Lines and Colors art blog

Gouache in the Wild, James Gurney

Gouache in the Wild, James Gurney
Unfairly overlooked among artists’ mediums, gouache is the neglected stepchild of watercolor — disdained by transparent watercolor purists (who I can’t help but picture as cartoon aristocrats, painting with their pinkie fingers extended), and looked at in confusion by oil and acrylic painters. (“Gouache? Isn’t that for designers? You know — illustrators?“)

For those who have come to know it, however, gouache is a lovable mongrel, with some of the best characteristics of other mediums: quick drying like acrylic, with the ability to layer and work from dark to light like oil, but with the easy portability, clean up and re-activation possible with watercolor.

Contrary to popular belief, as long as those colors designed specifically for illustrators with fugitive pigments are avoided, and colors are chosen with the traditional artist pigments familiar to oil and watercolor painters, gouache is a perfectly wonderful medium for gallery artists and plein air painters. Gouache is essentially just opaque watercolor.

In addition to common misconceptions about gouache, I think one of the barriers to its wider adoption by artists is the relative lack of instructional material for the medium. Books and instructional video materials are conspicuously thin for gouache, particularly when compared to the abundance of attention paid to transparent watercolor.

Gouache has been gaining more attention and adherents in recent years. One of the best resources for gouache information has been the ongoing mention of gouache techniques in blog posts by James Gurney, who has long been a champion of the medium (along with its milk-based cousin, casein).

In a follow-up to his excellent instructional DVD Watercolor in the Wild, Gurney has created a new DVD along similar lines, titled Gouache in the Wild.

As someone who has become more fascinated with gouache myself, I was delighted when I received a review copy, and even more delighted as I viewed it. Though most specifically aimed at the use of gouache for plein air or interior location painting — a role for which it is very well suited — the video also serves in many ways as an introductory guide to the medium.

Gurney takes us through the process of painting six varied subjects, with quick glimpses of a few others, and gives a guide to materials and basic techniques along the way. He covers some elements that others might not even think to mention, such as making your own opacity charts and brand color comparisons.

In addition to the overt instruction, I find that the close-up views of Gurney applying the paint in various ways, with touches of different kinds of brushes applied at a variety of angles, are instructive in themselves. They also make it clear that new users of gouache should not be misled by the small tubes, and should be unafraid to mix up and apply some generous brushloads of paint.

As is often the case with Gurney’s instructional videos, there is a wealth of supplementary material to be found on his blog, such as his post on “The Seven Gouache Hazards and How to Escape Them” and numerous other mentions of gouache.

Today, June 22nd, is the official release of the video, and Gurney is offering discounts for the day, and will be posting additional previews to YouTube during his “gouache week”, as well as a free live streaming demo of painting in gouache on location on this Wednesday at 4:00pm Eastern Time on ConcertWindow.

Here is the current trailer on YouTube, and another short excerpt from a longer segment.

Gouache in the Wild can be ordered as a DVD or purchased as a digital download. See this post on Gurney Journey for more details.

Gurney has provided a much needed guide for painting in gouache — an often overlooked artists’ medium that is deservedly gaining in popularity; every section is overflowing with his wealth of location painting knowledge and experience.

[Addendum: Gurney continues to add to the supplementary gouache information on his blog. Particularly informative, and much needed, is this remarkable post in which he has inquired of the major gouache manufacturers about the formulations of their gouache paint — a source of common question even among experienced painters in gouache: “Gouache Ingredients: Info from Manufacturers“, on Gurney Journey.]


6 responses to “Gouache in the Wild, James Gurney”

  1. I’ll have to check out this DVD. Thanks for the alert.

    One thing worth mentioning is that, with the exception of egg tempera, gouache is one of the simplest mediums to make yourself, along with casein. The small tube size of commercial brands becomes an obstacle for most people, since the price per tube for quality paint is nearly equal to that of oils or acrylics that come in larger sizes. That forces people to want to use it sparingly. Make your own gouache, and that’s not an issue.


    1. Good thought; thanks, David.

      Unless you feel it’s outdated for any reason, for the benefit of other readers, I will link to your own instructions on making gouache paint.

      I have to urge neophytes to read up on the process and use caution and proper protection, particularly if working with toxic pigments like cadmium and cobalt.

  2. I have been seeing a lot of posts about gouache lately. As an acrylic painter I lean toward water-based mediums. Even when we have a favorite media, it never hurts to step outside our comfort zone and try something a little different. I think it is worth looking into the prospect of another tool that we can use to create without limiting possibilities by sticking to only one kind of media.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lina. I think the water based mediums make excellent complements to one another, and their variety offers choices for those with different temperaments. Each has it’s unique characteristics.

  3. Thank you for the link to my page, Charley.

    One more thought to share: the small tube size of commercial gouache tends to force artists to work small, as Gurney does in this demo, or else use the paint very thin like watercolor. While it certainly works well that way, it’s a limitation it doesn’t require. You shouldn’t paint thickly, but you can be opaque with a large brush stroke if you had more paint available to you. I’ve been trying to coax the art paint companies to increase the size of their tubes, but that’s driven by the marketplace. It’s a wonderful medium that certainly needs more promotion.

    1. Also a nice thought. Thanks, David. I personally work small, and often outdoors, so I like the small tubes for that reason, but you’re right that it discourages larger scale studio work in the medium.