Last week I finally had all the ingredients. I took my sketches, my beautiful handmade paper, my gouache paints and got to work.
One problem: I’ve never used gouache before.
Don’t ask me why I chose a medium I’ve never used. I always liked the look of gouche. It’s richer in color but soft like watercolor. I assumed controlling it would be very similar to watercolor and that techniques would transfer between the two easily.
Get ready for a learning moment.
The very first thing I discovered is that gouache is thicker than watercolor. What this means is when I mix it with water the color is always stronger than I expect. My reds are too red, my browns are too brown, and the paper doesn’t soak it up the same way.
I completed my first scroll and frowned. That’s not how I pictured it.
My preferred style is:
+ Transparent, blotchy, blurring colors
+ Many layers
+ A few heavy, expressive calligraphic lines defining the shape
But none of that came out right. The colors weren’t transparent, they were big solid blocks that made it look like a preschool project. Since they weren’t transparent, nothing looked layered at all. And my beautiful calligraphic lines were too heavy, too thick, cartoonish.
I’ll admit it. I had a moment of despair. I wondered if I’d lost my artistic skills. I worried about disappointing the people who already pre-ordered scrolls.
But I decided I could do better.
I thought about the way the gouache behaved. Instead of using such bold lines, I added color to the page as washes. I pre-wet the paper and laid a foundation in key areas. Then I used sparing brush strokes, often playful little drags of the brush, to add rich variations in color.
And you know what? It worked.
In the final scrolls, I’ll use pen to make the final outlines, right over the gouache. It will create a dramatic contrast between the simple black pen lines and the roaming layers of color.
This scroll will be destroyed, but it helped me learn. I believe magic is beautiful. The rituals are the heirloom of the greatest ages of human hope, struggle, and myth. The objects we use to channel those rituals should be every bit as beautiful. I won’t accept anything less.
Have you had setbacks in learning your art? Were you ever ready to give up?