Inspired by some of my favorite bird artists of all time (Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Edwin Penny, Eric Ennion, etc.) I’ve decided to give gouache a try this year. Gouache is one of those nemesis mediums I’ve attempted to use multiple times in the past and every attempt ended in embarrassment. Here is a painting from my college days that was an assignment for a media experimentation class. We were told to render a red spherical object in light and shadow using gouache. Naturally I chose a cardinal.
Hopefully this painting illustrates not only how far I’ve come in rendering birds, but also the struggle I faced with the medium at the time. With transparent watercolor, highly saturated, light-valued colors are created by allowing the white of the paper to show through. No white pigment is required. With gouache however, you add white pigment just as you would in any other opaque medium such as oil and acrylic. The trouble is that white pigment in gouache kills the saturation more than it does using any other medium. Every hue goes chalky, cool, and dull, like the colors found in a pack of Neccos.
I know there is a solution to the problem, because other artists have mastered it. James Gurney and Nathan Fowkes are two of today’s artists who excel in the medium.
Yesterday I decided to try a small study of a Blue-fronted Amazon Parrot, being the first bird I’ve painted entirely in gouache since my disappointing cardinal.
While I still can’t seem to create the same intricacies in value and temperature shifts that are possible in watercolor, I was happy with the progress I made. Just as it takes years to master a language in order to say exactly what you want, I suppose it takes years to master a new medium. I’m invested in learning how to work gouache into my regular painting process, and hopefully you’ll see more from me soon.