Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Moving Beyond Traditional

     I generally consider myself a traditional watercolorist.  Most of the time I paint light to dark and work through a specific spectrum of colors to arrive at a finished painting.
     The operative word in the preceding sentence is most. Moving beyond a “traditional watercolorist” is sometimes necessary to achieve the image that is in my head.
     Here are a few items that I would like to introduce you to.  You might find that they add very little to your method or approach, but give them a try and see if they don’t enhance some aspect of your work.

     Gum Arabic – I prefer the Winsor and Newton brand.  The label says it increases brilliancy, gloss and transparency; it controls the spread of wet-on-wet washes.  For the most part that is true.  Gum Arabic is a binder.  I add it to watery paint to give it more consistency.  It works great to add bits of dry brushing to the final (and upper) paint layers.  Go easy with Gum Arabic and do lots of testing.  But it can become a real asset in some paint applications.

     Ox Gall – Ox Gall comes from the bile duct of domestic cows and sounds like nothing I want near my watercolor paper after spending 4 to 6 hours getting my drawing down.  However, Ox Gall increases the flow and fluidity of your paint.  Big broad washes on rough paper are almost a necessity for an even wash.  Again, don’t get carried away.  Those early, big, broad washes that establish a tone or that serve as a block-in, can benefit from an Ox Gall application to your paint.  I try to avoid the more sedimentary colors and French Ultramarine Blue and Ox Gall don’t get along well.  So I try to use Cobalt Blue instead.  Consider its’ use and again, do some testing so you’re familiar with its’ properties.

     Gouache – The “chalk and cheese”, traditional British watercolorists frown on mixing traditional transparent watercolor and Gouache.  I leave the traditional crowd behind and do my own thing when it comes to mixing and matching these two.
     About 1/3 of my paintings are a mixture of these two mediums.  I’ve had good luck by establishing a broad traditional wash, and then as I layer up through my painting, I switch to Gouache to bump the intensity of the paint application.  Gouache is standard watercolor paint with white paint added.  I find an all Gouache painting to be chalky and powdery, and I just don’t like the final product.  However, underpaintings of watercolor and minimal Gouache applications can make your painting sing.

Desert Tarpon
     “Desert Tarpon” is a small painting that demonstrates what is possible with this technique.  It’s not loose and splashy like traditional watercolor.  In fact, it can become tedious and technical (I have to watch myself to keep from becoming too tight and detailed), but done right, it lends itself to some incredibly beautiful paint effects, which translate beyond watercolor’s perceived limits.
     If you’re just starting to paint, get a good grasp of your palette and paper choices.  When you’ve become comfortable and competent, give these three additives a try.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. Thanks Mark, this is great info, if you are ever at a loss for something to write about, I haven't yet grasped the Lost Edges you refer to in your thumbnail sketches,
    Thanks for taking the time to teach what you know,

  2. Maria,

    I will be happy to write a post on "Lost Edges". Look for it next week, and thanks for your feedback.