Painting with the Midas Touch

For me, paint (whether it’s oils, acrylics or watercolors) is about texture. So even though I paint with watermedia (watercolor with gouache mostly), I’ve reverted to my classical training in oils and paint in an alla prima style, a direct method of painting. Painting this way may scare a lot of watercolorists, but as I tell my students: “There’s nothing you can put on paper that you can’t change.”

That’s why I love using gouache; it’s very freeing. I can start three paintings in the morning and then go to lunch. If I come back and decide to change a green shirt to red or see what would happen if I added some blue, I can. Because I know that I can always cover up with gouache, I’m more willing to take chances and push the envelope with my watercolors. (See Nine Birds (watercolor and gouache, 22 x 30) at right.)

Lately I’ve been adding a new element to my palette?gold acrylic gesso (Daniel Smith). One of the beauties of working with gouache is being able to work on a toned ground instead of white paper, so I often like to coat my watercolor paper with a layer of gold gesso. Because its smooth surface makes it easier to lift off color, I only use hot-pressed paper (nothing heavier than 140-lb.). On cold-pressed or rough paper, gouache tends to fall into the little hills and valleys and won’t lift off as well.

I also dip my brush right into the jar of gold gesso and use it as I would any other color. Because acrylic gesso doesn’t bond immediately with gouache, I can lift off the gold if I don’t like it or if it?s too obvious. In general, I like to add just a touch of metallic color without screaming “glitter!”

The addition of gold gesso adds weight and body, giving my paintings a unique appearance. (See Red Dress (watercolor, gouache and gold gesso, 30 x 22) above.) They don’t look exactly like watercolors, but they don’t look like oils either. I believe that the medium should be one of the last things to come to mind when you look at a painting. To me, a good painting is a good painting.

Gil Dellinger is a professor of art at the University of Pacific in Stockton, California. He’s a signature member of the California Art Club and the Pastel Society of America.

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