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In Context—Just Draw

October 16, 2017
Working on a prepainted background in an 8 inch square journal I made with Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. CP watercolor paper, brush pen and gouache.

In the “In-Context Series” I promised I wouldn’t write a whole lot of text. Just let the page spread stand for itself, but sometimes I feel the need to say a little more, and include a detail image.

This type of spread is what you often see in my journals: a prepainted page with a gouache sketch on top.

On this day, when the paint dried I collaged a doodle I had done earlier in the day on a piece of loose paper. I had wanted to save the doodle and set it aside until I could think of what to do with it. Then the day went to shit, saved by the chicken sketch and it seemed the perfect addition to this spread, with a little bit of Japanese decorative paper.

I find that if a day hasn’t been going well moving the paint around on paper is a great way to reclaim an improved attitude. Even if the painting doesn’t turn out the way you intended there is something rejuvenating about pushing the paint and feeling the drag of the brush.

On this day there was left over gouache on the studio palette. It was also a great way to practice in preparation of the upcoming Minnesota State Fair. (I used a photo from the Sktchy app for a reference, since I don’t know any nearby chickens who are up at 10 o’clock at night.)

Detail of this post’s sketch. You can see some of the black ink lines, but most of the dark you see here is mixed neutrals.

In the detail image of today’s sketch you can see how I am working quickly with loose brush strokes, layering paint colors of varying opacity. Only some ink lines on the comb, the leading edge of the beak, and the right side (ours) of the bird are all that is visible of the original Pentel Brush Pen sketch in this image is. Everywhere else I’ve been able to hide the lines with opaque paint. I mixed dark neutrals that I find more interesting than black.



    • zeke browning
    • October 16, 2017

    I love this! Your chickens, among everything else you do, are amazing! Quick question, when you put the gouache down is it pretty thick? I think I’m using too much water in mine because I’m not getting stuff covered that I want to cover. Any chance you’ll ever do a gouache course?

    1. Reply

      Thanks Zeke. I’m glad you enjoy my chicken sketches. I love sketching them so much.

      I apply gouache both thickly and thinly depending on the effect I want on the paper and also on the paper or surface I’m working. Often I’ll apply a light layer of paint to a surface and that gives it a block in of color and a tooth beyond the tooth of the paper to work on. Sometimes these lighter bits show through, some are all covered. Then of course there are the bits I do with thicker gouache.

      If you have having trouble with coverage chances are that you are thinning the gouache too much. But it can also be the gouache that you are using. Some of the cheaper gouache/student grade stuff is actually more opaque because the paint has more opacifiers in them.

      With quality gouache that has no opacifiers the paint gets it opacity from the way the pigments are ground and that will effect the coverage that paint gives. You’ll want to use less water with that paint.

      So all in all it is something that you need to play with. Try less water. Also think about a painting plan. Sometimes to do that using light colors first might help, then when dry, thicker layers.

      Another issue you might be having (and Idon’t know because I’m not watching you paint) is that you don’t let layers dry completely or sufficiently before continuing. Because gouache is water-soluble this means that you can be reactivating layers below and moving them out of the way. Not only can this muck up your colors, but it can shift layers you put over ink lines, revealing them again. So I would watch out for that as well.

      The thing about gouache is that sometimes you want paint completely dry, other times you want it moist so you can blend with what you’re putting on top of it.

      If you look at this image (which sadly doesn’t blow up because it’s pre-January 2017) you can still still there are thin bits and thick bits of paint. (reds are almost all thin, the light blue is thick.) Oh, and the other nice thing about this piece is that you can see surface change. The masked area was gessoed and top and bottom of this sheet remained the original paper and it was like blotter and sucked up the paint, particularly obvious at the top, but still capable of coverage if you worked it.

      The images in this post blow up. You can see lots of thick here, applied on dry earlier layers, but look at the before image and you can see how I’m laying color in that will later have other color on top of it and smoothed.

      So a plan is important.

      Make some small paintings of easy topics like fruit. Pears are great. Look at this one—the strokes are really draggy because the paint I was using is so sticky—I don’t recommend DaVinci and you can read about it on my IFJM blog.

      here the kid’s socks were painted with white and blue added when I could still blend a bit, and the reverse is true on his shirt.

      If you practice all these types of things on small subjects you’ll get a sense of how you most like to use the paint.

      I still hope to bring my 6-week gouache class that I give in person to online, but as you know life keeps interrupting the production schedule. I was busily doing the sewn on the spine class when I came down with bronchitis so that’s behind now.

      My advice is to not wait, but to get busy moving paint about in the ways described and find what gives the type of look you want. Oh, and I like to work mostly with Filberts and on stiff surfaces. So journal pages that have the backing of the rest of the book can be thin paper, but outside of the book I work on 300 lb. watercolor paper or clapboard, or watercolor canvas board. You get more spring back from the brush.

    2. Reply

      Zeke, I have an addendum to my comment. If you look at the detail image in today’s post you will see what I mean about different levels of water in the paint. In that detail image you will see the white at the top of the eye-brown area is dry brush and skates over the top of the piece. There is pink at the bottom right that is also dry brush. But if you look at the peach squiggles just above the eye itself you’ll se the paint is very liquid. And if you look at the read all around the eye you’ll see that the read at the right is liquid over the peach and other colors but at the “orbital ring” area the read is more dry brush. That’s just a matter of controlling moisture on the brush.

      As you practice this all becomes second nature and it’s the true fun for me of painting with this paint.

        • zeke browning
        • October 17, 2017

        Wow, Roz! Thanks so much for all the information on gouache. That’s a lot of help and makes me understand it better. I’ll bet everyone in the Drawing Practice group would love to see these comments too!

        1. Reply

          Glad they helped a little. I was actually going to write a post about them, when I finished writing them I thought, well that’s a post. But I’ll let the folks in DP know. I know a lot of them want to start using gouache.

          Let me know how it goes.

            • zeke browning
            • October 23, 2017

            Hi, Roz. I’ve been doing Inktober for the first time…using it as a warm up before I sketch each day. The past 3 days have found me on one of my textured pages from your class so today I used the gouache. I cut back on the thinning of the paint, thanks to your sage advice, and I’m thrilled that the gouache covered the background very well. Thanks again!

          1. FANTASTIC. I’m so glad it’s working for you. Keep going.

  1. Reply

    This is just wonderful. As a chicken-lover I love to draw them as well. I am sure that you can’t draw a chicken and stay in a bad mood. So: They are just great when in bad mood – as I see on your page you feel the same way.

    1. Reply

      You definitely can’t draw a chicken and stay in a bad mood. Even better than drawing one is drawing one from life, which sadly I wasn’t able to do for this image (as mentioned in the post). Some of my happiest moments have come from sketching chickens while visiting friends who raise them, or of course the MN State Fair. I’m glad you enjoy chicken sketching as much as I do and hope you bump into them often!

    • Paul
    • October 16, 2017

    Wow Roz…you sure know how to push paint around :o). The colours are soooo vibrant! I particularly LOVE the dry brush effect you managed on the neck in the bottom left quadrant. Those dark dry brush strokes blend so well into the pre-painted background strokes. They perfectly capture the impression of neck feathers!!!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Paul, I appreciate your kind comments. I love sketching chickens as you know. I think that lets me be a little wild. Or encourages me to be. I’m glad I don’t have chickens or I would get NOTHING else done. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing???

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