Not quite square-one

I’ve gotten back into the gouache, and there are several things I can see. I won’t be able to cover them all in one post: I’m listing them out, here, mainly as a reminder to myself.

One: it’s different to work with paints, than it is to work with drawing implements. I’m much more in-control with pen and pencil, than with brush. Controlling the amount of water in my brush is essential, if I want to make paintings without pools of water/paint at the end of every stroke. I think I’ll have to be more generous with the paint, and work with a drier brush.

Two: I have some separation of fluid from pigment, in one of the paints I tried, earlier — some kind of a deep yellow (orange-yellow) with a pigment code I haven’t looked up. The fluid looks vaguely greenish. Painting it down, the yellow looks contaminated with green. But when it dries, it regains vibrancy, and is fine. No, I don’t know how that happens. And I’m only now recalling the (dull) greens that orange-yellow, produces.

Three: Winsor & Newton gouache lids are much, much harder to remove after years of disuse, than are Holbein lids. This is because the Holbein lids give much more gripping surface. It may also be because I have less dried paint, inside the Holbein lids…maybe I should clean the tubes, tomorrow. In any case, I now have a blister on the side of my index finger from trying to get the Winsor & Newton lids, off.

Four: I have confirmed that I have four basic earth tones in my traditional gouache (and a gorgeous glittery gold paint). Everything I have in acrylic gouache is incredibly vibrant, but will need to be mixed to create subdued colors. Which leads me into…

Five: I really need to work on creating muted colors and chromatic greys, if I’m going to work with either the traditional or acrylic gouache. I have some beautiful full-strength colors…but not everything is yellow, red, or blue. I did find three different portfolios of my old work…which gives me the baseline footprint for a color wheel. I know that we did mixing of complementary colors in Color Dynamics…even the tertiary colors (like yellow-green) were crossed with their complements. If I can create that, it should help me figure out what I’m doing, here. It’s a topic unto itself, hence not addressed further, here.

Six: Do I want to work on cold-press, rather than hot-press paper??? Hot-press Watercolor paper really shows brush strokes! (And I still need to try my Arches paper to see if it is functional after all this time.)

As far back as I can remember, using too little paint and too much water has been an issue for me — though it’s particularly visible with acrylics. In the Art program, my instructor commented that my acrylic underpaintings looked like watercolors. Several years later, I learned that thinning paints out too much with water (as versus acrylic medium) can cause poor adhesion to the substrate (in that case, primed canvas).

It’s better to use glazing medium or — I’ve heard — airbrush medium (though I’ve never tried airbrush medium) to thin acrylics (if you don’t want to add body, that is). There are also a lot of different media that can soften heavy-body paints, or dilute colors, though I’ve forgotten exactly which brands I saw, where. What was being sold was the acrylic emulsion used as the base for the paints, but without any pigment. Add that to a paint, and you get a diluted color without any loss of adhesion.

Then there was the gorgeous transparent soft acrylic gel medium — which looks beautiful with transparent pigment. But yes, it is easy to permanently mess up a canvas, working dimensionally. I know.

In transparent watercolors, as well — I only took one, “watercolor,” class, which was specifically, “watercolor” — my teacher said that it would save time if I were more direct with my application of color (instead of blocking everything in palely, before using full-strength paint). I’m pretty sure that that particular episode just had to do with timidity: it’s not great when you go in directly, and find out that your proportions are off. But I can see where I should be able to just go in, if my values match what I’m seeing.

I’m pretty certain this was parallel to one of my first Community College Art instructors telling me to commit to a line, and not make sketchy drawings. The point would be to just go ahead and make the mark, or the color block, or whatever. I guess if it’s wrong, it’s confidently wrong? (Like how English teachers will say, “never use, ‘I think,’ or, ‘I feel,’ in an essay” — even if that’s what you mean?)

That scenario might lead me down another rabbit hole (having to adjust the proportions of one object to another in an underlying drawing)…but I think I’ve noted the problem, in my process journal. I also have the memory of fixing the last drawing which led me to the realization that I was making things with (nearly) correct proportions within themselves, but wrong proportions between objects. It becomes visible at the places where objects intersect. It’s easy enough to think, “no one’s going to notice that,” but it did look better when I corrected it.

I started this entry off talking about a common problem with watercolors (both transparent and opaque) and synthetic brushes: that is, a lack of control where it comes to the flow of paint from the brush to the paper. This would seem to be less of an issue with natural-hair brushes. Or, I should say, it’s a well-known issue with synthetic brushes, that they will tend to dump their fluid at the end of a stroke. Meaning to touch the loaded brush to a paper towel or sponge to get rid of the excess water, before going to the painting.

Pigment dumping isn’t so much of an issue with gouache, because it’s opaque. You don’t necessarily see the additional pigment, and you can layer on top of it. It’s a pain with transparent watercolors, though…

…which I have been itching to get back to. I’m not sure if my palette is even functional, right now; it has been so long since I’ve used it. The thing is, I believe that those watercolors contain some of the very few colors I have to use caution around (mainly through the inclusion of cobalt and chromium). But I may get back to them, soon. I filled the palette years ago, but I don’t know for sure that the colors will rehydrate properly, now.

Even though transparent watercolors seem to require some kind of project planning, there is an undeniable draw to them for me…maybe because they’re so simple. And beautiful. They have their own kind of touch.

I’ve found that natural hair paintbrushes glide over the paper, whereas a synthetic — at least, one of the more annoying ones — may chatter and wipe up pigment, in the same situation. But I have very few natural-hair brushes for watercolor. This is expressly because of the price of natural hair combined with quality craftsmanship.

Hog bristle brushes for acrylics or oils are decently priced: that’s probably because they wear out, so often. Natural hair watercolor brushes are…nearly entirely different. But I do still see that even hog bristle, glides more easily than a synthetic — at least, a low-quality synthetic.

I do have some sumi-e brushes which are natural hair (actually at least two different types of natural hair within the same brush), but I find that their (bamboo) handles tend to split with time and use. This is especially if they’re only bound together with glue and string. I’ve lost one, and am on the way to losing another. I haven’t tried the plastic-handled sumi-e brushes.

I do know where I can get brushes which are different than the standard ubiquitous Yasutomo; but seriously, I don’t know what I’m doing where it comes to art supplies, in Asian stationery stores. I can’t read the packaging (it’s usually not in English, I can’t read any dialect of written Chinese, and I largely can only read phonetics in Japanese), and I’m not sure of the properties of the types of hair used — except that white is goat hair, soft and absorbent.

I’m really not even certain the types of brushes I find in an Asian stationery store, are suitable for the type of work I do (neither Chinese brush painting nor sumi-e nor calligraphy). And paying $30+ for one brush, when I don’t know what I’m getting or how to use it, is a bit of a risk.

The obvious thing to do, is ask someone who is knowledgeable about this to accompany me, or to ask a salesperson about the differences between the brushes. The thing is — I really don’t know how much salespeople know about the products (or how to use them), as versus just being there to enable financial transactions.

I do have some Princeton Neptune brushes, though I didn’t use them with the traditional gouache, earlier. I’m not sure how they’ll fare with it. They’re extremely soft, and my gouache is so old that some of it has dried out. (I was wrong, by the way: it does seem that I have a few tubes left over from 2007; they’re just paint cakes in there, like the ones my teacher recovered. I believe I did throw out some which I couldn’t open, maybe five years ago, though.)

That is, it takes some working of water into the paint, before the paint is usable…and I’m not sure the Neptunes are really stiff enough to handle it.

That’s not at all to get into the thought of using the Neptunes with acrylic gouache. I’m thinking I’ll definitely need to use a firmer watercolor or all-media brush, for that. For one thing, I don’t want to gum up my Neptunes with acrylic; I’m intending to use them exclusively with transparent watercolor and Ecolines. Maybe traditional gouache, if they can handle it. Not Liquitex acrylic gouache.

Neptunes are very soft and absorbent, made to mimic squirrel; maybe turning out better. The last time I used them (with the Ecoline, “transparent watercolors,” about a week ago), I could dip a loaded brush into a drop or two of yellow and not get a lot of color transfer, because the brush was sucking up the yellow and not discharging. That doesn’t happen if you mash the brush into the yellow to mix it; only if you touch the yellow and allow capillary action to draw it up.

That was fairly amazing.

The last thing I’ll mention…is that I’m very certain that my skill level with paints does not rival my skill with pencil or ink. But I can remedy that, with time and practice. It shouldn’t be drudgery; I love dense and fluid color, too much for that. Right now, I also have more books than I care to mention (?) on painting and color, that I haven’t read. I want to get to them. Maybe it will be more productive than reading about politics…

One response to “Not quite square-one”

  1. I love how you wrote this down and your experiments you’ve done with your art. You sound so knowledgeable. I really want to see your art now.


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