Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gouache: Tubes or Pans?

Today let's take a look at some questions that blog readers often ask about gouache.

Do you use gouache squeezed out of tubes, or dried in pan form? Secondly, how do you reactivate the gouache after it dries on your palette?
It is possible to use gouache in pans, since gouache is water soluble. It has the same binder as transparent watercolor does, namely gum arabic, which will reactivate when it gets wet again.

It used to be more common to find gouache manufactured in pan form, but there's at least one company that still offers it that way. Caran d'Ache offers a 15-pan set of pan gouacheMore about their gouache line on this previous post

If you want the ability to rewet your gouache, don't use any of the various "acrylic gouache" products, such as Acryla Gouache, which has a closed surface after it dries, meaning water won't dissolve the dry paint.

Can you use watercolor and gouache together?
Yes! In fact, transparent watercolor and "artist's" gouache aren't that different, because these days most quality manufacturers don't add a lot of whitener or filler to their gouache, as they did in the old days when it was called "designers" gouache.

Gouache and watercolor from reputable manufacturers such as M. Graham, Holbein, or Winsor and Newton tend to be pigment-rich and relatively transparent, unless the natural pigment tends toward opacity, such as Venetian red. Because of their close kinship, gouache and watercolor mix well with each other. So if you decide to work with pure gouache, you can achieve transparent passages, and those transparent passages are less likely these days to have that chalky, dull look that they had in days of yore.

Alternately, you can use a set of transparent watercolor for the colors, and just bring a tube of white gouache with you when you need opacity. That's what a lot of 19th century watercolor painters did, and they often called the result "body color." They commonly used zinc white, usually called "Chinese white," which is less opaque than titanium white, but often lovelier in tints.

Adding white is desirable for the following reasons:

1. You can paint over another passage opaquely.
2. A more opaque mixture can give you an absolutely even, flat layer, such as for a sky.
3. It allows you to work on tone paper, a technique with a venerable tradition.

Nathan Fowkes's gouache palette
Some painters I greatly admire, such as Nathan Fowkes, use this method. They bring their watercolors in pan form, squeezed earlier in the studio from tubes, along a live tube of white gouache brought into the field and mixed with the regular watercolor to make them opaque. 

Filling your own pans
Whether you use gouache or watercolor, you can squeeze the from tubes into an empty pan set. This saves money in the long run and allows you to refill colors when you run out of them.

I recommend the straight-sided plastic paint wells called "full pans," which snap into the standard sized grippers inside the paint box. Or you can use smaller "half pans" for specialty colors. Full pans are better if you like to use larger brushes, but the smaller half pans will allow you to make a tinier kit. I like to mix full pans with small pans. You can buy a whole whole set of plastic full and half pans and prepare them yourself with tube paint. They'll fit into an empty metal watercolor box or a larger one, which will hold 24 full pans.

If you prefer working on large paintings, you can also use a large pre-made watercolor palette such as the venerable John Pike palette.

Note: don't use one of those round, dimpled plastic palettes. Those palettes are not designed to hold dry paint. They're for mixing large amounts of watercolor washes in the studio. If you use them for a portable palette, the dry paint is apt to break off and rattle around in your box as stray chunks.

Fill the the pans just halfway up in the first squeezing, tap them against the table to get them to settle, then top off the pans with more paint. If the paint starts to crack, you can add more gum arabic to the mixture to give it more binding strength. Also, you can infill the cracks with more paint to lock it in place.

Reactivating your paint.
As you start your sketching session, begin reactivating your paint by putting a drop or two of water lightly on each pan of color. You can use a soft brush for this, or a baby nasal aspirator or an artist's sponge. Get this started even before you start the drawing, so that the paint is softened up and ready for you when you need it.

Gouache from tubes
When it comes to gouache, I prefer to use it squeezed fresh from tubes because it gives me plenty of paint of the right juicy consistency.

I generally bring about 10 tubes of gouache at a given time in my small belt pouch, sometimes fewer. I like changing the assortment that I bring with me on a given outing, limiting my blue to just Prussian blue, for example, then switching that out for another blue such as Ultramarine. That way I stay away from color mixing habits, and I often discover weird combinations of colors that way.

For a flat mixing surface, I often use the steel lid of a colored pencil box painted with white spray enamel primer. I squeeze the paint onto a layer of damp paper towel if the humidity is very low and the paint risks drying quickly. A few spritzes of mist from a mini spray bottle can keep the paint active longer.

In some of my videos you'll see me mixing my gouache on the side flanges of my small watercolor box. That's just because I forgot to bring a simple empty palette. 
Previous posts on GurneyJourney:
More about Caran d'Ache's line of gouache 
Gouache Ingredients: Info from Manufacturers

Teaching Resources
Own the 72-minute feature "Gouache in the Wild"
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March Snow in Kingston

A beam of late afternoon sunlight slashes across the road and wraps over a snowbank. The light is fleeting, and so is the snow.  A tangle of bare branches veils The Governor Clinton Apartments. I want to cram it all into my little book.

March Snow, Kingston, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I pull the car over next to Academy Green Park in Kingston, New York. It's Saint Patrick's Day, but there's not much green in view. No green on my palette, either. Just a few tubes of gouache: Prussian blue, raw sienna, cadmium yellow deep, perylene maroon, and white.

(Link to video on Facebook)
Check out our new app: Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home
iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
and for Android devices at Google Play
Gouache Materials List

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guest Post from Codeman Dan

Today let's hear from Dan Gurney, the developer of our new sketching app. This is adapted from his article in Medium called Building the “Living Sketchbook” app

Dan says: "My dad is an artist, and for a long time he’s wished for an app that would let you see every page of a sketchbook in scalable high res, combined with voiceovers and videos about the experience of creating it.

"He couldn’t find authoring software to deliver the full experience that he imagined. So I helped him build a new technology in app form, and we’ve launched it with one of his sketchbooks. It’s available now on iOS and Android as “Living Sketchbook Vol. 1: Boyhood Home.”

"Here’s how we did it…

Research + Planning

"The core idea is pretty simple — a way to look at high-res sketches with accompanying audio and video.

"We first looked at the usual suspects like iBooks and PDFs. iBooks were initially tempting, but the authoring interface was limited and clunky, and distribution was limited to only iOS devices, completely leaving out a large segment of my dad’s fanbase who uses Android. We also looked at PDFs but couldn’t find a reliable way to insert audio and video.

"In addition to having a custom user interface, we wanted to make sure that the app would run well for all users with no formatting issues.

"So I decided to build an app from scratch. Recently I’ve been using a new technology called React Native. It’s built by the team at Facebook, it’s open source, and instead of writing completely separate apps for Android and iOS, you can write one app which works natively on both platforms.

"When I first heard about React Native — after spending months learning Swift — I was skeptical. iOS and Android with the same codebase… it seemed too easy.

"Then I looked into it and realized that not only did it compile to native code, but I could also apply my existing knowledge of CSS and HTML thanks to JSX. Conceptually it was an easy call, so despite my time investment into Swift, I jumped in.

"Boy am I glad I did. Despite a few annoying compatibility errors and other small snafus, I find RN faster, simpler, and more consistent than Swift. The RN documentation online is vibrant and extensive. So when it came time to build the “Living Sketchbook,” RN was the clear way to go.

Design + Build
"After some on-paper wireframes, I did the visual design in Sketch. I kept the UI simple, with buttons for table of contents, voiceover, video (where applicable), and info. I used Google’s Material Design icons which look great and are familiar to people.

"The initial setup and layout for the app went fairly smoothly. We wanted it to run equally well on phones and tablets, so I built an adaptive layout that would expand to fill available screen space. Props to React Native’s handy “Dimensions” feature which lets you detect the screen size upon initial app load and subsequent device rotation.

"The first real roadblock came when I began testing the app on actual devices. These high resolution images are BIG. About 5000 pixels across. And it turns out that older iPads, and stock Android devices, can’t really handle them at all, leading to an app crash.

"So I had to do some combination of optimizing the app for older devices, and/or limiting which devices could run the app.

"I wanted to support as many devices as possible, so my first approach was optimization. Instead of loading 25 high-res images at once (and storing them in the device’s memory), I loaded only the full image you were currently viewing, and used placeholder thumbnails for the rest.

"This helped tremendously, especially on Android devices, but older iPads just didn’t have the processor to handle even one high definition image, so I “gated” the app to iOS devices with arm64 processors and above. To cut out the oldest devices on the Android side, I specified Android KitKat (4.4) and above.

"One other difficulty came with the panning, zooming, and swiping mechanics. Due to the native differences between iOS and Android, as well as some disparities in React Native support, I had to write custom components which targeted specifically iOS or Android using RN’s handy “component.ios.js” and “” convention.

"The iOS component used a native ScrollView with some minor tweaks, including a custom PanResponder to register fast swipes happening during animation transitions. The Android component used “react-native-transformable-image” with some customizations to the touch responder in the “react-native-view-transformer” dependency.

"Optimizing performance, testing on different devices, and writing custom touch interactions definitely took the bulk of the development time – at least 60%. This is one area where writing for two platforms at once can be a headache. But hey, it still took way less time than writing two completely separate apps. I’d estimate altogether, I had about 90% code reuse.

"One thing I loved — it was cool seeing these open source components being updated in real time by the community. React Native is truly a living piece of technology and is improving all the time. That can lead to headaches when it comes to updating software and dependencies, but in my opinion it’s worth the trouble.

"At the end of the day, I used these plugins (thanks to all of the awesome authors):
react-native-code-push, react-native-photo-view, react-native-sound, react-native-splash-screen (for initial loading screens), react-native-svg (to render Material Design icons), react-native-swiper, react-native-timer, react-native-transformable-image (pinch to zoom on Android), react-native-video, react-redux, redux-thunk

"Once I had tested the app fairly extensively on a motley collection of iPads, iPhones, and Androids, it was time to get some beta feedback. There are so many devices out there — especially Android! — that we needed to know which devices simply wouldn’t be able to run the app.

"Luckily, my dad’s fans are really engaged and happy to help provide feedback on new products. We announced a limited beta program on my dad’s blog and used a Google Form to collect responses. Then, I made a spreadsheet with a representative sample of devices and assigned beta testers to cover the range, focusing especially on the “gray area” of older devices which may or may not work. We also asked testers about the interface, overall experience, bugs, and suggested selling price, again collecting responses via a Google Form.

"The feedback was extremely useful and we learned a lot about device compatibility as well as pricing. It was interesting that iOS users seemed willing to pay more than Android users — about 2–3x as much. However, in our case, we didn’t want to charge some people more than others, so we reduced the price to match on both platforms.

"Articles, like apps, always take longer than you think…

"As launch approached, I put together app store screenshots using Sketch, which provides handy size presets.

"The icon was fun, as we wanted something “handmade” to balance out the clean digital lines, and ended up using an original drawing by my dad.

"I uploaded the screenshots, icons, and final app binaries to the app stores, with Code Push included so I could push any updates over the air.

"My dad handled all the marketing, as he has a great process developed through his past art instruction videos.

"And now hopefully you all are enjoying the Living Sketchbook! Thanks for reading. I had a blast building this app, and the process only deepened my appreciation for React Native. Building for iOS and Android simultaneously — with live app previewing throughout — is an amazing tool to have.

"You can download “Living Sketchbook Vol. 1: Boyhood Home” now on iOSand Android.

"If you’d like to inquire about your own app project, you can reach me at gurney.dan (at)

"Thanks and have a great day."
There's a review of "The Living Sketchbook, Vol.1" in today's post on the art blog Lines and Colors by Charley Parker.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Living Sketchbook App is Live

The Living Sketchbook™ is new technology that lets you experience one of my sketchbooks on your smartphone or tablet. (Link to video trailer on YouTube)

The first in the series, Volume 1: Boyhood Home, is now available for iOS iPhones and iPads at the App Store and for Android phones and tablets at Google Play. (Note that if you aren't able to purchase it, it may be because you have an older model of iOS or Android.)

Praise for The Living Sketchbook
“It’s as nice as having James’s sketchbook in my hands! Only with the added bonus of actually being able to see him manipulate the image. Having followed many of these pieces and seeing the originals in some cases, I find that this is a really helpful tool to see how he paints in real life and being able to examine the images at my leisure to see the way that the final brushstrokes are put down. I hope that James adds more sketchbooks and/or pages so that I can get even more inspiration from his work.”
—Michael Mrak, Design Director, Scientific American

"When I found out about his app, I thought to myself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” It embraces technology and allows users an opportunity to get closer to an artist’s sketchbook...The app was really intuitive and easy to navigate. To go to next page, you swipe the image. To zoom in, you pinch outwards. Last but not least, there are buttons that brings out the voice narrations with occasional videos of how he has painted on-site. Imagine a talking sketchbook with videos.”
—Erwin Lian, The Perfect Sketchbook

“This app is outstanding! One of my favorite aspects of James Gurney's videos is getting the opportunity to hear his thoughts about the pieces he is painting. I love that I can get that same experience while enjoying the detailed views of the high-resolution sketches in the app.”
—Jon Schindehette, Art Director, Art Order
Coding and development by Dan Gurney. 
Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home
iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
and for Android devices at Google Play

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RIP Bernie Wrightson

I'm sad to hear about the passing of horror illustrator and concept artist Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). He's at the center of this picture, which also includes Pete Von Sholly (far left) and Dave Merritt at Jonas' Studios in 1993.

Menzel's Painting Mediums

"Traveling in beautiful nature" by Adolph Menzel, gouache, 11x15 inches
A question came in: "James Gurney, can you tell us what medium(s) Adolph Menzel used when he painted?"

He used them all: oil, gouache, watercolor, and pastel. His friend Paul Meyerheim observed that Menzel’s technique was always different from other artists of his time because he was not a product of the academy.

Painting in oils did not come easily for him, and he didn’t care very much for technical finesse. He used children’s watercolor pigments, exhausted bristle brushes, and a palette made from a toothpaste dish. After 1887 he declared that he would retire his oils in favor of gouache. He felt gouache was more suited to capturing certain natural effects. 

According to Meyerheim, “It didn’t appear right to him to present dry stone, a sandy path, or a woolen sheep as if all of those things had been drenched in oil and varnish. . . . He expressed his greatest truths in pastels, watercolors, and gouache.”
The painting above appears in color in my recent book Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, and my answer is adapted from my introduction.