From Watercolor to Gouache

It’s time to change technique.

For the last two years, I’ve been working in watercolor, and that gave me a chance to develop a good grip on this technique. I chose watercolor because I wanted to express lightness, fluidity, and transparency. It has worked well. 

Since I am aiming to expand my vision now, and to start painting on canvases again, I need to bring a wider range of expression, from translucence to thickness. So I need to change technique, at least for now.

Technique is a bit like a language, I think. When you speak a certain language, you don’t say things quite the same way as in another. Words sound differently, and expressions offer a different meaning: the music is not quite the same. So going from one to the other enriches your understanding of both.

That’s why I am doing sketches in gouache now. I am switching languages to broaden my mind. Gouache is water-based, just like watercolor, except it has more pigment and less arabic gum (arabic gum is the medium that holds the pigments). That makes it opaque, which allows for superposition of colors, light on dark or dark on light. When diluted it can become transparent, though not as finely as watercolor. That gives me a good range to work in, technically. And since you can easily correct a mistake by going over it, it is very forgiving, which is great for studies.


Here’s an example of gouache (left) and watercolor (right). Same color, not the same impact. Gouache has solidity, yet smoothness in it and you can superimpose other colors, light or dark. Watercolor is subtler, and every layer color adds to the other, so you have to be careful not to overdo it, otherwise the colors become muddy.





In this sketch (right), I am sorting out ideas for painting. Color ideas, like the red tree against the blue sky. Space ideas, as in the scale of the tree and the house in the distance.

Composition ideas and technique ideas: I kept some parts diluted so as to have transparency in some areas, as you can see in the purple trees on the lower right. 

There’s a lot to figure out, and so an easier technique like gouache allows me to mess around before I take this or another idea to a bigger scale on canvas. So I’ll keep at it for a while, let’s see what will happen.

 Louise Jalbert, “Red Tree with Blue Sky”, 2017, Gouache on paper, 12 x 9 inches