Gouache is the strangest word. It always sends me to spellcheck because it couldn’t possibly be an English word. Yesterday at least, it had a Spanish feel, or maybe Catalan. Maru Godas was here (in San Francisco) from her home in Barcelona, teaching her popular Urban Sketcher workshop titled Gouache Like a Child.
Being more of a transparent watercolorist myself, I’ve always had a mixed reaction to gouache, which is a creamy, opaque watercolor, because it is so often used by watercolorists to correct their painting errors. In the “wrong” hands it can have a deadening quality. But in Maru’s hands it is so appealing!
She started us out with some exercises to get used to the consistency, mixing black with white to get a five step gray scale. To paint with the creamy consistency of opaque gouache, you have to have just enough water on your brush, but not dilute it. It takes practice for an old watercolorist like myself. We also did a black to almost white scale with black gouache only, adding water to show that you can actually use gouache in a watercolor-y way too. And with dry paint on the brush you get great textures which you need to enliven the surface of your paintings.
We also got to practice painting three minute thumbnails with black and white.
Maru is showing her signature palette here. It’s totally brilliant. All these wonderful colors from just five pigments. We practiced mixing paints, keeping them creamy consistency with just the right amount of water, and then went outside to try it all out at Mission Bay.
The row of houseboats along the canal seems to beg to be sketched! Here I’m trying to channel the “like a child” part of the instructions while wrestling with this much thicker and unfamiliar medium in a timed exercise. Unlike regular watercolor paint you can paint light colors on top of dark ones in gouache, though you can also leave the white paper untouched to preserve your whites. It’s very freeing (though I kept forgetting!)
I enjoyed being able to come back in at the end with a white paint pen and pencils to spice up some areas.
The final sketch was a panorama using line as well as the gouache. As I was painting in the colorful scene of Pac Bell stadium I could hear the roar of appreciative Giants fans.
So the verdict? If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with Maru. . .you may have to go to Europe. . .jump for it. And gouache? It’s so delectable, especially fresh from the tube, as to be practically irresistible. Paired with other media to add line to the blocks of color shapes, it can’t fail to activate the child painter within. My own child is drooling in anticipation of more chances to dive into those colors.
Only drawback. . .it’s definitely messier than watercolor and requires more water changes, more paper towels, a big sponge, brushes that are springier and a brush case to carry them in. That and another pouch for a variety of dry media like colored pencils. I don’t think I’d take it along on a protest march, for instance. But for a sunny afternoon at Mission Bay, it couldn’t be finer.