IN THE FIRST PART OF OUR NEW SERIES, ARTIST KATE OSBORNE EXPLORES AN EXCITING WAY
TO WORK WITH GOUACHE
I have always loved processes and ringing the changes from time to time. We all get a bored of repeating ourselves, whether it’s the marks we make, the surfaces we work on, the subjects we choose or the equipment and materials we use. It is good to alter at least one of those options when things start to feel a bit stale.
I discovered monoprinting with gouache through a chance remark at a print workshop. The tutor commented that by adding a few drops of gum arabic or washing-up liquid (the eco-friendly kind, to avoid damaging chemicals) to gouache you could use it to print. I loved it. Initially,
I painted freehand on a sheet of acrylic and printed onto a cheap Fabriano Rosaspina off-white print paper. Gouache’s drawback is that it dries much more rapidly than purpose-made printing inks. If I was working on a large area, by the time I had finished painting, the first part of the image was often already dry. So I experimented with quickly repainting dry areas and then printing; soaking and blotting the paper before printing; and spraying the surface of the painted acrylic sheet with a fine diffuser (of water). All of these methods produced different results.
Autumn Border with Bumblebees (right) was produced with the first method of quickly repainting dry areas just before printing. A sheet of paper is laid carefully over your painted image and rubbed all over with the heel of the hand. You can check how the image is transferring to the paper by peeling back one corner at a time. The magic is that you cannot predict what is going to appear – it usually bears only a partial resemblance to what you brush, then added grass leaves with a Daniel Smith watercolour stick, which introduces different textures. The sword brush is a favourite: it is a lovely responsive drawing tool that is perfect for describing finer stems and leaves, as well as the veins in the bees wings. I added the bumblebees last to give the painting focus and narrative. Printed bees of this size can look a bit clunky so, instead, they are painted directly, and kept simple and delicate with a minimum of detail.
My allotment prints, such as Allotment, Autumn (below), demonstrate another approach to monoprinting that reverses the process used in my prints of borders. Instead of printing first, I start by painting a very loose watercolour onto paper, allowing colourfields to merge wet-in-wet. Once dry, I monoprint over the top. A way to avoid the first areas of gouache drying is to print one small area at a time, for example, the wheelbarrow, then the watering can and so on, making sure that the glass or acrylic is wiped clean between each printing. If I feel the painting needs more work, it is usually a few brush strokes, such as stalks and leaves. The underpainting with watercolour stitches the composition together and provides a good backdrop for printing.
I would recommend monoprinting if you are stuck in a rut, feel you are repeating yourself or want to experiment with a technique. It creates opportunities to have a ‘conversation’ with your artwork, responding to each stage rather than attempting to impose a premeditated idea onto the paper.
painted on the acrylic. All kinds of textures, broken areas and splodges emerge. Next there is the question of what to do with the resulting image. Sometimes it needs hardly anything – the picture speaks for itself, and additions and improvements can kill it. Sometimes I feel nothing is needed, as with Still Life with Lemon (inset). And, at other times, just the tiniest of brush, crayon or watercolour stick mark is all it takes, as with Bumblebees and Nasturtiums (above). Sometimes it needs more: for instance, going back into the painting with off-white gouache and defining some shapes: it’s one of the advantages of working with opaque paint.
If you paint, especially with watercolour, you know one of the biggest challenges is knowing when to
stop. It’s a judgement that I’ve found becomes
easier with experience, but it’s still a call that needs careful thought with every painting. I felt Autumn Border (previous page) needed more definition. The flowers were persicaria with various grasses; I darkened one or two of the flower heads and loosely drew the individual flowers and some grass stems with a sword