Watercolor: Bold Colors and Broken Lines: The Freedom of Gouache

Painting gouache on Arches black cover stock opens up a wide array of creative possibilities.

by Stephanie Kaplan

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Self-portrait
2006, gouache,
20 x 15.
All artwork
this article
collection
the artist.

Brenda Turner has a unique take on gouache technique. After working with transparent watercolor for years, Turner made the switch to using gouache once she experimented with it in a workshop. She subsequently began painting on Arches black cover stock and received extremely positive feedback. With this success in hand, Turner knew she had discovered an exciting method for creating dynamic compositions with bold colors.

Turner compares gouache to watercolor when she explains that although “watercolor can be really sensitive and lovely, gouache is bolder.” Using gouache is a more direct process because it allows the artist to put down a color and then lift it, if needed, without significantly altering the painting. In contrast, successful watercolor technique often relies on applying many layers of color, and muddying colors is a constant concern—transparent watercolors cannot be lifted easily without significantly altering the painting.

Turner usually makes her initial drawing with a white pencil on a sheet of Arches black cover stock. She loves to draw, and her paintings possess a linear quality. “I’m quite centered in draftsmanship,” the artist explains. “I like lines that are interesting and broken, and that occurs when I redraw with a round sable brush because its stroke is irregular.” Notice, for example, how Turner uses lines to sharpen the composition in a James, and how the horizontal lines on his shirt add texture and a linear sensibility to the painting. The artist also uses line to create bold wisps of hair in Self-portrait. Turner uses flat, synthetic brushes to make short, choppy strokes, but also enjoys using bristle brushes for larger areas.

Because the black cover stock provides a dark background for the paintings, the gouache colors pack a powerful punch when painted on top, as illustrated in Self-portrait. The richness in the colors “is similar to oil,” Turner explains, “and the dark background holds the painting together.”

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Flag Day
2003, gouache, 30 x 22.
City Market-West
2006, gouache, 22 x 30.
Interior Light
2003, gouache, 14 x 14.
James
2005, gouache, 22 x 30.

Turner confesses that she paints loosely with gouache on black cover stock because “I want some quirkiness in the painting.” This “quirkiness” translates into unique compositions—complete with the bold colors and fragmented lines that make the artist’s style completely her own.

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The Catch
2003, gouache,
26 x 28.

About the Artist
Brenda Turner earned both a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, and she taught art in public schools and community colleges in Iowa and Illinois. Her paintings have been included in many juried exhibitions, including those organized by the Iowa Watercolor Society (Best of Show, 2004), the Georgia Watercolor Society, and the Northwest Watercolor Society; and she has earned signature membership in the Colorado Watercolor Society, the Georgia Watercolor Society, and the Iowa Watercolor Society. Contact Turner for more information.

Stephanie Kaplan in the online editor of American Artist.

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