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Artist’s Process: Learning a new medium

Sometimes that new set of paint tubes or markers can be intimidating. I often found myself staring at a new set of paint on my desk, making no move to open it for a few days. There are times when transitioning from one medium to the next, you may feel uncomfortable and weary.

This isn’t true for all artists. Some people are naturally spontaneous and love jumping into new, unfamiliar mediums. I have become more daring as time went on, but even now my art drastically changes depending on the medium I use, and there are even mediums I tend to avoid because of that. I thought that sharing some of the methods I’ve learnt when dealing with new mediums can help other ‘cautiously-inclined’ artists start their journey with a new, unfamiliar art supply.

Firstly, research is your friend. Research the medium before you buy it, because that will give you a quick overview of what other mediums are similar, whether or not the medium needs special paper, canvas or brush cleaner and what mediums can be used with it. This helped me a lot when starting out with Gouache.

Gouache and Acrylic Mixed Media- I used the now familiar Gouache to progress into a medium I have less experience with, Acrylics.

 I found Gouache to be similar to Watercolor, which is a medium I am very familiar with. It can be used alongside both Acrylic paint and Watercolor, and it doesn’t require any particular canvas or paint board.This really helped me get started, since I could use Watercolor and Gouache together in a piece and find out what makes Gouache unique from the mediums I already used in the past. After learning to enjoy and properly use Gouache, I began to use it alongside Acrylic, a medium that I still find a challenge.

Secondly, experience is the only way to learn. Research can only bring you so far, and knowing all the ins and outs of the medium before you start is helpful. But it can never replace actually using the medium, making mistakes and learning to correct them. Copic Markers are not similar to any medium I have attempted prior to using them. It needs special paper, which I couldn’t find at the time. I didn’t see any other mediums used with Copics in artworks. Watercolor paper ruins the nibs and the alcohol ink doesn’t work very well when layered on paint.

Recent Copic Marker Illustration.

This posed a dilemma, since I have seen a lot of Copic art and absolutely loved the look of the medium. That led to the spontaneous purchase of my first four markers. I had no experience with the markers, and by the end of the first two months of using them, one already had a ruined nib. I had also stored them wrong at some point, so one end of the marker always had more ink than the other. This was the hard way of learning how to use the medium, and soon I got the idea of using chalk pastels alongside the Copics to make up for my limitations in color. I bought a new set of six markers as soon as I could, and set to work using Copics along the chalk pastels. That was when the art began to progress, and soon I stopped using the chalk pastels along with the Copics.

Thirdly, when it comes to buying the best, most expensive brand, versus buying a cheaper version of the product, try to buy the cheaper product. This will help the situation feel less risky, and help you feel more relaxed when using the medium. Some products don’t have this option, but for those that do I highly recommend it. I started Watercolors with a cheap, chalky, kid’s art set. I followed tutorials done with higher, artist quality paints, and at first, I was not limited too much by the cheap Watercolors. When I found myself enjoying and progressing in the medium, I invested in a more expensive set. That was almost three years ago. Recently I even bought a professional level metallic Watercolor set, knowing that I will enjoy and often use the medium.

Watercolor Illustration using FineTec Metallic Watercolors and Van Gogh Watercolor Travel Set.

In the end, the best way to learn a new medium is to do research, and then to actually experience the medium. Patience is key, because like most things in art, it is a growing process. Stick to things you are comfortable drawing and painting, as to not push yourself too far into unfamiliar territory. When using a new medium, I usually draw or paint my favorite original character, which helps familiarize the experience.

Keep in mind that learning a new medium is just that, learning. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it will grow you for next time you tackle that medium.

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Artist’s Process: Gouache and Acrylic Mixed Media

Although most artists would recognize and have experienced using Acrylic paint, Gouache can be somewhat of a novelty. Gouache (pronounced “gwash”) is a water-based paint that combines the best worlds of both Acrylic and Watercolor paints. Like Acrylic, it can be used to be opaque, and lighter colors can be layered over darker colors. Like Watercolor, it can be thinned with water to be transparent. It acts like a Watercolor, with the layering abilities of an Acrylic.

This painting I did with Gouache and Acrylic was done on a A2 Painting Pad. Being a fairly large piece, I felt comfortable to work in a more realistic style. This post is mostly going to describe my personal process of using the mediums, and not everyone’s’ process will be the same.

After rendering the sketch, I set to work on the paint.

Since the paints I used are opaque, I wouldn’t be able to see my sketch very well after a base layer of paint, and details had to be added slowly while looking at the thumbnail in my sketchbook. Things to keep in mind when painting with an opaque medium like Gouache and Acrylic are lighting, deepest shadows and color pallets.

In progress. Here you can see the way the paints completely cover the sketch in the areas I was painting.

Lighting is important, because you need to keep in mind where to start building up darker tones, as well as highlights. Since you can’t see your base sketch after the first layer, it usually helps to layer white on the highlighted areas as soon as possible. That way the painting won’t get too dark too quickly. Although you can layer lighter colors on darker tones with both Gouache and Acrylic, it makes the process take longer and you easily lose details as you layer.

The deepest shadows in the piece are also important to keep in mind. Too many similar tones can cause the main elements of the piece to get lost. Sometimes taking a photo of your painting or drawing and putting it into grey-scale can help with this. If most of your painting is black or dark grey, your main elements should be light grey or white. If most of your painting is light grey or white, your main elements should be black or dark grey. This helps balance the composition of the piece a bit, as well as helping you find the deepest shadows of the painting.

Grey-scale of the final painting, as well as the paints used. Note how the skin-tone and lettering appears almost white, and the inside of the cloak, chest-plate and background all seem to blend together because of the similar color tones.

Lastly, color pallets are important. Like with most paints, Gouache and Acrylic are made to layer and blend. Shading requires a lot of colors from a similar hue, but different tone, like shading a light blue with a dark blue. With so much canvas to cover and so many colors to use (as well as the fact that you can only see the base layer of paint and none of your sketch) it is important to keep your main colors in mind. What colors do you want to stand out? What colors are you going to use for shading? Are there any light reflections or colored lighting you need to keep in mind? What about the background?

A closeup of the effect that gouache gives. Like Acrylic, you can see the brushstrokes of shading, and in places you can see the more watercolor characteristics, such as the canvas texture coming through on the cloak.

As an artist who tends to dabble more in transparent mediums such as Watercolor, Gouache is an interesting transition to more opaque mediums. It was definitely a challenge to get use to, but the Acrylic and Gouache work very well together. I recommend trying out both mediums, especially Gouache for transitioning from an opaque medium to a watercolor, or from a watercolor to an opaque medium.