Organizing Yummy Tubed Gouache + Watercolor Paints

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. 
Come join us. Life is so
endlessly delicious." 
Ruth Reichl

Thoughts about watercolor vs. gouache and my process for organizing & documenting those luscious tubes of paint.

My organization scheme is super simple so I can pull out my paints, a jar of water, brushes, and get to my journal. Quick, easy access with little set up or tear down time. 

Identification: {left} M. Graham Artists' Gouache, Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, Maimeri Artist Gouache

Color swatches make me happy!!!

As a creative person and a grid-lover, I cannot resist these decadent color swatches. So much fun to see all of the colors like this, in real life, not on a screen! 

The first step was to cut squares of watercolor paper.

After gradually accumulating a collection of tubed watercolor and gouache paints, I realized that I needed to do some documentation and organization so that I could work more effectively. I painted one color on each card with strongest burst of paint at the top, fading into a very diluted version at the bottom so I could see the range. I used a black PITT pen to write the notes, this is a great pen for drawing, labeling + doodling as it is permanent and dries very quickly with a lovely fine line. It will write on top of gouache or watercolor [as well as acrylics if they are fully dry].

What do you do with the swatches?

  1. Swatches can be arranged, re-arranged, studied, toyed with. In other words - moved around!
  2. Laying out these swatches allows me to visualize where I have gaps in my color selection. And wow, that's a lot of blues! But can you really have too many blues?
  3. Paint is expensive. So I use these swatches as reference when prioritizing what colors to purchase next. When you lay out the colors like this you can see the gaps and visualize where you want to expand. And this of course depends on what you like to paint! Are you painting abstracts? Florals? Landscapes? 
  4. Directly compare different brands of the same color, or compare the watercolor to the gouache version.
Art journal by Tammy Garcia.
Art by Tammy Garcia.

Starting with those square swatches of watercolor paper, I went deep into research mode and made notes on each card, documenting the facts about each color of paint. 

Included in my notes are the brand, color name, pigment code(s), opacity rating, lightfastness rating. There's space for notes later - like if a color is too gritty or the tube separates or whatever. Some of this info is on the front, some on the back.

My grid-loving former accountant self had a blast. After painting all of the swatches I  toyed with the order that I wanted to place them in the palette boxes. Have no fear. This was not any sort of scientific or art school algorithm but rather ordering them in a way that pleases the eye. You get to decide the order you like best!

The pigment codes are found right on the tubes or if the tube is too smushed or illegible, check the manufacturer's website for that info. Color of Art is a free web database that includes "Color Index Names, Color Index Numbers and Chemical Composition." For example, PV23 is Dioxazine Violet, also known as Aubergine Violet, Dioxazine Purple, Egyptian Violet & Game Over Purple!!! It's comprised of Dioxazine and described as "deep dark blue or red shade violet" with level 2 opacity and level II-IV lightfastness. So there you go! 

The swatches come in handy when you need to know what the colors will look like when dry. Or to dream up new color palettes for a piece of artwork. 

Tubed watercolor and gouache paints share so many similarities that I store them together. And while they can be used straight from the tube for vivid intensity and sheer deliciousness, they are more often stored in a palette, spritzed with water, and used like pans.

Identification: Winsor & Newton Artists' Watercolor tubes; right = Professional

Next, the process of squeezing a similar amount of paint into each well, following the order I had decided {and then re-decided after they got pushed around on the table by the kiddos and interrupted by dinner}. For this step I worked ever-so-slowly to be sure I put the paint where I wanted it. Look, the deal is that you can set up your palette in whatever way you wish. I arranged them in a way that I thought would work for the way that I work. Your mileage may vary!

I squeezed a little bit of each of the W&N watercolors into the sections of the new palette. A little room for expansion. I like to mix colors, but I also like the immediacy of simply dipping my brush in a color. A visually engaging color mixing book is the Color Mixing Bible

After squeezing all of the gouache colors into the palette I made a "map" of the paints. More on that below. Gouache paint is thicker than watercolor.

I also create a map for the palettes, indicating what color is in each section. Using a ruler, I measured the number of squares I would need per row and painted swatches here as a reference. This is how I know what paint is where. When the paint runs low, I know what color to use to refill the section. And I know what colors become grainy or flake or whatever.... so that I don't buy them again!


Notes about gouache & watercolor & color selection.

Generally speaking, gouache is more opaque and watercolors are more translucent. But that is not to say that some gouache is not translucent and some watercolor is not opaque. I know this not because I read it somewhere but because I experienced painting with all sorts of colors. Experimenting and testing hypotheses is the way to learn.

Each color/pigment is different. The colors I select will be different than the colors you select. Consider what YOU plan to paint. For example, if you wish to paint nature & landscapes, you'll need the colors necessary to paint nature!

When comparing brands, you will find that some pigments have different names depending on the brand. I am admittedly a geek and enjoy researching pigments and reading reference charts and trying to comprehend the scientific details. Although I do focus more on single pigment colors, I do love Payne's Gray and other mixes. This makes it easier to work in short bursts of time with little-to-no-setup.

That's the story of how I got my tubes of watercolor paint and tubes of gouache paint organized in pretty palettes that look like edible rainbows!

Want to get into your art journal with watercolor or gouache? Let's paint!

Generate ideas and transform those ideas into watercolor or gouache; develop the ability to dive in and exercise creative thinking skills. We create tiny designs, doodles and patterns with pencil, and then paint with watercolor or gouache. We start the workshop with blending exercises and build to techniques that you can use in your art journal or on loose watercolor paper.

Daisy Yellow Tiny Museum Workshop
40.00 55.00

Painting peaceful, playful abstract designs & patterns working in watercolor or gouache.
➸ 3.5 hours of video content on private workshop website.
➸ Workshop access thru 12/31/20.
©2018 Tammy Garcia

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