What’s The Virus Doing To Your Art?

James Gurney asked this question in a recent blog post.  He was talking to people who make a living doing art but it made me realize that COVID-19 is affecting a lot of us these days so I thought I’d talk a bit about what it’s done to my way of making art.

Quebec was very proactive in responding to the pandemic and so we got shut down pretty much the same time as the professional sports closed their doors.  So we’ve been spending a lot of time at home.  We did make one whirlwind trip to Montreal to retrieve our daughter because we didn’t want her to spend months living alone in a one-bedroom apartment.

Now I confess that before the virus came along I was dealing with winter and already trying to teach myself that drawing at home wasn’t a crime, though without much success.  Still, I’d drawn a bunch of stuff around the house.  But I started to get serious about this when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go out sketching when the snow melted.

Here’s me, in my studio before the pandemic:

Ah, the good old days.  Will they ever return?

Here’s where I spend my time these days:

I built the little gizmo to hold my laptop above my drawing surface because I signed up for Skillshare and I’m watching some courses, mostly making different kinds of marks and color blotches in an attempt to learn how to wield a brush.  Not as much fun as sketching on location but fun nevertheless.

Not wanting to do a post without some art, here’s one of a bunch of floating head sketches I’ve done from Mr. Google people.  What are you doing to while away the time.  Remember when we wished we had more time to draw?  Maybe now is that time, though I’m distracted a lot by the news right now.  Stay safe everyone.

Along The Gouache Road

I’m continuing my experiments with gouache, trying to figure out how to use it effectively.  I’m also learning how many basic concepts of painting I don’t know at all.  Giving up my fountain pen approach to capturing objects makes me feel lost.  But I feel (unsure?) that I’m learning those concepts more quickly than if I’d stuck with a pen/ink/wash approach.  In the end I think my gouache experiments will improve my pen and ink drawing and certainly my watercolors.

When I posted a lemon portrait recently, my first real gouache painting, I said that “gouache is not opaque watercolor.”  A couple people took me to task about this statement and I should have clarified what I meant and what my motivation was for saying it.  The motivation came from the many watercolorists who have said (on the internet) that they tried gouache and had trouble and the fact that I got the same problems

People try to use gouache like watercolor.  Of course you can do this, but NOT if you want to take advantage of its opaque characteristics.  You can use gouache in thin washes as you might watercolor, but it’s not nearly as good as watercolor when you do so.  It doesn’t spread, blend or mix as well as watercolor.  It lifts previous layers more easily than watercolor.  So if that’s the way you want to use it that way, you’re going to use it as a poor substitute for true watercolor  Nothing wrong with that but it’s really better to use true watercolors and then throw in a dose of white gouache at the end.  Many people do this.

If you want to paint opaquely, however, you need to approach gouache more like oil painters do (I have never done oil paintingl but I’ve watched some on YouTube :-).  They don’t lighten tones by adding solvent.  They use it to control viscosity.  They mix colors to lighten/darken tones.  They also work in layers that start thin (lean) and move to thicker layers (fat).  We sort of do the same with watercolors because we use a “tea, milk, honey” approach.  So, using water to control viscosity and color mixing for tone allows the use of gouache as an opaque medium  Anyways, that’s what I was talking about.  I make no claims to knowledge of anything so if you disagree, that’s fine.  You’re probably right (grin).

When I do gouache I sometimes wonder whether I’m learning, floundering or just creating personal embarassment.  I am having fun, however, and with the current state of things, that’s enough.

I went off the deep end the other day and did a simple landscape painting in gouache.  There was no under drawing.  There was no planning.  And most of all, there was nothing to look at because we’re buried in snow here in Quebec.  I NEVER DO STUFF like that.  Maybe it’s the cold I have or maybe it’s the “self-isolation” and “social distancing” I’m doing but I did it and here is the result.

Gouache (3×7), Stillman & Birn Beta

I also wanted to work on my ability to manipulate gouache to render an object so I painted this soup cup using only burnt umber and titanium white.  I sort of messed up the top rim of the cup but, as I said, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that goes along with trying new things.

Hope all of you are safe and have settled into your own self-isolation.  At least we can draw.