart implant makes the machine go off – I was carrying my pacemaker card but they decided to search me all over rather than look at the bloody thing!) So painting was a great way to calm down again. Here’s the picture I came up with…

My second painting was on day 2 when we visited Notre Dame…

There were actually armed police and droves of tourists all over the square in front of the cathedral so I moved a little to side for my painting. I picked out this beautifully dressed woman in red for my forground and the side buildings of the cathedral as my main subject. There were actually some cars parked behind the bushes just behind the railings but I missed them out too. I have always much preferred the quiet alleys next to cathedrals to the buildings themselves. They seem more friendly somehow.

Acrylics

I have been having a play with some acrylics for the first time in ages this week. My favourite jeans and top attest to this – I forgot how messy I am when painting! It doesn’t matter that much with watercolours but permanently marks clothes with acrylics! Rather than use the ones I already have which are over 10 years old I bought a small new set of good quality paints from Winsor & Newton. I also got some acrylic media to go with them. I have always used a retardent for blending because the paint dries so quickly! But I also wanted to see what effect a flow improver and gloss and matt mediums have. I’ve not got any painting finished from these explorations yet. I did some basic exercises and then began working on a small blue monster and doing different parts of his body with different methods so I can see the difference. The additional media do help a little to make the stuff less sticky but it’s still been very very different from using watercolours.

My feeling is that I’m struggling a bit because, having spent so long on watercolour in the last few years, I’m trying to use acrylics like watercolour and that just won’t work. So my plan going forward is to paint with acrylics in a totally different way – just strike out on a new path! There’s probably some special technique name that I would know if I’d ever been near an art school but I’m going to call it “just blobbing the paint on”. I’m not going to try to make gradients by thinning the paint with medium and moving it about, which I do all the time with watercolour, I’m going to make my gradients with different shades and colours and different painting strokes. I’m also going to blend a lot less than with watercolour.

Mopani Wood and New Directions

Mopani Wood

For my last Inktober picture I played around with ink. I used some water brush pens and 2 types of black ink. I began by wetting an area of my sketchbook and then dropping the ink into the wet area just as you would when using a wet in wet technique for watercolour. I got myself a lovely ink-run…

I let it dry and then began to feel out shapes in the random way the ink was lying. At first I just added some strong shadows…

I wanted to keep some of the ink I laid down in place and move some of it with a water brush later so I put down Pigma Micron ink (which is VERY permanent and great to use even under a heavy water wash). Then I used another pen which has soluble ink and put some of that on top. Then I went in with my water brush and moved the ink around again. Once that had dried I added some details with the Pigma Microns. Here’s how it looked after that…

Mostly I was taking my cues from the patterns made when the ink ran and moved in the water. At first these patterns reminded me of smoke and fire and I thought that my ink drawing would end up being of a fire. But as I continued to work at it – just letting it draw itself – it began to remind me of this beautiful wood which is used often in the aquarium trade. The wood is called Mopani Wood and has these beautiful light sections with this lovely dark brown grain in places. Here are a couple of pictures…

It’s great for fish which like acidic water as it leeches tannins into the tank. Fish which wouldn’t spawn in my hard water area will spawn with Mopani wood in their tank. Some aquarists don’t like the way it yellows the water but I think it depends on what you want. If you want your tank clear and uncoloured, then no, it’s not a great choice. But if you want happy, comfortable fish in natural conditions then it can be great.

Gradually I added more detail and reinforced my darks and lights using a mixture of fixed and water soluble inks. Here’s the last interation when the drawing was nearly finished…

And here is the final Mopani Wood drawing – all from an ink-run!

New Directions

Looking ahead, my next artistic adventure is going to be in acrylics. I began all of my adult artwork about 16 years ago with acrylics where I painted 3D geometric abstracts…

Now, having worked through a variety of mediums and art courses over the years, I want to go back to acrylic and see what I can paint now. It’ll be fun!

October Ink – Ice, Music and Intimacy

This is the last but one post for the whole Inktober thing. At first I quite enjoyed drawing everyday but as things got busier at school and my health became more problematic it got harder and I had to slow down. I also felt that the discipline of drawing based on a word was good and irritating at the same time. It was good because my imagination and creativity had to follow as yet untrodden paths which helped me come up with some pictures I would not otherwise have drawn. It was irritating because art is one of my deepest pleasures and to follow some arbitrary words wasn’t always where my heart wanted to go. I think the best thing to have come out of it from my point of view was a chance to really work hard in one medium – pen and ink. The worst thing was the self-imposed pressure to get stuff done, especially as I was finishing all of this off in the October half term holiday so I didn’t have to work on it at all during the most demanding half term of the school year.

So these pictures were of a shell…

…a Cornet…

And the pattern of frost you can sometimes see on car windscreens in the early morning as you go off to work…

I really enjoyed drawing the ice although I couldn’t get close to the perfection of the actual frost you can sometimes see. Nature is a grand master when it comes to painting. I also really enjoyed drawing the Cornet.

At a teenager I played the Cornet and Trumpet in various brass bands, wind bands and orchestras as well as a Trad Jazz band. It was a privilege to play those parts as I often got the tune or main theme. It was a bit scary too though because you can’t hide a mistake if you’re playing a trumpet or cornet. The thing I liked most about that was becoming fully part of one another as we all played together.

There is a closeness in playing with a group of other musicians which is very intimate. Like other forms of intimacy it seems to bind together those who take part in it. You get to feel a sense of the inside of another person when you play music together. It’s like you can feel their heart singing inside the music right next to your own. Autism frequently makes me feel adrift from other people and they sometimes seem like little black boxes where all I can know is their input and output patterns, but with music I can see where otherwise I am blind. It’s a real joy.

October Ink – Aliens, Autism and Christmas

 

Feeling Alien at Christmas

My subject for this week is Alien.  I’m quite fond of aliens.  Being autistic, I end up feeling like an alien from time to time just from being so different.  I think I feel this quite a lot in the run up to Christmas.  Everyone else seems to be enjoying it and looking forward to it but I dread the whole thing.

I feel loads of anxiety about finding presents which my family and friends will like and about giving presents of the right kind to the right people.  It always seems like an impossible task and unless someone tells me something they want I am really at a loss as to how to go about it.  Then there are all the parties and events going on at work and at home.  I really really dislike parties so I don’t go to any except the class party at school (which is part of my work and is fairly well organised and controlled).  Then there’s the Pantomime.  Every year our whole school  goes to the pantomime.  It’s really difficult – too loud, with audience participation.  I’d rather poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.  Luckily this year, thanks to an excellent head teacher, I’ve been able to be the member of staff who stays on the school site for children who, for one reason or another, are not able to, or dont’ want to go.  That is brilliant!

I think I would like Christmas more if people didn’t give presents and made less fuss about the whole thing.  Once we hit November all the shops start filling up with Christmas stuff – trying to sell us all sorts of rubbish to give to someone else.  Then there’s all the decorations making everything look even more busy, not to mention the demented Christmas music – it literally does my head in.

By the time this post goes out (I’m writing it in October half term) we will have finished our class Christmas Performance at work.  Of it all, I don’t mind this part of the holiday season; the children learn so much from working together, and having a goal, and being brave in front of an audience.  They grow up immensely through this one activity.  It’s beautiful to watch that happen and help it along.

 

Giger’s Aliens

As well as seeing the alienness inside my psyche I have also been fascinated by Giger’s Alien designs for years.  I think the fascination comes from them being both beautiful and somehow repellant at the same time.  So this week I decided to draw my own tribute to Giger.

It began as a landscape head portrait but the drawing seemed to want to extend itself into a full body.  Luckily I was using the first page of a two page spread so I could extend the picture if I didn’t mind the crease showing through the image.  I began in pencil and then inked it with a very narrow pen (0.2).  Then I added some stronger 0.8 lines to pick out the large forms within the body.  This came out as a reasonable outline drawing…

 

Then I began filling in the details and shading.  Rather than trying to ink a pencil drawing I tried to use my pens to draw directly, just as I would with a pencil.  I also added the alien’s right hand because having it hidden seemed odd.  Because the image is twice as big as the others I’ve done in my sketchbook, it took quite a while to do this but I was pleased with how it turned out…