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Class Introduction

Lesson 1 from: Getting Started with Watercolor & Gouache Paints

Mary Jane Begin

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

My name is Mary Jane Begin. I'm an author, illustrator, and professor at Rhode Island School of Design. This course is designed to help introduce the properties of the materials you use in exploring watercolor and gouache paints. I'll review the colors, the painting tools, and various papers and surfaces as well as the additional tools needed to create watercolor and gouache paintings. I'll show some examples, demonstrate the properties of the materials I introduce, and answer questions about the materials and methods I show, so let's get started. Watercolor is very accessible as a medium for most artists because it doesn't require ventilation like oils. It dries relatively fast and is portable. Watercolor has been used as both a medium for studies and finished work throughout time. The strength of watercolors are that they only need water to move the pigment around. They allow for smooth gradients and soft modeling transitions as well as hard crisp edges and textures. Watercolor is kn...

own as a medium that allows for immediate results without long drying time, but it's also a little less forgiving when mistakes are made. In other words, when watercolor dries or begins to dry, they are not flexible like oils. They sort of dry lighter and less vibrant than other media, so it makes a little bit of a challenge to predict what the colors will look like when they dry. Watercolors are not as permanent as other media and can fade in sunlight, so it's important to keep in mind when you're deciding where to hang your painting. Don't put it in the sun. In these examples, this is by a colleague of mine. His name is Joe McHenry. The pigment moves across the surface with fluidity depending on the amount of water used. You can see these blooms of color because the water's actually moved the pigment across the surface, not just with the brush. That's really a very common and beautiful effect of watercolor. The other thing that watercolor loves to do is create a kind of crisp edge, and wherever the water meets the dry paper, that's where the edge is created, and that's a classic trait of watercolor. Now watercolor can be loose and gestural like this quick study by Joe. The surface has to be really, really wet for the color to move with this fluid motion. The more water you use, the more fluidity of the color. Now these are much more tight images by Joe, and you can see he's controlling the watercolor more. He's using a lot less water to move the pigments so the shapes of color hold together in a tighter fashion. There's less of the fluidity except in the shadows. This is a really nice example of fluidity in the sky but a great deal of control in the shapes of watercolor throughout the piece. And you can see these beautiful edges are created because watercolor, as I said, when they hit the dry paper, you have the wet of the paint. It creates this really crisp edge. Now this is work by Rebecca Lowell, a former student of mine from RISD. She's also a student I'm working with in a graduate program at Hollins University. She's working on a children's book series, and in her work, she does a couple of different things. This piece is really fluid. The water is allowing the color to move in this wonderful undulating fashion, and sometimes she uses it with a crisp incline so it's a little bit more controlled. The color here is fluid and moving, and here the brushstrokes and the linework of the pen and ink really hold the color together. And down here with the shells and with the picture with the child on the beach, she's using various brushes to make the brushstrokes to control the color, and you can see that she's almost what I would call drawing with paint. This is Mr. Mittens. This is for a children's book that Rebecca is working on, and what's wonderful about it is she uses both wet into wet fluid color through the fur, but she's also using a particular brush to define the fur, so it's sort of a combination of wet into wet and really playing with the brushstroke, and she does the same thing with the grass. Watercolor is a very flexible medium in that way in that you can express brushstroke, but you can also let the water do some of the work. Now we are gonna talk about gouache at the end of this course. Gouache is basically opaque watercolor, so it is in the watercolor family. The difference is that it's opaque, meaning that light doesn't pass through the color, whereas with watercolor, it can become opaque, but it's also a very transparent medium. This is from one of my colleague's classes. He has the students work in gouache before they move and shift to oils. This is a nice, very quick medium, easy for studies, and you can see had them pull out the palettes for each of these pieces. You can, I think, probably kind of see the density of the color, the thickness of the color by comparison to the watercolor that I showed you before. Now these paintings are by Jason Brockert. He's also a colleague, and they demonstrate how gouache can be sort of fluid like watercolor. You can see the transitions of transparency are really textured and dense, more opaque, and almost thicker. Watercolor does not do this. Gouache does because it's a denser medium, so you can't quite get this textural response unless you use the gouache. Now when I worked on these pieces for My Little Pony: Under The Sparkling Sea, I actually made my own homemade gouache. I use watercolor, but I mix in Chinese white watercolor, which is, it's white, so it's opaque, to make a denser tonality, and the reason why I did this is that I like to cook, so I thought I can just make my own gouache, so I did, I just made it all out of watercolor mixed with the Chinese white. Now here you can see I wanted you to get the close up detail. I can work in large shapes of color, but I also work in what I call strings of color, and I use a fine brush to create little threads of color, and these are fairly opaque, fairly dense, very gouache-like, and it's just the idiosyncratic way that I work. I wanted you to see in all these pictures a range of way of working. There's not one way to work with the material.

Ratings and Reviews


I really enjoy Mary Jane Begin's style of teaching--I have a degree in Fine Art and have been painting for years, but think she does such a good job of building on the basics and encouraging play. Get your supplies ready ahead of time, if like me you want to play along. Thank you!

Kelly LaFrance

Awesome class! Awesome instructor! Exactly what I was looking for, and highly recommended. :-)


Fantastic class - so informative and inspiring. After watching the lessons, I picked up my watercolors and started playing around with some of the covered techniques. Highly recommended!

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