Two days into May and I found that I really couldn’t give up the Arches Cold Press watercolor board, yet. I took a scrap of it and taped the sides leaving only a relatively small window: 4-3/16 x 6-5/8 inches.
Dick said he would sit for me. (Really, this has to stop—he has important stuff to do. I might have to get a puppy!)
I picked up the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and sketched quickly. Then I started to paint with gouache but it was like my brain wouldn’t work. After a month of painting with watercolor my brain still hadn’t moved into gouache mode again. (The final painting for IFJM was a gouache painting but it was non-natural colors so it didn’t matter which colors I put down as long as the values were working—I wanted this sketch to be more realistic.)
After about five minutes I got up and left the room. I washed off all the paint. I dried the board with a heat gun. What remained? The ink lines and some angry slashes of staining colors.
I had another go. For a few minutes things would go well. Then they wouldn’t. Usually they stopped going well at the exact moment I started to feel cocky and believed it was all working out.
Normally I have a plan of attack when I make a painting. I know which pigments I’m going to use to get the desired results—natural or non-natural color is also a decision I make up front.
On Monday I was working with pigments I’d put out two days before. They were sealed and still soft. (I put my working palette in a plastic bag with a little bit of moisture on the palette in the form of a small piece of folded paper towel which is wet.)
Frankly I just wanted to paint something and feel the gouache move around on the paper (or in this case the board).
It seemed like an eternity, with me putting down a color and adjusting it, and then working elsewhere while it dried, and repeating. Of course the eyebrows were an issue, but overall I really liked the proportions of the head. It was just that the left (our left) was too far out.
I can hide a lot with gouache—if you look at the finished piece the dark lines you see are 99.9 percent paint. None of the sketch lines in the face are visible, except on at the right on the brow, one under the eye on the right. The shirt lines are all still visible. I didn’t want to do anything with them.
But even though I can hide a dark ink line with gouache things were taking so much effort I didn’t want to work at it. I took a Montana marker and covered the background in raspberry (that’s what I call it I don’t know if that’s what they call it). I cut back into the ear on the left (you can see some paint lines under the acrylic marker).
Next I messed with the hair for a bit. He doesn’t have gray hair, but there is some very light blonde and white hair now. There is also a lot of darker “remnant ginger” as I like to call it. And then of course there is the greenish tinge that all those hours in the pool impart on blonde hair.
I put in the darkest areas and then worked elsewhere, going back with lighter layers when the darker ones were dry. I blended a bit, I added more darks, it finally resembled something like Dick’s hair—which yes, needs to be cut and does stick out at all angles like that. I think it’s charming. (On the few occasions he actually combs his hair—weddings, funerals—I find it actually a little unsettling to look at him.)
Left: Just for grins, here's the quick pen sketch. I don't draw out the hair to its ends because I know I'm going to have to cover the ink lines and a lot of ink out where it's wispy would be difficult. I also only put the vaguest of outlines of the eyebrow extension for the same reason. You can clearly see that gouache allows me to keep refining. The edges of the board have been taped.
Of course I needed to adjust the eyebrows throughout all this. They are vague here because basically they are vague in real life—who knows where they really begin and end.
What I’m most happy about is I did get a little bit of the cavern of recession beneath those eyebrows, but didn’t make the values so dark there that he looked excessively tired.
It’s the most age appropriate sketch I’ve done of him in ages. (Either I make him look too young or too old.) And he has a great patient look—appropriate for someone who kindly sat still for an hour and 15 minutes so I could paint.
Are there things I would change? Sure. There always are. But I like it as a step back from watercolor to gouache—without my head exploding.
I realized how few colors I work with in gouache compared to watercolor, and yes I was testing a new watercolor palette in my 2016 IFJM journal, but even so it was three times as many pigments (though I didn’t use them all in every painting!!). And I reminded myself that I was working with left over colors. If I’d had out my full gouache palette, or set out colors specifically for this project things would have been different—they can always be different.
I think that’s what I love so much about painting.
It’s about “What can I do right now, with what I have. Make a plan, go!” I just have to remember to make the plan!
I do love this cold press watercolor board—I have a bunch more of them.
The best remedy for painting withdrawal is to paint more…
I wonder what Dick has planned for this evening?