Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gouache workshop

On Saturday I tutored a workshop for an art society in Gloucester.
A few years ago I had done an evening talk and slideshow for this group and several of the members were interested in the paintings shown that I had done in gouache. A workshop was suggested to help them with their paintings in this medium.
For those of you who have not heard of this medium, think of it as a sophisticated poster paint. The origins of the medium is ancient, I think I read somewhere that it goes back to the time of the pharaohs (but I could be wrong there), but it had been used a lot in more recent time by designers, until computers took over the industry. I was introduced to it when I went to college on a graphics design course in the early ‘80’s – way before computers took over.
Personally I think it would be the ideal paint to start with (that or acrylics) as it’s very versatile and for beginners especially, you can paint over your mistakes! Everybody seems to start with watercolours, which is one of the hardest mediums as it’s very unforgiving in the sense that it’s not easy to correct or go over a mistake. To achieve good results with watercolour you seem to need to know exactly what you are going to do before you put paint to paper – the colours to use, where the paint goes, where everything is with regards to composition, lights and darks etc. There is not much margin for error or alterations as you go. Now gouache on the other hand is great for this….
Anyway, back to the workshop……..
So last Saturday, on a beautifully sunny day in Gloucester, I had ten ‘students’ to work with; some had used the medium before (mostly in conjunction with watercolours) and some were new to the paint completely. This was my first actual painting workshop (I have done quite a few for drawing and batik) so I was a little nervous and unsure how the day would go. I hoped I would be able to help them get along with the medium much better and that they would go away feeling like not only was it money well spent but that they had fun too.
It was a day-long workshop and they had each brought their own photograph to get inspiration and work from; so the challenges of each one was different. I chose not to do a demonstration at the start, mindful of the fact that the day started at 10am, finished at 4pm and had lunch and tea/coffee breaks as well; which equates to about four and a half hours to get a painting done. Not much time at all. So in my planning I decided to do a quick introduction and then get them painting as soon as possible. Going around each person in turn on a one-to-one basis, dealing with the problems they faced on an individual level. However in hindsight (and with the helpful suggestion of a few of the ‘students’), I am now aware that a demonstration would be invaluable at the start. It’s easy, when you have used a medium for years (about 26 years for gouache and me) to forget what it was like when you first started using it– things like how to mix and use it; things you give no thought to now, but which at the start were quite daunting. So, should I do another painting workshop, I would start off showing things like the different consistencies to use and the effects you get, how you put the paint on, how you can paint colour on top of colour, but keep it short and limited to little cameo ‘dabblings’ as opposed to painting a picture.
As I walked around I realised, as I saw how the ‘watercolourists’ were painting, that the concept of painting one colour on top of another was ‘foreign’ to them; as in watercolour the luminosity of the paint and light is achieved with washes thin enough to allow the whiteness of the paper to come through.
It was, understandably, hard for some to get their head around using the paint so thick that you couldn’t see the paper and that light and depth is achieved differently than with watercolours.
However, the work that the ‘students’ produced was very good when you consider that they only had a few hours to use a medium they were unfamiliar with or had not used before. I was very pleased with what they did and hope that they went away feeling as though they had learnt and achieved something new. I’m sure some will decide the medium is not for them but I hope a few were inspired enough to pursue it at a more leisurely pace in their own time at home.

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