Practical Exercise 5 – Gouache – Tubes (2)


Medium:  Winsor and Newton gouache
Support: Cass Art Watercolour Paper Smooth, Hot Pressed paper, 300gsm (140 Ibs)
Colours: Ultramarine Blue, Naples Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Zinc White
Brushes: Long, round, sizes 1,5,8/Short, flat, 4
Size: 19 x 20 cm (7½ x 8 inches)


In this exercise, I wanted to focus on exploring the way in which gouache responds when building up layers. I worked from a photograph, taken several years ago, of a polychrome figure in the Burrell Collection. The figure of the Virgin, with its elongated features, has always reminded me of Modigliani’s paintings. Having looked at some examples of his work I decided to use a limited palette and concentrate on creating soft, blended colours.

Session 1

Initial layer and drawing

For the initial layer, I used Zinc White and Ultramarine with a hint of Alizarin Crimson and Naples Yellow. This was loosely applied with a short, flat, 3/8 inch brush. I used a mix of Ultramarine, Alizarin and Zinc White to loosely outline the figure.

Developing background and clothing

I then used a thin layer of Naples Yellow over the background to create some warmth, letting the previous layer show through. The robes were blocked in using a mix of Naples Yellow, Alizarin and Zinc White. A wash of Zinc White and Naples Yellow was taken over the face.

Session 2

Background and facial features developed

I then added a thin layer of Alizarin over the layer of Naples Yellow. This was then blended with damp cotton wool to create a weathered effect. A layer of Ultramarine and Alizarin was laid down over the initial layer for the robe, with a darker combination of the mix used for the shadows at the neck.

Three gradations of a flesh tone were mixed from Naples Yellow, Alizarin and Zinc White to begin working on the facial features. I found building up the layers tricky. Despite allowing each layer to dry the gouache of the current layer blends easily with the previous layer when it is applied. This does have its advantages as it can created subtle, blended colours but it can also lift out areas that you would rather keep.

Final image

For the final session, I darkened the colour of the robes and developed the garment underneath. I focused mainly on the face, adding shadow areas with a mix of Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson. This I found frustrating at times as some areas were being lifted off the surface and the area around the eyes was, for this reason, quite difficult.

On Reflection

  • Not my finest hour but I have enjoyed using gouache to create subtle, textured surfaces. I found that blending the paint in this way is somewhat hit and miss but, in general, the paint is quite forgiving and areas can be reworked.
  • I like the matt quality of gouache and found it easier when blending colours than building layer upon layer.

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