Gouache Sketches

I’ve had a few gouache palettes going but I recently got a new sealable palette that I can (hopefully) take with me to paint around town. I hate to throw out the paint in the old palettes because its so expensive so I spent a very frustrating few hours trying to rewet and then scoop the old gouache out of the old palettes and get it into the new one.

By the time I was done I don’t think much actually got transferred, and there was still a lot in the old palettes so I decided to try and use some of it up before I tossed it. I’ve been doing little gouache studies for the last few weeks. Here are some of the ones I’m not embarrassed to post. These are all about 2 to 3 inches on a side but I scanned them real big for your viewing pleasure.


A WWII bomber of some sort, a woman’s profile, and standing woman with a basket, and a crazy tribal looking bird thing. Pretty standard art stuff I would say.

Landscape study from my collection of “iPhone Photos Out the Car Window As I Drive On Kansas Highways and Should Probably Be Looking Where I’m Going and Not Taking iPhone Photos but This Particualr Thing Looked Pretty so I had to Take A Picture”.

This one is from a photo I snapped of downton Seattle. Did you know they have big trees in Downtown Seattle! Why doesn’t my downtown have big trees I wonder?

Iguana, he has no name, and also he may be a she. I don’t know, I’m not a herpetologist.

Someones really pretty glass bobble from Etsy.

One of Claes Oldenburg’s giant shuttlecocks from the lawn of the Nelson Atkins art museum in Kansas City. These are probably my favorite thing in the world.

And finally some pretty ceramic bowls because I wanted to study warm and cool bounce light.

Comp Studies

Here’s a little exercise I’ve been doing lately that I’m really enjoying. Take an image that you really like (painting, illustration, photograph, movie still, whatever) and do a little thumbnail size study.

Don’t worry about the details, that’s why you’re working so small. The idea is to get past the content of the picture and see the underlying composition: lights and darks, warms and cools, the big puzzle pieces.

Here are a few of my examples:

These are digital greyscale, originals on the left and my studies on the right. You can click for a slightly larger view, but really the point is to see things small so you get away from the details. The pictures are from my favorite book: 

Here are a few from famous paintings – 10 points if you can name them all. I wanted to try a few outside of the computer, so I did most of these using my fountain pen. I also tried a few in gouache so I could study the color arrangements.

These are a few modern works. From the top left: Chris Van Allsburg, Gianni De Conno, Shaun Tan again, a photo from my favorite photographer Lartigue (look him up, he has a very interesting story), Eric Fortune, Jens Claessens, Shaun Tan again again, and Peter Nguyen.

This is a good way to deconstruct works of art you like and see what makes them so appealing. It’s also a good way to rehearse successes, get a feeling for what makes a composition work so that you can apply those lessons to your own work.

Cedar Creek Parkway

About a month ago the art gallery next door to where I work put up a solo exhibit by a local artist named Rich Bowman. Rich paints gloriously colorful cloud-filled landscapes in oil, you can see pictures of them on his website. Everyday as I walked in to work I was thinking “wow those paintings look great, I should really go in there and get a closer look”. Well last Friday (I know, a month later) I noticed they were taking the show down to make room for the next and so I rushed in and waylayed the poor gallery owner in the middle of her lunch to beg her to let me look through the canvases that were still up.  It was worth it, they are spectacular in person.

Anyway, after that I was in the local bookstore and happened to be flipping through an art instruction book about landscape paintings and there was one of Rich’s pieces as an example by the author. The other work in the book was pretty great too, so I broke down and bought myself a little early holiday gift . The book is Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice by Mitchell Albala.

I’m still only a few chapters in but so far the book’s been instructive. Ever since my oil painting class ended I’ve been thinking about doing some plein air painting but it’s a little cold outside here in Kansas at the moment. Instead I’ve been taking snapshots with my camera as reference for later, and reading through the book got me all ginned up to try something (plus I just wanted to say “ginned up”).

After all the fun I had with the gouache earlier in the week I thought I might give that a try again. It’s pretty small, 10 1/4 in. x 7 in., small seems to work a lot better with gouache.

This is the four way stop at the entrance to my neighborhood. I took the photo while waiting at the stop sign (I was stopped so it’s OK). All the trees here are bare save the evergreens, and the grass is dormant. At mid day it can look a bit bleak but around 4 in the afternoon when the sun is low it’s kind of picturesque.

White Coat and Goggles

I don’t know what this gentleman is up to, but I want in.

I’ve been playing with the oil paints for a few weeks and started in on this fellow from a fun old black and white reference photo I had lying around, but things just weren’t going well. For a change of pace I got out my watercolors and gouache. What a difference!

I decided to approach the gouache the way I’ve been doing the oils to see what would translate. I painted a quick underpainting in thin watercolors (you can see the remains of it at his feet) and then went back in with the opaque gouache over top.

This went really well, I can’t wait to try it again.

Raised Lettering, Pale Nimbus, Time New Roman, Centered

If you’ve ever seen the movie American Psycho then you know how important a business card can be. Crisp letting, off white, thick textured paper stock, even a watermark. Not all of us can afford the trappings of power like that.  Some of us have to make our own.

Here’s the front of my card:

card front

And this was the original back (minus the contact information):

card back jump

I liked this idea, but the image had some issues trying to be light enough to represent a pencil test but dark enough to show up on the card.  Plus it didn’t leave much room for the contact info, so I took another run at things in gouache.

card back swirls

This is the back I ended up using, cropped tightly in around the character with contact info to his right.

Ogden and the Bird

Is there a bird upon my back?
	All non-chalant with feathers black?
	And in his eye that look of lacking
	any real wits?

I've spoke to him not fewer than
	8 or 9 occasions
	and tired to ascertain the thoughts
	that walnut brain of his has caught
	within its tiny gnashing gears
	that rather like him standing here
	but nothing seems to break through clear
	his tiny birdy fog.

So though I shoo him when he's near
	doubtless he will reappear.
	He always has, he preservers.
	He's resolute, consumed, austere.
	But if one day I turned to rear
	and looked and he did not appear,
	pretty sure I'd shed a tear,
	and miss him.

Ink Fairies — or —
Why We Don’t Go Into the Letterpress Lab At Night

Hair that's blackened to the root
	with ink; they say it makes them cute.
	And smudges on their smocks to boot,
	and clothes, and face, and birthday suit.
Make them welcome, treat them kind,
	and thank them when they come to mind.
A happy fairy's blessings spun
	will make sure that your presses run
	But if their pleasant mood's undone…
Disaster, most acute.

Library Snails


Make way for media study number 2!

I know I’ve been targeting pencil for this project, but thinking so much about color and reviewing reference material has me thinking about paint as well.  If not for this project than for others.  In any case I recently came into a set of gouache, and though this composition might be a good testbed.  The funny thing is I got about half way into painting it and decided to paint most of the color out of the thing.  I had the notion to paint back over with some watercolor washes, but the gouache is too unstable.  That’s why it’s a media study I guess.

Anyway, this is gouache on a fine drawing paper I usually use with pencil.  It’s not very thick but it held up well to the water.  There was some buckling but nothing that taping the paper couldn’t handle.  I may try stretching this paper next time to see if it can hold up.  As for this technique, it was fun to try, but the results aren’t really anything I was aiming for.