May 21, 2015

Here are some pictures of everyone working on their gouache artwork! Anyone else sticking out their tongue when they work?

DSC_0209 DSC_0210 DSC_0211 DSC_0212

May 17, 2015

Thank you all for a great workshop. I am going to continue to post information that I didn’t cover very well on Saturday. The pick-out technique will take some time to adjust to and figure out (as will getting thoroughly familiarized with the four watercolor states), but with more work and practice, you will get the hang of it. I was very impressed how quickly everyone picked up on the wet media environment. Practice some more and I will post a post-workshop assignment for you (especially for Debbie) – the three image gouache montage in a few days. I would love to get some examples of the things you did on Friday and Saturday or any new pieces you will be creating. I hope you all learned some useful techniques. Take what I showed you and push it your own direction. There aren’t any right or wrong things to do, just whether or not it looks good. If you think you are overworking an area in you artwork, you are probably right. Let those happy accidents happen, use plenty of pigment and trust the wash. I’m starting to sound like Mr. Miyagi – wax on, wax off.

May 12, 2015

Here is the video demonstration for the initial work using Gouache wash pick-out technique. If you get a chance, give it a try before our workshop.

May 11, 2015
For the Friday night session, we will focus on the four states of watercolor and warm up doing some small images. Bring in 2 or 3 watercolor papers with some subjects sketched out. Have some blank extras too. Subject matter can be anything as long as it is something “simple”. It can be something sketched from life or something from a photograph. I do like using birds as subjects for these initial practice artworks. Like I said in one of the videos, the birds allow for experimentation. You are free to pick whatever subjects you want to paint. Just have a range to pick from, just in case we need them.

Using photo reference does have it’s pitfalls. I typically xerox or print the image in black and white, so that I can develop my own color palette in the work. Color photography can overly influence negatively your color choices. I typically make a few mental notes as to what colors are in the subject matter and use (if necessary) the black and white photo reference.

For the Saturday session, we will work on the gouache pick-out technique on illustration board. Do have two or three boards prepped with the drawing(s) and gesso/matte medium glaze. Also, have a couple “raw” (no gesso/matte medium) boards with an image drawn out. We can experiment and see the differences of the coated boards verses the raw boards. Bring any reference you want/need. If you are feeling real energetic you could prep the same image on raw watercolor paper, on a gesso/matte medium glazed watercolor paper along with the two illustration boards (raw and glazed). There are so many variables to these techniques and everybody will discover a paper/board/glaze state that they interact well with.

So, have some boards and paper with subject matter drawn out and ready to work with. I don’t want to be regimented and have everyone doing the exact same thing. If I can get ten people working on roughly the same things with some slight differences we can all see and learn the broader possibilities of the media and techniques. I like reacting to the different things that can go on when I cut everyone loose with the techniques. I will have some extra watercolor paper, illustration boards and gouache if we need them.

Did I just help or make it worse?

I am going to post one final video related the the gouache pick-out technique. Keep an eye out today or tomorrow.

May 7, 2015

Here is a video showing how to prep an illustration board using Matte medium, gesso and water. Be sure to draw your image on the illustration board before coating with the Matte medium/gesso solution.

May 6, 2015

Duck Watercolor Demo


OK, I have managed to get the demo video processed and posted for you. It is about an hour long. If you have any questions let me know.

May 3, 2015

For the Friday night session, bring in watercolor paper and we will do some initial warmups using the techniques in the demo videos. Practice the states of watercolor on watercolor paper prior to the actual workshop. You will burn through a lot of paper, but it is the act of doing it and becoming familiar with the media that you can get a jump start on prior to the actual sessions.

Have a 8 x 10 or 9 x 12 sheet of watercolor paper or two with bird(s) of some sort sketched/drawn out on the paper for the Friday night session. Have some backup sheets ready. You will screw up, I promise, so have some extras ready to try again. I will post a “painting a bird” demo video soon. I remember I always liked watching someone paint – I’ll try to give you something to watch and see what I do and when I do it. If you have questions after watching the videos, let me know.

For the Saturday session… Have two or three illustration boards – 9 x 12 or 10 x 14 inch, prepped (I will be posting another demo video of prepping for the gouache pick-out technique) with an image/subject. Again, pick a subject/reference that has strong lighting and shadows. It will make all the difference in how well your pick-out, subtractive technique will go. I’ll bring some extra boards too.

The Holbein gouache will work great. Make sure NOT to buy the acrylic gouache. That will cause problems in what we will be doing. I’ll bring some extra gouache too, just in case.

May 2, 2015

I know I have promised video demos to watch and I am attempting to shoot some today. Much more difficult than I imagined. Mainly technical issues I have been dealing with, but I think I have what will work now. My first attempts were pretty miserable. They will never see the light of day.

Anyway, as to your question about subject matter. Yes, find some photographs that you would like to use as reference and subject matter. I will demonstrate the gouache pick-out technique with a portrait/face. Print a copy and transfer it to an 8 x 10/9 x 12 watercolor paper or illustration board with a 3/4 inch border. We will tape off a border with 3/4 inch masking tape. if the photograph is a color image, I print or xerox copy it in black and white so as not to be influenced by photographic color. Look for images with strong lighting – lights and shadows and don’t pick a face/portrait that is too small in the image. The shadows will do a lot of work in the pick-out, subtractive technique. Bring a range of images, doesn’t have to be a person. Animals are fine and so are landscapes and architecture. We will maybe start with a straight forward portrait to warm up and then get started on an image montage. It is one of my stand by assignments in illustration – three image montage of completely different objects/subjects assembled into a single composition.

If I didn’t answer your questions and just muddied up the water, let me know. I promise, videos are soon to be posted if all goes well today.

5:03 p.m. – I finally have some demo videos for you…

Here are the four states of watercolor/water media.

Wet on Wet

Dry on Wet

Wet on Dry

Dry on Dry

April 19, 2015
Water-based media
For this workshop, we will develop some initial water-based media skills before the two day session on the gouache wash and pick-out technique. Gouache (pronounced like g-wash) is a type of watercolor media. It isn’t a true transparent watercolor. You can use it in a technique similar to acrylic and oil paints… the more pigment you use the more opaque it becomes. But, we will initially focus on using it more in the watercolor manner.

Prior to the digital painting techniques now being used so heavily in the industry today, graphic designers and illustrators used gouache because of the fast drying nature of the medium and because it dries to a flat matte finish – perfect for photographing or scanning of the artwork. I discovered gouache as I was working as a graphic designer and illustrator. The illustrators I appreciated (Bernie Fuches, David Grove, Michael Dudash to name a few) were doing effects that I couldn’t replicate in acrylic, color pencils and oil paints – the media I was taught and used in college. I finally realized I was attracted to the spontaneous effects possible from watercolor based techniques. I had had no watercolor based painting classes in college. So, I set out to teach myself how paint with gouache, which was my introduction to all water-based techniques. After learning some initial techniques, seeing the results and how fast really effective artwork could be produced, I couldn’t believe that watercolor techniques were overlooked in my undergraduate education.

Gouache is a forgiving medium for people just learning water-based skill-sets. If you have both watercolor and gouache, you can try the techniques with both and see the similarities and differences in the exercises. Don’t worry if you don’t have both. You can use gouache in a transparent manner like watercolor. In fact, I typically do my demonstrations about watercolor using gouache. The students never know the difference. But, gouache can also be used and mixed on the palette in the same manner you are probably more accustomed to in oil and acrylic painting. That is how I initially interacted with gouache, in a very “painterly” manner. The feature of gouache I most appreciated was that I could reactivate the paint on the illustration board after it had dried. If I did something I didn’t like, I could wet it down the paint on the illustration board and push the pigment around until it looked good. You just have to be very careful not the let it all turn to mud though. Gouache is a good transition media to take what you know about mixing and applying acrylic and oil paint and bridging over to watercolor techniques.

Getting started
Using your watercolor paper pads (you can divide up or cut your paper into 4.25 x 5.5 in. format sheets), we will start with the four states of watercolor to know and understand.

  1. Wet on Wet
  2. Wet on Dry
  3. Dry on Wet
  4. Dry on Dry

The first part of each state is the condition of the brush, the second is the condition of the base (paper). So, wet brush (drippy wet with pigment) on wet paper (wet with clear water or a color wash). The next is wet brush on dry paper, followed by a dry brush (not really dry, but a damp brush with or without pigment – not drippy) on wet paper (can be clear wet or pigment wet). And lastly, a dry brush (damp with pigment) on dry paper (bone dry virgin paper or a dried color wash).

I call these the four secrets of watercolor and once you learn and understand these states, you are on your way to kick-butt watercolor and gouache magic.

This is where I will insert some demo videos soon. Stay tuned.

April 18, 2015
Discussion on supplies
My supply list is sort of like Barbossa’s “more like suggestions” than hard and fast requirements (sorry for the Pirates of the Caribbean reference). I am not by any means a brush snob, so any dual purpose brush will work just fine with gouache. Synthetics are fine. The brushes should to be able to handle a “wet” load of pigment (drippy, dye-ish consistency). The scholastic grade brushes at Dick Blick work great. Click here to go to the Dick Blick Scholastic brush page. If you already have brushes, try them out with some of the exercises I am going to post and see how they work. If they don’t seem to do the job, buy a couple of brushes specifically for watercolor and gouache and see if you like them. Everybody will have different preferences when it comes to their brushes. The Dick Blick house brand of Golden Taklon angled brush in a range of sizes will do the bulk of the “pick-out” technique during the workshop. Click here for the Taklon brushes. The flats will lay down the large washes and the rounds will do the detail work.

Student grade gouache is perfect for what we will be doing in the workshop. The Reeeves brand is what my students typically purchase for my Illustrations class… Click here for the Dick Blick Reeves Gouache Sets. These sets cost around ten to fifteen dollars. The professional grade gouache like Winsor-Newton simply has higher percentage of pigment in it. Art supplies are like race cars, the more you spend the faster you go. I had a colleague at Truman (who has since retired) who used to say… “Art is hard, takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money”, so true. Anyway… be careful and don’t purchase acrylic gouache sets. This style of gouache dries to a permanent state/film and will not re-activate with water – which is necessary for the technique we will be working with in the workshop. Technically you can do the “pickout”, subtractive technique with any media. If you were to use acrylic paints you would just have to work quickly to pick out the highlights before the acrylic dries. Once acrylic dries, it doesn’t re-activate. I have used this technique with oil paints in the past too. With oils, the issue is opposite of acrylic, it doesn’t dry fast enough and like acrylics, once it dries it is stable and won’t re-activate. The re-activation is crucial feature of watercolor and gouache that I have come to appreciate. It really provides a lot of flexibility to the media and allows for corrections at any time.

I will bring extra gouache and brushes for you to play around with too.

Here are a couple more photos of the brushes I have been working with.

IMG_1889This is a well-used Dick Blick Golden Taklon. I use 3/4 in. down to a 1/4 in. size. This is my primary “picking’ brush. The “picking” or lifting color can be done with any short, stiff bristle brush. I like the angled because you can use the tip to pick into tight areas.



IMG_1887This is a flat. This too is a Dick Blick house brand brush. Da Vinci series, I think. I lay down large washes with the flats.





IMG_1888This is a Da Vinci series round. Again, I get three of four sizes in a series. The rounds will do a lot of detail work at the back end, so the rounds don’t have to be very big. This is the biggest one that I use.



If you notice the pigment on this palette is dry. I don’t worry about it drying out. I just rehydrate the wells with water and it reactivates in a minute or two.

The Gesso and Matte Media are the same as what you would use with Acrylic painting. Click here for Matte Media  and here for Gesso. You’ll need only the small jars.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me an email.

I am going to use this page on my site as a means to communicate to all who are enrolled in the May Gouache workshop. The page will be a work-in-progress, so check it frequently for new information.  I will be posting some initial exercises for you to do. I plan to model this workshop after my Illustration class I teach at Truman State University and I have some line art and watercolor exercises to warm up the students before moving into the gouache pick-out technique. If I am real energetic and efficient, I will have some demo videos for you to watch and to try prior to our May workshop. We should be able to hit the ground running on the evening of May 15th . See you then.

Supply List

  • 12 or 24 set Gouache color set: I use Winsor-Newton: pricey but great pigment quality
  • Palette: plastic with media wells
  • Watercolor paper pad(s): the heavier the better – 8 x 10 or larger – I like the 300 or 400 series Strathmore
  • Crescent # 300 Illustration board: 15 x 20 inch – This is a great heavy illustration board
  • Range of watercolor brushes: flats, rounds and angled Taklon (for picking technique)
  • Gesso
  • Matte Medium
  • Empty mixing containers
  • Cheap 2″ brushes
  • Masking tape
  • HB pencils
  • Sharpie extra fine black marker
  • 8 x 10 Tracing Paper pad
  • Roll of Viva paper towels

Watercolor and Gouache


This is my standard watercolor palette and brush set: Flats and rounds along with sponges. I use a circular palette and layout the colors roughly in a color wheel. I put the earth-tone colors in the side wells. I do not include white on this palette.



This is my gouache palette and additional brushes. I have a cheap 2 inch brush to apply gesso and matte medium to my illustration board and I include flat and angled Taklon brushes for the pick-out technique (subtractive method). These brushes need to be stiff, to be able to remove pigment from the illustration board surface. This is a plastic circular palette in a similar layout as my watercolor palette.



I typically utilize a drafting table when working with gouache and watercolor. There should be a slight tilt to your work surface to take advantage of gravity.

© 2017 Russell Nelson