Monday, November 12, 2018

Trying out Acrylic Gouache, Comparing to the Original Stuff...

Do you ever get tired of saving whites and lights or painting around them?  Do you love the look of plein air work done in oils or other opaque mediums?

I do, and I continue to look for a medium that I really like (in addition to my beloved watercolor) for plein air and journal work, sometimes wishing for freedom from "preserving those whites" that watercolor depends on so heavily--so I decided to give the new acrylic gouache a try.  

There are a number of brands--Holbein's Acryla Gouache is the one I chose, in small tubes to begin with.

Over the years I've used regular acrylics with pleasure in the studio, but I've only taken it with me once or twice in the field.  It dries quickly, and can't be lifted once dry, on the paper or on the palette, of course, but once your palette is dry in the field, you're done--unless you've packed a bunch of tubes!  

I've painted with regular gouache both as a professional illustrator and in my journal, and it's satisfying its way.  (Also called opaque watercolor, also tempera, I believe, in Europe--though it's not the same as childhood's tempera/poster paints.  These are artist quality.)  It can be frustrating, when lights dry darker and darks dry lighter, and I'd wondered if acrylic gouache had the same issues.

So for the past month, I've been exploring, trying out various approaches and applications!  

And so far I find acrylic gouache has pros and cons, for me. I will probably find it most useful, for under painting, tinting a page with a dark color or a mood-setting one.  It doesn't lift under subsequent applications, which may muddy your colors when using regular gouache unless you work very quickly and with a light touch. I DID use it on several of the pages here and it worked well.

(These are all in a journal, with pages approximately 5 x 7".)

I did a dark, almost black underpainting, mixed from burnt sienna and ultramarine, on this page before adding the late fall field in an opaque manner, allowing the dark to show through the closer earth and on the far hill. 

I used a combination of a watery, washy application and more opaque on this feels a bit garish, to me, and I found it difficult to get quite the color/value I was after.  Like regular gouache, acrylic gouache doesn't always dry like you put it down, if not quite as markedly as regular gouache.  Darks still dry lighter, and lights dry darker to a degree, and I have not yet fully learned how to compensate.
This was a quick study of the falls at Tryst Falls Park near here...and you can see one of my first issues, above the sketch--the crowded mess on my palette!  I was also trying out the smaller Masterson's Sta-wet Handy Palette, and quickly ran out of unsullied mixing space on my very first couple of sketches.  Sure enough the paint DOES stay moist, but...

The one on the left is what is in this little journal.  TOO pebbly...but happily Fabriano's soft press is similar to the original.

I did utilize the roughness of the paper in the trees, though, for a lacy effect.  (This is another one that had an underpainting, this time mostly a thin layer of Acryla's Sky Blue.)
I like a palette with a good mixing area or wells, so I can mix a larger amount of paint. With the small, flat Sta-wet (about 6 1/2" x 8"), I run out of unsullied room quickly.  This is a problem with how I work, obviously, and not with the medium itself.

So because of the mess above, I decided to try again, and allow for more mixing room...I don't use all the colors that came in the set, but these seemed most useful.  (I mix my own greens, so no need for the two greens that came in the set.)

Not thinking about the fact that these are quite a bit runnier paints and need to be stored absolutely LEVEL...they didn't remain unsullied here, as you can see, and I haven't even started painting!  I would have to get used to the fact that these paints are more fluid...perhaps a different kind of palette would be better, and I may try that. 
Mind you, I often paint with a tiny Cotman set from Winsor & Newton that I converted to regular gouache years ago...but I believe it would be difficult to clean with acrylics because of the deep wells.
There are actually several issues I ran into, which may or may not be because it's acrylic. I normally prefer to let my paints dry, and prewet a little while before painting, whether watercolor or gouache. Obviously, can't do that with acrylics, dry is dry, and done! It's not how a lot of painters work, I know, but I always have, even with big studio paintings--I just don't like fresh squeezed paint.  For me, it doesn't mix as smoothly once I wet it.  So that was something I'd need to get used to, with these...shouldn't be that difficult, I suppose, since I have painted with acrylics almost since they were first invented and dinosaurs roamed the earth!

Another issue is taking care of my brushes...if acrylic dries in the ferrule the brush may never work well again, or be ruined entirely.  When I'm working at home, that's nut much of an issue, as lots of water is available.  For plein air, not so great.  I DO hurry to thoroughly clean my brushes, though, even at home, as soon as I finish my sketch.  I don't use expensive sable brushes with any acrylic, of course.

I am also used to being able to lift, soften, and adjust some once dry, which is not how you work with dry acrylics, obviously.  A whole different way of working.

I find they didn't blend as smoothly even as regular gouache when wet, for whatever reason. Operator error, perhaps!

So it just doesn't seem to suit the way I work overall.  Keep in mind this is COMPLETELY subjective, based on my own experience and expectations.

I DO like that it dries matte rather than the plasticy sheen most acrylics seem to have.  You can frame without glass or sealing, too, another plus.  My friend and fellow artist/author Larry Seiler works more directly, and told me, when I asked how he liked the acrylic gouache compared to regular, which he has mastered, "Since my method of attack is alla prima, I aim to lay a stroke down as is, not to be fussed over (a brushstroke laid is a brushstroke stayed), it seems to work just fine for me."  Larry's work is gorgeous, so I can only agree!

Check out his website at and explore his books, instructional page, and videos on YouTube, interspersed on his channel, here: !

This is an old bridge near Boonville, Missouri...I'd been wanting to give it a go!

On thing I personally have a problem with is that it encourages more and tighter detail than I'm used to, as in the above sketch.  That could be good, but it felt weird...and somewhat overworked.

I tried for a more direct application this time...
And again, part of the problem may be that I've not yet tried them plein air (see the difficulty of keeping that palette level, above!), and have been working--uncharacteristically for me these days--from photos.  That too can encourage overworking.  When I'm working on the spot, I usually quit when I am tired or uncomfortable!

So, for me:


Dries matte, like regular gouache
Intense color
Soft consistency
Won't lift with subsequent layers
Light over dark possible, like regular gouache
Use opaque or transparently
Doesn't need glass or sealing


Runny, must be carried flat
That same soft consistency!
Still dry rather differently than they go down, somewhat like regular gouache
Don't blend as readily as regular gouache or watercolor
Won't lift once dry 
Brushes need to be cleaned, immediately
For me, personally, they seem to encourage overworking
I will probably continue to explore these paints under a variety of circumstances, but for the present I am more likely to stick with the more traditional forms.   

And that said, my NEXT blog post will be on gouache, in a couple of old-fashioned forms or approaches!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin