Core Skills: Gouache
Join artist Laura Bifano as she shows how – with a bit of planning – it’s easy to create a harmonious colour scheme
Laura Bifano gives more great insight in our continuing series on getting to know traditional art mediums.
W hile gouache is more forgiving than watercolour, decisions you make early on can affect the rest of the painting. If you lay down a vibrant violet sky in your initial wash, chances are that’s what you’re going to end up with.
Depending on the amount of moisture in your brush, gouache can also lift and mix with each layer applied on top, so there’s a limited number of times you can rework an area before it becomes a muddy mess.
This is why it helps to plan out your colour choices in advance, so all the heavy lifting is done before you even touch brush to paper. Although it may be tempting to dive in to painting right away, this usually results in a lot of mistakes and tedious backtracking. And the best part about using a colour comp? You can mix a harmonious colour palette before you even start painting.
I like to mix my palette from a limited pool of colours because it results in a more unified colour scheme. Secondary colours are all mixed from primaries or variations thereupon, and tinted using titanium white and a subtractive black.
Laura is an illustrator and production artist from Vancouver, BC. She’s worked in film, TV and on children’s books. See more at www.laurabifano.com.
I use a large enamel tray for my palette, which is organised according to warm and cool values. I use Ivory black (A), Prussian blue (B), Primary blue (C), Magenta (D), Cadmium red (E), Cadmium yellow (F) and Yellow light (G), and Titanium white (H).
Materials and getting started
While it’s worth investing in artist-grade paints and paper, your setup itself doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. I use a lot of whatever’s on hand, including leftover yogurt containers! I use this printed colour comp to match my paint mixes. While planning it out in Photoshop, I find working in LAB color space makes it easier to create a more harmonious colour scheme. I also use the Black and White adjustment layer to check that my values are working. I mix my colours with the consistency of mud in mind, knowing that I can water them down later. I’m going to need a lot of some colours and so I’ll mix them in separate airtight containers that I can add them to the mix as needed. Because gouache dries very quickly, I know I can use these to fix mistakes later on down the line. In this instance I’ll be working with transparent washes, so I’m going to use an old garbage brush for mixing my colours. A palette knife wouldn’t be able to lift paint off the surface.
Planning this thing out
In this step, I’ll analyse my comp to see which – and how much of – I’ll need to mix of each colour. Although this looks like a colourful image, at this stage I’m pretty sure I can achieve this look using three base mixtures…
The three base hues
…and so here are my base hues laid out on the palette. I’ll mix these with each other and with the other colours on my palette, to achieve everything that I need for my comp. My black is a mixture of Prussian blue, Magenta, Cadmium red and Cadmium yellow. I want to make this as neutral as possible, so I test it by mixing it with Titanium white. If the result is a neutral grey (sitting between the warm and cool spectrums), I know I’ve found my mix. The sky blue mixture is just a straightforward mix of Primary blue. I’ll tint this pure mix using Magenta and Prussian blue, which I use as a gradient when doing my initial sky wash. The base hue of the mountain is composed of Cadmium red, Magenta, Yellow and Primary blue, but keeping things on the warmer/magenta side.
How it all relates But let’s break it down even more!
Here’s what my palette looks like when I’ve mixed everything. I keep the pure colour mixes towards the top and mix off of them. I’ll use my black mixture to shade, or cool things down with the sky blue mixture, or tint with white as needed. I won’t get into every step here, since most of it is pretty self-explanatory, but each area of the palette matches the swatch sample page shown below, so we can see how it corresponds with the comp.
So here’s a swatch card I made from the various areas on the palette, and you can see how it corresponds to each swatch on the comp. It’s not perfect, and it’ll change a little bit during the painting process, but already I’m miles ahead of where I’d be then if I went in blind. (A) is the base tint of the mountain at about 15 per cent opacity. (B-F) are all at about 30 per cent. (G) is my subtractive black mixture, (J) is a neutral grey cloud colour I mixed using (I), (L) and (B). (L) is a bright green mixed from pure Cadmium yellow and (H). (K) and (M) are both cooler satellite mixtures of (L).
I use M. Graham and Winsor & Newton brand gouache. Both are high-quality, colourfast brands. To avoid paint drying in the tubes, I store mine away from light and heat.
This is the pure hue I’ll use when doing my initial wash for the base colour of mountain. I need an ample mix of this to use throughout the painting. I’ll use variations on this base colour when painting in the facets, tinting them either warmer or cooler using my sky colour, using my black mixture to darken it, or tinting with titanium white to lighten. I’ll need a pretty bright green mixture for the tops of these trees. Cadmium Yellow light is often my go-to when it comes to painting bright foliage. The sky is a slight gradient so I’ll keep this in mind when mixing this colour. I’ll need a pure hue as well as a darker shade to mix in later on. I’ll need a warm grey mixture for the underside of the clouds. Although these are all different hues and values , I know I can achieve them by shading them using my black mixture, which I’ll need to mix a lot of!
My sky blue mix with the addition of Magenta and Prussian blue. Green was mixed using Cadmium yellow and Sky blue, with Titanium white added for opacity. The neutral grey of the clouds was mixed from Green and the mountain base colour. Adding Black, Blue and Titanium white works for the facet shades on the right side of the mountain.