Workshopping weekend

First things first… many thanks to all the people in the workshop who kindly let me use images of their artwork in the image banner above! (Including the couple actually from a completely different workshop, but I think would look really awesome done in this technique ^_o). There are a couple of images still pending which I hope to add in as they arrive…

Ahem. So. Recently1 I attended a workshop by Jan Munro – whose vibrant watercolour and pastel artwork I strongly recommend you look at – on painting urban scenes using gouache resist.  Now… urban scenes are not my favourite subject, ranking somewhere below cars and other machinery and just narrowly beating studies of plants with endless foliage.


I’m a huge fan of Jan’s workshops, and intrigued by water-resist techniques in general2, so I jumped in3.

The technique – which Jan had learned about from a book by Moira Huntly4 – involves very carefully planning a black-and-white image; transferring it to watercolour paper; painting white gouache over all the white areas and, when dry, coating the entire page with non-water-soluble coloured ink (usually acrylic or Indian). When the ink is dry, the picture is, nerve-rackingly, immersed in water and gently scrubbed to remove the ever-soluble gouache (and by extension all the ink on top of it5), revealing a dramatic monochrome print-like image… however, I will leave the full details of the technique to Moira Huntly6.

As ever in a workshop with lots of people, I was particularly taken with all the variations on this one technique everyone came up with. And – since my natural anal-retentive tendencies meant I finished three days after everyone else – I tried to incorporate some of their findings into my own painting…

FIN colour smallest - squared AND LABELLED

1By which I mean over a month ago. I’m suffering from severe postlag.

2I sense some pointed looks at the almost complete lack of water-resist images in my gallery. I’m intrigued… just bad at using them.

3Not literally. That would have made a real mess of the gouache.

4Entitled ‘Learn to Paint Mixed Media’… I think. Please correct me if wrong!

5Though while the gouache remains soluble, the ink becomes increasingly hard to remove over time, so leaving the ink layer to dry overnight is not advised.

… But I just couldn’t resist dumping a load of boring general tips at the end anyway:

  • Rough paper gives a ‘grainier’ effect.
  • The gouache consistency is usually somewhere between double and single cream (assuming you want mostly opaque white areas; it can be lightly thinned with water for less opacity).
  • You can in theory tint the white gouache (or use coloured gouache) to make it easier to see on the page, but isn’t advised since any tint or gouache containing any sort of staining pigment will mar the white areas. Instead, you can hold the picture up so that light shines through the paper to see where the white gouache has been applied – and how thickly.
  • Test the ink is totally insoluble – even if it says it’s insoluble – before you put it over the gouache. Oh my yes. Or – as one attendee found to their cost – the whole detailed image you’ve just spent ages on will lift off, rather than just the white bits >_<…
  • At the other extreme, leaving the ink on overnight makes it very hard to remove, gouache underneath or not, so not recommended.
  • Applying the ink must be done very gently with a large, soft brush, fully loaded with dilute ink (maybe a third to a half water vs. two-thirds to a half pure ink depending on ink pigment strength, to improve the coverage). One stroke only to cover the whole length of your image is best, since even the lightest brushing over the gouache with ink will start to remove it.
  • If you don’t have a big enough receptacle to immerse your paper in, holding it under a running tap and gently scrubbing with a standard washing up sponge scourer usually works to remove the gouache.