Achieving a Painterly Feel

When I work in watermedia, I use either gouache or acrylics on illustration board. But no matter what medium I’m working in, my goal is a soft-edged, painterly feel. To achieve this, I work directly: I don’t do much underpainting or use many washes. I really treat gouache, acrylics and even oils about the same—this is how I get a fresh look.

Although I put the gouache on fairly thickly, I don’t glob it on like oils. But I definitely put it on more thickly than someone building up washes in watercolor. Because gouache dries quickly, I usually mix on my palette. My gouache paintings are usually smaller, because it’s hard to cover a lot of ground painting directly when the paint dries so quickly.

I don’t do many portraits in gouache, because I still think it has a hard-edged look, even though I work to get a painterly, softer feel. Because I paint very directly with gouache it’s sometimes hard to control the edges. When I’m using gouache, I’ll often go back and soften edges either with a dry brush or by blending with a wet brush.

Acrylics handle differently than gouache. They stay moist longer, so I can work with the edges. If this doesn’t work—if I need a soft edge and I can’t get it by blending wet-into-wet, I’ll use a dry brush. Once they’re dry, you can’t rework acrylics with a wet brush. Also, if you work in acrylics, keep in mind that the more paint you get on there, the darker the colors get. If you get too many layers on, they start getting dark. If you’re going to layer at all, you have to start painting lighter than you think you want it to be.

I use a pretty traditional palette. When I’m painting in gouache (Winsor & Newton Designers), I’ll use permanent white gouache, cadmium yellow pale, orange lake light, flame red, alizarin crimson, permanent green light, permanent green medium, cobalt blue, Winsor blue and ivory black.

When I use acrylics (Liquitex in tubes), I use titanium white, cadmium yellow, orange lake light, cadmium red light, Napsol crimson, chromium oxide green, permanent green metal, cobalt blue and ultramarine blue.

John Salminen, of Duluth, Minnesota, is a signature member of several watercolor societies and has received many honors, including the Dolphin Fellowship from the American Watercolor Society and “master” status from the Midwest Watercolor Society. His work has been featured in several publications and exhibited in the National Academy in New York City and in a solo exhibit in Washington, D.C. He holds a master’s degree in art education from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and is represented by the Bryant Galleries in Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, and the Lake Area Artists Gallery in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

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