An On-site Gouache Painting

You’re invited on a painting trip…..these jaunts to make a small painting are usually short and sweet! A friend at a workshop once suggested that I could take people with me in my car on these plein air rides. This one is all cyber so you don’t even need a seat belt!

I try to make these on-site qouache paintings as often as possible. I used to do 3 in one sitting, moving from location to location, but I found that doing just one per outing worked better. For me, the amount of energy brought to the task is the first thing I look at. If TOO MUCH energy is expended in a sitting, that will be remembered the next time around, and I’ll be less inclined to venture in, because I’ll remember that the trip was rather taxing. So doing just one per outing is a good fit. I always work in a very intense way, so the work can be draining, even if I’m not at it for hours at a time. One of these excursions might take a bit over an hour.

I’ll show the progress of the piece from start to finish and I’ll show the set-up and tools I use. This whole process is very portable, easy to set up, and easy to take down, so the painting session, though hectic, remains fairly comfortable.

The first step is to load the car….all the painting materials are carried in a plastic pail that I keep in the studio because these materials are also used indoors…so I move them from place to place. I drive a bit aimlessly through the countryside here, choosing a direction based on mood….I normally do not plan where I’m going in advance. I do look for certain motifs and structures that give me a type of composition I favour. Perhaps I’ll say more about that another time. The light has to be right….clear and not blinding, with very visible lights and darks, and I respond to how shapes interact to compose a space. I also favour a distant view. In the summer I always look for a shady spot and I look for a safe spot to park. If the place is too busy, I’ll move on.

Once I commit to a spot, I try to start quickly, to leave no room for second guessing. I draw with mechanical pencil to map out the composition and suggest the division into lights and darks. I seldom, if ever, correct, or change an initial entry.

Once the drawing is made, the drawing board is clamped to the steering wheel and the gouache materials are set up ready for painting. This happens very quickly…within a minute or two.

2 large sheets of plastic, kept in a cardboard box at the passenger seat floor space, are spread on the seat and over the gear shift. Water from the spray bottle is poured into a cup, and this is put into the car cup holder. Right behind the driver’s seat, the plastic pail with all the materials is kept, and I just reach behind and and set up the brushes and 3 tiers of Pelikan gouache paints. The extra drawing board leans on the cardboard box to give me a bit more space to set things.

The mixing trays are set out haphazardly,….. they will move around a bit. These sets are NEVER cleaned…new colours are mixed upon old ones, but even though it looks rather messy, I am a bit careful about what colour I mix into what, so it’s not as out of control as it seems :)

Often a mixing tray will just sit on my lap. Colours in the little tray spaces will be mixed from the Pelikan colour sets, and I’ll ensure that enough colour is mixed if I’m painting a larger area, like a blue sky for instance.

For the shadow greens of summer, I’ll often mix one of the very dark blues with black and a touch of the very dark green. Many of these colours are too bright for my purposes, so they are often dulled by adding a complementary, or relative complementary. China white is used to lighten values, and reclaim whites when necessary. Extreme darks are often added or strengthened at the end.

Usually, before the painting is finished, I have to get out of the car to look at the painting from some distance. In this case I had to go back in and rework the trees from an earlier version because they were too light in relation to the sky. I am not often after too much visual accuracy….I’m not so much trying to match the scene as make a fascinating arrangement. The visual data in front of me guides me to a great degree…but it doesn’t have the final say.

I take a number of mechanical pencils loaded with different hardness of lead.

Once I decide the picture is complete by checking its appearance outside the car, it’s time to clean up. The round trays often have liquid gouache still in them, so I don’t stack them as that would mess up the paint, so I just lay them in the back of the car to dry…they’ll be ready to stack by the time I get home. The trays, brushes, water cup, and water bottle get put in the plastic pail, ready to carry back into the house for a possible evening session.

The plastic sheets, and paper towels used for blotting brushes, go back into the cardboard box, ready for next time. The whole cleanup is done in 5 minutes. I like to keep this set up and take down procedure simple and easy, so that next time, anticipation of the painting process remains inviting…and there is no residual memory of drudgery. My aim in everything is simply to continue painting, so I am very watchful regarding what energizes me, and what taxes me without much pay-off.

Rituals are important! I always take some sweet tea with me. After the 5 minutes of clean up are done, it’s time to sit, drink, relax, and look around. I pat myself on the back for a job well done. It seems important to take some time to record what is there, or record what effect the scene had upon my mood….it’s always likely a mix of both those things. And it’s also a type of intellectual arrangement…..the painting is an invention.This final 5 or 10 minutes at the scene, drinking my tea, are moments of gratitude. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with the successful completion of this excursion that always lightens my mood and somehow colours the world in a more positive way that might otherwise be the case. This comes not from making a masterpiece, but simply from carrying out a meaningful task.

Back at home, when the piece is completely dry, I lightly spray an archival fixative over the work. This prevents smearing when I apply 2 thin layers of acrylic varnish to the piece after it is trimmed and laminated to a thin masonite panel. Unfortunately, supply chain problems are happening due to the pandemic and I can no longer buy this fixatif…..I’m almost running out!

Here’s a short 1 Minute video of a small gouache piece made in studio…..all of these tiny works become fridge magnets, which is simply my way for people to present the art in an easy, practical way. I often video my painting process these days. I’ve gotten reasonably good at ignoring the camera. I like looking at the long versions of the videos, but I’ve developed the habit of editing the whole painting down to 1 minute, so that people will actually be willing to view it.

1 Minute from the small gouache painting 'June Line' #shorts #paintinglesson #gouachepainting

Thank you for coming on this little painting trip with me! I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you next time!