Seize and Go: Utilizing Gouache for Plein Air

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For ease of use and portability, gouache makes an ideal plein air sketching medium.

I’m a plein air artist who spends half the 12 months in New Mexico. Whereas hitting the paths for sketching excursions, I found a hidden canyon not removed from my studio. The quiet and sweetness has change into a each day inspiration. Most instances, it’s simply me, the wind within the pines and a canyon wren or two. After an hour or so, I return from my canyon, relaxed, rejuvenated and at peace with the world.

As a result of I hike alongside some slightly steep cliffs, I maintain my sketching equipment mild (see My Supplies, reverse). Additionally, I would like these outings to be extra about “being in a spot” slightly than “messing with gear.” My equipment facilities round a 14-pan Caran d’Ache Studio Gouache set.

You might ask, Why gouache and never watercolor? I might use watercolor for these sketches, however the opacity of gouache is extra appropriate for my portray strategy. As an oil and pastel artist, I’ve at all times been a fan of damaged shade and scumbling—two methods I discover extra amenable to opaque gouache than to clear watercolor. Gouache’s opacity additionally permits me to appropriate errors and eliminates the necessity to save the lights. As an alternative, I can punch in highlights towards the tip. As the necessity arises, I may use gouache transparently; when thinned sufficient, it produces stained-glass-like results, just like these of watercolor.

I steered the feel of the cliff rocks in Cliffside Juniper (gouache, 5×8) with dry brushed paint used opaquely. For the foliage, I first dabbed on thinned gouache adopted by opaque blots. The tree highlights are white.
I painted most of Juniper Trunk (gouache, 5×8) transparently however used opaque grey and white for the highlights and the shadowed bark.
Though among the snow in Rock and Snow (gouache, 5×8) is solely the white of the paper, I additionally utilized opaque white thickly in sure areas to convey three dimensions and to outline the form of the shadow.

Gouache Set

My Caran d’Ache gouache set consists of some slightly saturated colours. Since my canyon is generally rock wall plus bushes and bushes, I take advantage of principally the earth colours with just some of the others. The greens are a bit garish for my functions, so I tone them down with a bit brown. Then again, I’ve taken this equipment to Scotland (see Stromness Wash and Uig, Scotland, web page ••), and the number of greens is precisely what I would like there. Not all the colours are lightfast, however this isn’t an issue for me as a result of I take advantage of the gouache set just for sketching, and people sketches keep shielded from mild, closed inside my sketchbook. I don’t intend to show them, however I’ll use them as references for studio work.

I desire pan slightly than tube colours for 2 causes. First, the pans are extra handy as a result of they arrive collectively in a steel tin with a lid that’s good for mixing small quantities of shade. Tubes are likely to get squashed in my pack. Second, utilizing pan gouache saves me cash. I waste tube paint as a result of I squeeze out greater than I would like. Additionally, pan gouache is simpler to re-wet, which extends the usability of the paint. Pan gouache may even scale back bills on brushes as a result of, within the arid Southwest, tube gouache rapidly develops a pores and skin that will get so thick, that puncturing it with a brush can injury the bristles. The Caran d’Ache set comes with a tube of white, however I put out simply the tiniest quantity—and solely once I want it, usually for highlights.

My Supplies

PAINT: 14-pan Caran d’Ache Studio Gouache set, which incorporates pans of yellow, lemon yellow, vermilion, carmine lake, magenta, ultramarine blue, cyan, malachite inexperienced, yellow inexperienced, emerald inexperienced, ochre, brown, grey and black, plus a small tube of white

SURFACE: 5×8 Pentalic Aqua Journal

 BRUSHES: Richeson Plein Air Journey Brush set, which has seven short-handled brushes: ¼-, 1½- and ¾-inch flats; Nos. 2, 4, 6 and eight rounds

OTHER: watercolor pencil; container for water and water bottle, a couple of paper towels, a sheet of plastic or different stiff materials for a portray backboard (for working from my lap), clamps to carry all the things collectively, egg-crate foam (optionally available again cushion)


I scrub lots once I paint, however the 140-lb. cold-pressed paper within the Pentalic sketchbook is sturdy and may take a beating. It buckles solely barely, even with a heavy wash. The pages are sewn into signatures and lie flat, so if I need to use two pages for a wider, 5×16 sketch, I can achieve this. Generally, when the climate is cool and damp—as in Scotland—and my sketch hasn’t fairly dried, I’ll lay a paper towel over it and shut the e-book, defending each the brand new portray and the older portray on the alternative web page. An elastic band on the journal not solely retains it closed with the paper towel in place but additionally prevents injury to the pages once I cram the journal into my pack.

For Ponderosa Pine (gouache, 5×8), I painted the opaque highlights on the tree, together with the orange-lit areas of the bark. For the sky I first utilized a skinny wash of gouache after which added opaque notes of blue for a richer, darker look.
To seize the feel of the rocks in Stromness Wash (gouache, 5×8), I dragged a brush loaded with opaque gouache throughout an earlier wash.

Brushes and Pencils

The Caran d’Ache equipment features a small brush, however I are usually tough on brushes, so I’ve discovered the Richeson brush set to be the right complement. The flats and rounds have artificial bristles which might be fairly sturdy. I additionally maintain a small water-color pencil tucked into my brush set, which I take advantage of to attract a easy, mild compositional sketch earlier than I start portray. I desire this to graphite as a result of the watercolor line will dis-solve considerably and, if I’m fortunate, improve the ultimate end result (though I don’t thoughts strains displaying by way of). An earth-color watercolor pencil works effectively if I’m portray a close-up of bushes or rocks; a gray-blue is nice if I’m together with sky.

The opacity of gouache was notably helpful in including colourful bits of highlighting to the foreground rocks in Uig, Scotland (gouache, 5×8).

Though I’m a devoted oil and pastel plein air painter, I discover my gouache equipment suits my sketching wants completely. Whether or not climbing domestically or flying to Scotland, I’m glad to depart my different paints at dwelling and pack my gouache equipment as an alternative. 

Demo: Juniper in Gouache

With my minimal portray equipment, I’m at all times prepared for a fast sketch.

Step 1

Step 1

In my sketchbook, I first evenly drew the form of the juniper with watercolor pencil. I selected a blue pencil as a result of it might add a pleasant temperature distinction to the nice and cozy colours I deliberate to make use of when portray. The brown speckles are from a very aggressive therapy of a sketch on the alternative web page. I didn’t thoughts them as a result of  I knew they’d add curiosity to the ultimate sketch.

Step 2

Step 2

I like to dam in tree shadows first as a result of,  within the canyon, the sunshine appears to maneuver particularly quick. I used a grey wash for this.

Step 3

Step 3

I began making use of clear shade, thinning the gouache sufficient so it acted extra like watercolor. I used a darker, thicker wash combination of black and brown to attract the strains denoting type within the tree.

Step 4

Step 4

Subsequent, I started laying in areas of extra opaque paint, particularly within the foliage. Then I washed in some heat foreground colours—yellows, reds and browns. I added a contact of cooler crimson and magenta to the solid shadows.

Step 5

Step 5

Utilizing the sting of my brush, I scrubbed darkish notes into the shadow areas. The comb, which was pretty dry, left sharp-edged marks.


Step 6

Within the ultimate stage of Canyon Juniper (gouache, 8×5), I added texture to the bark, being cautious to maintain the comb pretty dry.  Juniper bark might be fairly mild the place daylight hits it, so I used absolutely opaque white so as to add a couple of highlights. Then again, junipers typically have shreds of heat, darkish bark, particularly within the shadows. To convey the sensation of that shredded bark, I crammed my brush with opaque brown gouache and tapped it gently for a spatter sample.

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Michael Chesley Johnson Workshops

Pastelist Michael Chesley Johnson ( is the creator of Outside Research to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Portray to the Subsequent Degree and different books and can also be a portray teacher who’s featured in a number of Artists Community TV movies ( He teaches portray workshops all through the US.