Monday, May 23, 2016

Early Spring Gouache Experiments

On an icy, sleety day in mid April, I decided to experiment with some gouache. I've had it and used dabs here and there, but never really asked "what does this do" and tried a whole sketch with it.

And even though I greatly value reading and watching demos, I am learning that when it comes to making stuff, I have to get in and scribble--really play with abandon and probably make a mess--to understand how things work.

So I decided to try something dark with light values and just play around to see how it layered and how opaque the lights were and all of that.

I started with a decision to do my spring rhododendrons in my back yard. It has been freezing (literally freezing rain yesterday), so the buds are still closed tight. The bushes are at the edge of the woods, so the background is dark. And nearby is a perennial garden with phlox and daisies... all dormant now but I noticed one loan phlox dried and still standing--ghostly-- nearby. Anyhow, that caught my eye as a very white value against all the dark greens.

First I made two pages of value thumbnail sketches. What did it look like? What did I want it to look like? You might be able to see, from the scratches that are my thumbnails, that I perceived a spiral design in it, and so messed around with what that might look like. At one point, I even turned the journal upside down and drew the thumbnails upside down, just to test-drive the image... I have a whole new appreciation for why/how thumbnails are useful.

Then I did a two-page spread, a bit more detail, to capture the structure of the rhode leaves and the placement of the phlox...

Next, I decided to work outside of my sketchbook on some quality wc paper, again, just as part of the overall gouache experience for me. I painted an underlayer in thinned acrylic in complementary colors (I knew the painting would be dark and green, mostly). I was thinking a little about the thumbnails and the movements I thought would happen as I put down the magenta and a little yellow.

After that dried, I put on a dark layer. What I wanted to experience was how light gouache worked over dark, so I started with the dark and built "up" toward the lighter values. After that dried I started building the actual forms of the rhodes.

Anyhow, roughly one million layers later, I called it quits.

I took a photo of the image and put it in my computer and messed with the contrast a little. That was how I was able to learn/see what I wanted the result to look like... not the level of contrast I achieved with the paint. I might go back and mess with it more later.

I learned a TON about gouache--mixing and watering down. How the layers can (or how to avoid) activating the layer beneath. Opacity. Light over dark. It is still too dark, I think, but really my goal wasn't a great or finished "painting." Though actually, I kind of like the result. The goal was to play with the process from "look at that cool bush" through prelims, sketches, and paint and just see what I could experience and learn. It was such an enjoyable experience on an icy day!

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