How to Set Up Your Cotman Kit with Gouache for Plein Air Painting (On-line art lesson #15)

Boulder Creek Sanctuary, Lillian Kennedy, 8"x10". watercolor and gouache

Boulder Creek Sanctuary, Lillian Kennedy, watercolor and gouache Click on image to enlarge.

Including white gouache turns watercolor painting into something closer to acrylic or oil painting. You don’t think about “saving” your whites or making irreversible marks because gouache is opaque and will cover what is beneath it.  You paint in layers and easily go up or down with your values. Mixing the gouache with the other colors makes them opaque too.  The illustrations show the matte surface that results.

You’re eager to get outside to paint with your easy to carry kit, right? The season is begging!  Below are some tips for setting up your goes anywhere travel kit (explained in the last lesson – #14):

Chapel Ruins in Wales, Lillian Kennedy, 8"x10" watercolor and gouache

Chapel Ruins in Wales, Lillian Kennedy, 8"x10" watercolor and gouache

  • There are several variations of the pocket-sized Cotman kits (made by Windsor & Newton). You can see mine in the previous lesson . Take your pick.
  • Unwrap each color and put double stick tape around the bottom and sides of the   containers that the paints sit inside.  This will keep the containers from falling out if the kit tips over while open. You could glue them in, but with tape they can come out for exchange or cleaning.  Doing this will save you a lot of grief.
  • Take out the Chinese White and kiss it good-bye.
  • Arrange the other colors in the positions that you prefer.
  • Spritz with water thoroughly so that the cakes soften and “meld” with their little containers. This keeps the paint from coming out of it’s personal tub and melding with the lid instead while closed – always a bummer.
  • Paint the end of the little brush red with acrylic paint or fingernail polish.  This helps you find it on the ground if you drop it.
  • When you are ready to paint, squeeze a little white gouache into the tub that had the Chinese White in it.  I carry the tube because I prefer it to be fresh and soft.
  • All the colors will be easier to use if they are softer, so spritz with water as soon as you know you are going to work – this will start to soften the surface of the dry cakes.
  • Work is sizes appropriate to the scale of the kit – even the 8″x10″ pieces that I’ve shown here are a bit big for the size of the brush.  Remember, the idea is to have the kit small and so easy to carry that you can (almost always) have it with you. Maybe you’ll like the postcard sized pads of watercolor paper.


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9 Responses to How to Set Up Your Cotman Kit with Gouache for Plein Air Painting (On-line art lesson #15)

  1. Elaine Krupnick says:

    I have never used gouache. Is it used in replacement for white?

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      Elaine, Try it – let me know how you like it.
      “Gouache” is pronounced “gwash” (“body color” also “opaque watercolor”) is a type of paint consisting of pigment suspended in water. A binding agent, usually gum arabic, is also present, just as in watercolor. Gouache differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and an additional, inert, white pigment such as chalk is also present. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.

      Gouache generally dries to a different value than it appears when wet (lighter tones generally dry darker, while darker tones tend to dry lighter), which can make it difficult to match colors over multiple painting sessions. This, combined with its quick coverage and total hiding power, mean that gouache lends itself to more immediate techniques than watercolor. “En plein air” paintings take advantage of this, as do works of J.M.W. Turner, ETC. (Definitions from Wikipedia).

  2. Janette Rozene says:

    Lillian, Your boulder creek painting is beautiful! It is great to have a little kit so that you just grab it and go paint when you have a little time. I am very much looking forward to your workshop. I have stuck with oils and never even used acrylic for the past 20 years! but I would love to learn to like watercolor.

    What size brushes did you use? In your little kit directions, I don’t see information on brushes. Are you not bringing any paintbrushes other than the little brush that comes with the Cotman kit? no flat wash brushes? or watercolor sables? no separate palette with wells for mixing colors other than what comes with the little Cottman kit? I have never gotten to like those watercolor cakes before. Maybe because I did not wet them enough. I thought maybe my problem was that I should have been using watercolor tubes instead of cakes, but it sounds like wetting them and using white gouache will make a huge difference. I have a little Windsor Newton watercolor cake set that I bought long ago. All of the little cakes fall out! so I will try the double stick tape trick.

    Do you think I can use the Windsor Newton or is the Cottman kit better? If so, I will get one! The right supplies can make a difference. Thanks for your great blog.


    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      When I do an 8×10, I sometimes bring bigger brushes , but I just use the brush that comes with the kit if I am staying smaller than that.
      Windsor&Newton makes the Cotman kits. The kit you already have is probably the one to try first. Just try it for a few minutes and then make adustments.

  3. Sally Ayres says:

    I’m heading to Scotland this week and will be using my Windsor Newton kit with gouache– looking forward to it being compact! I’m going to be painting there with instructor Margaret Evans. Should be fun if the sun stays out a bit!
    I really enjoy your weekly lessons!

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      Sally, Thanks so much. Have a wonderful time in Scotland and please let us know how your trip goes. I’d love to see some photos of your work or the landscape.

  4. Great tips, Lilly! …I’m really getting excited about the workshop now! Can’t wait to see you in NYC!

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