Let’s see… Last week we discussed pallets, today, let’s talk about how to most effectively use gouache paints.

Always Squeeze Your Paint into a Pallet:

Do not dip your paint brush directly into the tube. Use a palette with small depressions, called wells, and squeeze a pea sized blob of paint into a well (note: sometimes a larger sized pea is called for). Use one color per well only. I usually add 1 to 2 drops of clean water to the paint; mix it together thoroughly until it is the consistency of melted ice cream or heavy cream, and then paint. If your gouache paint has totally dried, it will take more water to reconstitute it. Just add it drop by drop until you get the hang of how much water it will take to reconstitute different amounts of paint.

Warning: I am a total water snob! Since I live in a city that has very hard water, I use bottled or filtered water to mix into my paints. I do this because the chemicals and minerals left in the hard water can change the color and consistency of the paint, and I really do not want that!

Mixing Paints or What the Heck Color is THAT!:

To mix 2 or more paint colors, I use a sheet of wax paper or a single use piece of paper called palette paper. It comes in a tear out packet like drawing paper. You can buy it at almost any art supply store in the paint section. (Note: Do NOT use drawing, typing, or any other kind of water soluble paper for a palettes it will disintegrate.) Since I have all of my paints premixed in my pallet, I generally don’t have to stop to mix paints, which is a huge time saver! Also, I did mix all of the the paints in the wells of my pallets because I know how much paint to use. Until you get a sense of how much paint it will take to mix a certain color, please stick with mixing it on a piece of palette paper.

Just so you don’t end up with gallons of paint that’s the wrong color, always (yes, another always) start you mixing by putting the lightest color you are working with on the mixing pallet first, then add the darker color to it. For example, to make a light blue, put the white on the pallet first, then add the blue little by little (very little, like Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya!), mixing between adding more and more blue, until you get the color you want.

Thinning the Paint (at least something is thin):

When you paint, especially if you live somewhere that has little to no humidity, your gouache paint gets too thick, as they begin to dry out. To thin your gouache paints, add a little bit of very clean water (not water from your brush rinse container which has pigments from your previous paints in it, which can change the color of the paint you are currently working with). Add a drop or two to begin with, mix thoroughly, and then add more if necessary. Your paint should be about the thickness of heavy cream (or melted ice cream), maybe a little bit runnier (but not by much!) when you paint with it.

When Black is Not Black:

In some of the later illuminations, especially portrait miniatures, there is a really dark color in the background that looks like black, but isn’t. If you have tried to paint a portrait miniature (or another illumination) and the color black looks too harsh on your version compared to the original, try mixing equal amounts (as equal as you can get) of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. This will make a rich, warm, black-ish color that isn’t as stark or harsh as black paint from a tube. Also, if you’re into recreating the works of the old masters in oil paint (especially Caravaggio) this is the black color they most likely use in creating the shadows of their works. If you use the Reeves paints, you will get a deep purple color instead of a black. You will get a black color if you use Windsor & Newton.

Tiny Boulders in your Pallet got You Down? No Problem, Easy Fix:

If your paint is a bit old (looks chunky, like a miniature rock field in your palette) and does not reconstitute well, you can give it a brand new lease on life by doing two things. The first is reconstitute with water and grind it (on a hard, easy to clean surface) using your palette knife. The second is to use a little bit of water and a little Ox Gall. Ox Gall is a wetting agent, and is already found in most paint mixes. It allows the pigment particles to flow instead of clumping together (making tiny boulders).

Instead of waiting until my paint gets to the tiny boulders stage, I put a few drops of Ox Gall in my dedicated to illumination water bottle. It doesn’t take much at all.

Shiny Paint:

If your paint is too shiny (plastic looking, not sparkly), it most likely has too much Ox Gall in it. That’s a sure sign on too much Ox Gall in your water bottle. At that point, use fresh water only to reconstitute your paints. There are some gouache colors that come shinier than others. If you don’t like it, then don’t use it. I have yet to find a way to get paints that are shiny from the manufacturer to not be shiny.

Those hints should help you manage your gouache paints. Until next time!

Hopefully Helpful,