When starting out many artists hunt for the magic pencil. We read books on what the "masters" used. We ask artists more experienced than us what pencil, brush, plein air box, brand of paint they use. I think this is because we're looking for the "right way" to make a picture, either to make it technically sound and "archival" or with the hope that we'll find some formula to make awesome pictures every time. I bet there are a ton of reasons why we do this.
I've been on the hunt for the magic pencil and I've seen others do it. It seems fairly common behavior so maybe it's just part of the process of developing ourselves as artists.
I think that to some extent, the tools matter. I would say they matter if they fit the criteria for an individual's idea of "good" or "useful" (if that tool yields the effect you desire). One type of pencil might yield a darker mark more easily than another. One brand of oil paint will be stiffer than another, or one brand's Naples Yellow is more yellow than that of another brand's. We have to ask questions and try the materials for ourselves to develop our own magic.
I think the tools also matter if you're studying under a particular artist who has found what works for them, and you wish to learn to paint or draw like them. The teaching artist would be most familiar with those tools and so better able to share what they know. If you use what they use you're both speaking a common visual language.
In any case I think it's not just the tools, it's the learned and developed skill behind the tool. We try the tools out and discover for ourselves what we like and what we don't. We ask because we're learning. We're searching for answers that make sense to us. Through gathering information, practice, and trial and error we learn and grow.
I've been playing around with Gouache when I can. I think it will be a great help for doing color studies in preparation for an oil painting. Plus I really like the look of it in other people's work. Here are a few small paintings I made using gouache. Both are available for sale from my Square Market online store.
Skull in Leaves $30 SOLD
Sunset Skull $25 SOLD
About my palette
As I mentioned earlier, I think gouache could be a good tool for me to do color studies with in preparation for oil paintings. I tried to match my gouache colors to the Paxton Palette that we use for oil painting at The Atelier. I also mostly use the Paxton Palette in my own oil paintings. My choice of brands were made mainly on what the gouache colors look like compared to the oil paint colors I use, the lightfast rating of the gouache, and what was easily available to me at the time. I've listed the color, brand name, and color index number.
Plus I couldn't find a few of the colors in gouache that I use in oils (Light Red and Indian Red). Here's where knowing the color index number comes in handy. PR101 is used in Light Red and Indian Red so I just looked for that on the gouache labels and then looked at how the color compared to the oil colors. As of June 2015, this is what my larger gouache palette is set up with:
Ivory Black (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBk6)
Raw Umber (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBr7)
Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, PR176)
Red Ochre (Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, PR101, PV19) - replaces Indian Red because I couldn't find it in gouache
Burnt Sienna (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBr7, PR101) - replaces Light Red because I couldn't find it in gouache
Vermillion Tone (Schmincke Hodram Gouache, PR255) - replaces Cadmium Red Light
Brilliant Yellow (Winsor & Newton, pigment not on lable) - replaces Cadmium Yellow Light
Naples Yellow (Winsor & Newton, PW6, PBr24)
Yellow Ochre (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PY42, 43)
Viridian Green (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PG18)
Ultramarine Deep (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PB29) - I have M. Graham Ultramarine Blue Gouache but it seems too bright to me compared to my oil paint.
Additional non- Paxton Palette colors
Quinacridone Rose (M. Graham, PV19)
Quinacridone Violet (M. Graham, PV19)
Titanium White (M. Graham, PW6)
Carmine (Schmincke, PV19)
Burnt Sienna (Schmincke, PBr7, PR101, PBr33)
Hansa Yellow (M. Graham, PY3)
Gamboge (M. Graham, PY151, PO62)
Sap Green (M. Graham, PG7, PY101)
Cerulean Blue (M. Graham, PB36)
Indigo (Schmincke, PB60)
I've squeezed a little of each out in a watercolor palette. They aren't as easy to re-wet as the M. Graham gouache but I think it works fine for me. One or two of the dry paint blobs did detach and go wandering around the palette. Unfortunately I don't remember which colors or brand did it, but it wasn't a big deal. I just put the paint back in its spot, wet it enough to create a paint puddle, and it dried in place.
I'm sure this palette will change over time. Right now it allows me to use Paxton Palette colors, or go for the warm and cool color combinations (Alizarin and Vermillion, Gamboge and Brilliant Yellow or Hansa, Cerulean and Ultramarine, Sap Green and Viridian). Does anybody have a color recommendation they think I might like to try?
Not bad. I ended up putting the little kit in my backpack stool. I decided to take the backpack so I could bring a water bottle, some sun screen, and a jug to carry my dirty water, plus a 12" ruler to measure off my working area. Sorry but the dirty water jug is in the backpack. It's an accordion storage bottle I bought ages ago from a photography supply shop. I take the dirty water home with me.
The pack is still pretty simple. Very nearly something I can just grab and go sketch. I'll need to use it a bit more to decide if there's anything I'd like to change.
Here's my little painting: 5"x7", gouache on Jack Richeson Finest Studio Watercolor Paper. Roz Stendahl has a thorough review of the paper on her blog. It's a recycled paper made of 100% post-consumer waste, Cold Press and acid free.
Next I have my eye on a very small tin of mints that has been lying around our house. It's about the 1.5"x2"x.375". I figure I could put a dollop of a brown or sepia gouache in it. Paired with my Niji Waterbrush in my little sketch kit I'd be off and sketching.
Anybody else have a favorite combination of tools?
I like sketching. In my explorations to keep it fun and simple, there are a few technical issues I'm trying to resolve. Part of the "issues" have to do with personal preference for comfort, ease of use, and immediacy of art making. Plus exploring different options and combinations of tools is fun for me.
I want to be able to grab my sketch kit and just go. All the stuff in one place, ready to go. Not a lot of prep time to get out the door and sketch.
I want to have the option of making mini paintings or just playing around. If I like how they turn out I can sell them. If I don't like how they turn out I can just flip over the paper and take another crack at it. Personal preference: I don't like the idea of cutting a sheet out of a sketchbook.
Pages not laying flat in a bound journal. I could solve that by using a spiral bound journal, but for me the spiral interrupts the page too much.
Not having a sketchbook/journal that can handle gouache. There are some nice ones out there now, but I'm not quite willing to shell out $15-$20 just yet.
Several things came together for my current sketch kit to solve some of these "issues". I rediscovered this blue pack I had laying around. It's from the North Light Book Club (got it years ago). The paper pack a friend gave me fits perfectly in it (thanks Roz!). I just needed a surface to put the paper on. I did some brainstorming and kept my eyes open when I was out and about in case I came across something that might be a solution.
Here's where a trip to a local second hand shop came in handy. I was so excited! I found a coated, cardboard clipboard for just $0.79. The clip part is a flat design so it fits in the pack. Since it's cardboard I was easily able to trim it down with my utility knife to a size that would accommodate the paper and fit in the pack. Excellent.
Whiskey Painters Standard Palette filled with M. Graham and Schmincke gouache (bought the palette from Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN). Colors left to right, top to bottom: Quinacridone Violet; Naphthol Red; Gamboge; Hansa Yellow; Sap Green; Cerulean Blue; Ultramarine Blue; Dark Blue Indigo PB60 (Schmincke); Burnt Sienna (Schmincke); Quinacridone Rose; empty space; Titanium White.
Viva paper towels or something equally sturdy and absorbent
Plastic water cup with screw on lid
2 oz. tube of M. Graham Titanium White Gouache
Niji Waterbrush (flat and medium round)
Pencil and sharpener
Flat synthetic brushes (1/4", 1/2", 1")
Round Utrecht Traveler Brushes (size 1, 5, 8). The brushes are in 2 parts. To store them, the brushes and handles separate and then you tuck the bristle end inside the handle.
Pack of paper just a bit larger than 5"x7". I've been liking the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper. I'm also trying out the Richeson Recycled paper with gouache.