opaque watercolor

Exploring Gouache in a Workshop


The Chef, watercolor and gouache on hot pressed w/c paper, 7 X 7″

Last week I attended a 5-day workshop with Donna Zagotta, whose vibrant opaque watercolor paintings I’ve admired for years.  A departure for me from my more abstract mixed media work of late, but a good opportunity to try an opaque medium which lends itself well to the kind of figure work I still love.

I took this picture of the smiling chef in Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro in, of all places, Garberville, CA this summer.  We had just raved about the food, thanking him profusely, and the memory still lies sweetly on my tongue and in my gut.  A good circumstance for the creation of a painting.  It’s not done, might never be to my satisfaction.  The painting of it was more about mixing my watercolors with white gouache and trying to keep the water ratio down and get the pigment to settle onto the slick paper.


“Quartet”, w/c and white qouache on cold pressed paper, 6.5 X 9″

This is the kind of scene one often finds with two couples where the wives sit together in animated conversation and the men start to feel irrelevant.  Of course that may not have been what was happening at all, but then it’s my painting.  And besides, that makes for an interesting focal point and color story.  I was trying to go more and more abstract, bouncing the color around to entertain the eye.  The facial tone going from green to yellow to violet to red.

This painting started with an all over glaze of Opera watercolor.  In opaque watercolor the white is paint, not the white of the paper.  And it takes a lot of paint, sometimes several layers to get there.  I like that you can at any point change your mind and wash off an area, then repaint it again.  The woman’s red face had at least eight changeovers before I was satisfied.

I also like the soft edge quality of working with gouache.  Drawback is that you may never feel that you’ve finished because there is always something you could “fix”.  Also, you wouldn’t be able to add collage or other mixed media techniques because the paint lifts off when it is rewet.


“Pink Shoes”, gouache on acrylic/gessoed glazed cold press w/c paper, 9 X 8″

For this last painting of the week  I started out with gessoed cold press paper (for more tooth which I needed) and a glaze of opera acrylic pigment. Then I used almost all gouache pigment to paint the figure, squeezing out the creamy pigment onto a white tray so there was no digging into palette wells for it.  This was a lot more fun, and that way I didn’t run as much risk of mixing too much water into the pigment.  Gouache goes beautifully over an acrylic surface and is so easy to lift and change.  Perfect for quick sketches as well as “serious” paintings.  Another tool in an already bulging tool box!

Thank you Donna!