A couple of months ago, I finally took the plunge and bought myself some gouache paints. Although in general I love the delicacy and glazing properties of transparent watercolour, there are some subjects where the opacity and flatter finish of gouache (opaque watercolour) are preferable. I decided to use this opportunity of starting in a new medium to apply what I have learned about colour theory and gamut mapping as well as my own preferences to select only a relatively limited “personal palette” of colours.
Over the past few years, I’ve collected an unreasonably massive collection of watercolour paints. I love experimenting with new hues and pigments. However, much as I enjoy admiring and playing with my huge collection of pretties, I only use a much smaller selection of paints very consistently. In order to save money and test my own knowledge/preferences, I decided to choose only a smallish selection (less than 10 colours) of gouache paints.
My goal was to choose colours that would enable me to paint a large range of natural science subjects as well as plein-air/urban sketching. I also wanted to choose the kinds of colours that I reach for most frequently in my watercolour and coloured pencil work. I knew that if I bought a starter set of gouache with, for instance, a bright lemon yellow, I would very quickly be itching to go shopping for a warm golden yellow, even if I could technically paint all the same subjects with a lemon yellow. Each artist has their colour preferences and favourite mixes, and I wanted to buy paints that are ideal for the way I work.
My first step was to identify what gamut range I wanted, so I looked at what colour ranges appear in my finished work. My work features a great variety of different yellow-greens, from bright spring greens to mossy olive greens to dusky muted forest greens, and a surprising amount of magenta – bright pops of pure pink, deep plums, bluish magenta shadows on red fruit. I also use a few pops of relatively bright middle to golden yellows and turquoise/teal.
The rest of my colour palette is relatively muted – burnt oranges, maroon, deep moody blues. You won’t find any pure ultramarine or lemon yellow in my finished work (and in fact, I rarely use them, even for mixing). So I knew that I would need to get paints that would allow me to easily mix a good range bright greens, magenta, teal and warm yellow, plus muted oranges, reds and blues, easily.
I started by searching pigments that I really love. In watercolour forums, I’ve gotten notorious for raving on and on about my favourite pigments – PR122 Quinacridone Magenta, PB60 Indanthrone Blue, PB16 Phthalo Turquoise, P048 Quinacridone Burnt Orange, PY150 Transparent Yellow – Some of these weren’t going to work – I love PY150 for it’s transparency, but that same property makes it unsuitable for gouache and other opaque media. PO48 is an uncommon pigment in watercolour, and doesn’t seem to exist in gouache.
I was delighted to find PR122, PB60 and PB16, all from Schmincke Horadam’s line of gouache. I had also heard that Schmincke’s gouache is among the most rewettable, which I appreciate, as I may want to carry some in a dry palette.
I chose a warm yellow (PY153 Indian Yellow) and a couple of neutrals also from the Schmincke Horadam line. Initially I was looking for a rust colour, like the PO48 I use in watercolour. Unfortunately this proved difficult, and even most of the brown/sienna colours seemed to be made with multiple pigments. Inspired by the great fun I’ve been having in watercolour with Spanish Gold Ochre and Salmon from indie paint maker Pruche, I bought Titanium Gold Ochre (PBr24), and English Red(PR101), which seemed like very similar gouache equivalents.
These 6 colours were almost enough, but I felt like I was lacking dark shadowy colours and a way to make very vivid clear greens, so also picked a tube of Holbein Leaf Green and a tube of Perylene Violet(PV29) from Winsor Newton (which was recommended as a good dark in a gouache palette video by Mary Sanche) I looked around briefly for Perylene Green (PBk31), which I use a fair bit in my watercolours, and didn’t see any – I realized after my order that Winsor & Newton’s Perylene Black is made with this pigment. In a later order I may round out my collection with this paint.
In the end, I purchased the following 8 gouache paints (I already had white gouache), all from Jackson’s:
- Leaf Green (PY1, PY3, PG7) by Holbein
- Indian Yellow (PY153) by Schmicke Horadam
- Purple Magenta (PR122) by Schmincke Horadam
- Dark Blue Indigo (PB60) by Schmincke Horadam
- Helio Turquoise (PB16) by Schmincke Horadam
- Titanium Gold Ochre (PBr24) by Schmicke Horadam
- English Red (PR101) by Schmincke Horadam
- Perylene Violet (PV29 ) by Winsor Newton
Overall, I am very happy with my paint selection. These colours mostly mix and behave the way I would expect.
As you can see from my mixing chart above, I can mix a great variety of greens and plummy colours, yummy burnt oranges and deep wine and golden colours. This palette reminds me a little of a bright fall day, and I love the range of colours I can achieve.
The only possible addition I would would consider to this palette in the near future would be Perylene Black (PBk31). It is definitely not necessary, but it would easily mix very dark blacks with Perylene Violet, and work on it’s own adding shadows and variation to greenery (as I use the same pigment in watercolour).
There is one paint I would remove from this palette, and won’t be buying again. Titanium Gold Ochre (PBr24) looks and behaves likes a very slightly more muted and chalky version of Indian Yellow. I was expecting a browner, more orangey tone – in watercolour this pigment functions very differently from indian yellow, but here it does not. It is lovely in it’s own way, but given how easy it is to mix some white and palette residue into the indian yellow (something I do accidentally constantly) to get the exact same tone, I don’t really see the advantage of having it as a separate colour.
There are also two colours that like the very much, but am looking for alternatives for in the longer term future.
Indian Yellow (PY153) is lovely and everything I’d hoped for, but made with a pigment that has been discontinued from Schmincke’s watercolour lines and is no longer produced by pigment manufacturers. Cadmium Yellow Deep (PY35) which is a very similar hue and more opaque. In gouache, where opacity is a positive, cadmiums are very appealing. I shied away in this first purchase because I wanted to try less-toxic paints.
Leaf Green (PY1, PY3, PG7) is a great colour, exactly the nearly neon green I was looking for mixing spring leaves, but it is a three pigment mix containing two yellows which are not very lightfast (I somehow misread the pigment information when ordering and missed the presence of PY1). It’s fine for sketchbook work, which is one of my main uses for gouache, however I would be hesitant to use it heavily in a finished painting. Again, most of the alternatives in gouache seem to be made with cadmium, which I may decide to switch to.
I was slightly concerned when picking colours, as, coming from watercolours, I picked many pigments that are not totally opaque, even in gouache. However, I have not found a problem at all with painting light over dark. I find the slight translucency in thinner layers actually quite useful, and the transparency allows me to build up darker colours in masstone.
They are all quite rewettable and could probably work from a dry pan, although for now, I am working fresh from tubes.
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