Creativity Workshop: Emergency Inspiration Kit

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Two Track by Deborah Secor

Ideally, we’d all be painting in fabulous studios with all the time in the world to devote to our work, but sometimes reality intervenes and the circumstances of our lives demand that we improvise an emergency alternative. Recently, new family needs and a radically downsized lifestyle made the dining room table my most realistic workspace. Recognizing that I couldn’t change the circumstances, I set about finding a way of working that fit my new reality. The results were unexpectedly inspiring.

A pastel artist by trade, I explored various alternative media, talking to other artists and searching online before finally deciding to try gouache. It fit some of my key criteria: Gouache can take interruptions without consequences; a brush loaded with paint washes out even when dry, which means that I can come and go freely when life interrupts; gouache lifts when re-wet, so changes are possible; and it’s clean enough to use in the dining room with reasonable care. Limited to my small table and only short snatches of time when I could paint, size too became important. Small-scale work seemed to suit me, so I launched into paintings no larger than 3×4 inches. From the standpoint of time and materials, smaller pieces relieved a lot of pressure. Risking a diminutive piece of expensive paper and laying out tiny dabs of gouache seemed practical, and I was entranced by the prospect of completing paintings in a short amount of time.

Every day as I sat down to paint, I looked forward to some new discoveries. I’ve now learned the delight of using juicy tube gouache, and my current favorites are M. Graham and Winsor & Newton. I prefer traditional designer gouache over acrylic gouache and I enjoy a range of colors. I’m using Arches cold-pressed 300-lb. watercolor paper, as well as Bristol paper, and also experimenting with less traditional Pastelmat and Somerset Black Velvet. I start with a No. 10 filbert brush, and then begin working on details with No. 8 and No. 4 flat shaders, then a No. 0 round for the tiny touches. I’m also using No. 2 and No. 3 kolinsky liner brushes. My journey has had some steep parts, but for every uphill climb, I’m enjoying a good downhill run.

It’s refreshing to have all my materials tucked away in a moderately sized plastic storage box that I keep on a shelf in the dining room. I place my finished paintings in Crystal Clear Bags and tuck them away too. I love being able to put a rubber band around my entire portfolio and carry it with me in my purse. Now that I’ve matched my medium to my circumstances, I’m grateful to be reinvigorated.

To read the full text of this article, including the artist’s tips for painting in gouache, pick up your copy of Watercolor Artist’s February 2010 issue, now available for online ordering.

Try This At Home

Take Deborah Secor’s lead and invent your own emergency inspiration kit. Try working in a new medium or a new format. You may ?nd that working with gouache on a small scale, for example, opens new doors in your creative development. Send a JPEG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your painting to with Creativity Workshop in the subject line and tell us about your process. We’ll choose our favorite paintings and publish them on our website. One entrant will receive a six-month subscription to online video workshops, plus $50 worth of North Light ?ne art books. The deadline for entry is February 12, 2010.


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