Monthly Archives: August 2019

A venture into gouache

Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola).

Still experimenting, this time I thought I would try my hand at gouache which, unlike watercolour, is an opaque rather than transparent medium.

I painted the Bay-headed Tanager in watercolour a couple of weeks ago so thought it would be useful to do the same subject in gouache this time.

This latest work is not very good as I was learning how to use it as I went along. But I did learn a lot, including the fact that you can take more time in gouache than in watercolour.

I was a bit disappointed with one of the brushes that I used. I was looking to get a feathering effect in parts of the plumage but the paint came off in blocks. Nothing wrong with this, but not what I wanted to achieve. I need to practice with a variety of brushes in my journal to see what effects are practical.

Good fun even though I didn’t take too much time over the painting. Keen to learn quickly!


Creative focus

Doodling with a 3B pencil: upper, a single line drawing of a landscape; lower, a more realistic rendition of that lanscape.

I saw an interesting video on You Tube by Philip VanDusen on whether or not artists should follow an urge to be multi-creative or just specialise.

As a student I was obliged to try my hand at a variety of (non-music) art forms which I think is important for any artist to do in order to find their preferred means of creating art. My preference at that time was pencil drawing. I loved the feel of graphite on paper and the way tonal values could be established to create mood. I still do.

I also became passionate about monochrome photography (which had the added advantage in those days of being much cheaper than colour photography!) both because of the tonal values and the grain so, for a time, I focused on photography instead of painting or drawing.

More recently I wanted to master watercolour as it was a medium with which I had previously had some difficulty in controlling. I think, now, that the difficulty stemmed from my pencil drawing. Using a pencil to lay down tones is relatively easy, especially in greyscale drawings, whereas water takes control of where colour will settle or mix.

Watercolour artists may have an idea of what they intend to paint but they have the good sense to go with the flow when the mix of water and colour hit the paper, hoping that happy accidents will create something special.

While, temporarily at least, I am not in a position to try my hand at other creative arts e.g. printing, engraving , encaustic etc I plan to do so at a later date. I have some ideas for these mediums in my head that need to be brought out at some stage. For the foreseeable future my plan is to unlock the ideas more suited to watercolour, acrylics, oils, gouache, oil pastels, pastels and charcoal. My mind’s eye has already defined some images for each of these mediums so my priority is to let these crystalise on paper or canvas as soon as I can. I can also do these in my journal as and when I want.

So, yes I think being a multi-creative is a good idea. It offers a means to release images from ones mind in the knowledge that one medium, rather than another, will provide the way to produce the result that I hope for.

As an example I think that some of my bird or plant painting would be better suited to gouache than to watercolour. The styles and approach to painting are different, but that’s what makes this more satisfying.

Such an approach may not be best from a commercial perspective, but it is certainly good for my soul and thus may provide more interest for the viewer. If any pieces are, in my humble opinion, saleable and I decide to sell them, then that’s another matter.

Botanical or floral?

Quick sketches of plants in my journal

My favourite subjects to paint in watercolour are birds, flowers and, in last place, landscapes. I think it’s because I like the vivid colours that birds and flowers offer. I am still a novice in watercolour painting but I like the medium.

It really wasn’t until I started to study the painting of flowers that I realised there was an important distinction between “botanical” and “floral” watercolours. I have seen countless artists referring to botanical art when they really mean floral and I always get a bit irritated when I see the wrong (in my opinion) label attatched to a painting style.

What’s the difference?

The following two paintings were done quickly to illustrate the difference between the two categories. I have to emphasise that the one labelled as botanical would not pass as botanical as such … not accurate either in form or colour … but serves its purpose to illustrate my point.

Floral – Cowslip

Not a great art work by any means but this cowslip is clearly painted in an impressionistic style and thus “floral”. I threw in some non-accurate colours and some splattering to make it more interesting. The colours used were Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Sap Green, Viridian, Ultramarine, Fthalo Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, and Paynes Gray. Quite a mixture!

Botanical – the same Cowslip

As mentioned, this painting is merely illustrative of a “botanical” style. It is certainly more realistic than the floral version. However, there are too many errors in this one – values, contrast, depth … all a bit wonky. The colours are not far off but really need to be accurate to pass the test.

So, by the definition that I go by, floral painting is a much more representational form of art while botanical illustration is much more controlled in order to achieve a realistic depiction of a plant.

Botanical illustration takes effort, time and patience. Colours needs to be mixed to match those of the plant. I used just two: Cadmium Yellow and Sap Green with a touch of Lemon Yellow in the centre of the flower at the top, and an even lighter touch of Paynes Gray for some of the shadow areas.

The brush I used was a synthetic 18 round. A bit like cutting ones fingernails with hedge clippers! I do have some very fine brushes but not with me. Also, as mentioned, these paintings were merely for illustration and were done in my journal – a Daler-Rowney Graduate A4 sketchpad.

So, Botanical is realistic and Floral is impressionistic.