What paint is that?

What paint is that?

I like to keep busy, and people like to see the artist at work. That's why I brought my paints to my last craft fair this weekend. Something must have been in the air that got people really interested in the artistic process, because dozens of people asked me about the paints I use. So many that I thought I should make a little post about it! 

An image of my gouache paint kit. It has 24 tubs of paint in a rainbow of colors.

This is the paint set in question, but I own a larger set as well. Most of my chicken paintings are made with this set of paint. My piece that is currently on view at the new Mosaic Art Collective in Manchester is made with this set. I've used it for sketchbook pages, collages, mixed media paintings and more. Basically, it's my go-to set. 

This is called gouache paint, specifically jelly gouache due to the setup of the palette. Gouache (pronounced like the word "wash" with a G thrown in front) is like watercolor and acrylic decided to pool their best qualities. Like watercolor, it's water-soluble and can be re-wet if it dries out. You can thin it down to do transparent washes like watercolor. You can also use it thick to make opaque marks like acrylic. I feel that when I use it thick and am then able to go back into it and blend (since it's water-soluble) it behaves almost like oil paint. 

The palette is the reason this is called jelly gouache. Each color is in a little pudding cup that holds 60 ml of paint. For comparison, a lot of watercolor paints come in 15 ml tubes, and those are five dollars apiece at the very least. This is a lot of paint. They stay wet in these tubs because the palette seals to each cup and closes airtight.

Ok, so 24 colors with 4 tubes worth of paint each. People were shocked when I told them what I paid for it. I know that since I've had this set for 2 and a half years, inflation has already outpaced what I paid, but I quoted the last price I saw it listed for ($30) and they were shocked. As a professional artist I'm really happy with the quality of these paints, so no matter what level you're at with your art- pre-beginner to experienced pro- I think it's a good investment. They should last a long time and make you very happy.

The set I have is no longer available, but it looks like one of those instances where an Amazon "brand" changes its name for reasons unknown. Here's the closest thing I could find.  

The only drawback to this particular set of mine is one color. The blue second from the left in my photo is called Bamboo Blue by the manufacturers, and it's the only warm blue in this palette. I like it for certain purposes, but it contains white pigment. This makes mixed colors muddy, thinned paint too opaque, and it doesn't darken nicely at all. Why, oh why, couldn't they have just used ultramarine?! I have yet to find a set with ultramarine that doesn't sacrifice more important colors in exchange. 

I also have a 56-color set that has obviously more color selection, but lacks the airtight quality in my 24-color set so needs to be mixed more often. 

HIMI is the most popular brand out there for jelly gouache. Here's one more 24-color option and a basic 18-color set. I decided against HIMI for my first set for two reasons: the case is colored, which would mess with my color perception, so I chose a set with a neutral black case. The color selections also didn't include the traditional artist's six primaries (a warm and cool version each of yellow, red and blue) and instead opted for trendy colors with a blend of pigments. Single pigments are ideal, so when you mix them with other colors they're more pure and will be more vibrant. This is why Bamboo Blue sucks so much, the white makes it impure and it wants to be muddy. 

I hope this has been helpful and you rush right over to Amazon and get a set to try out! I know there's some ethical hesitation from some people to shop Amazon, but it's unfortunately the only way to get these paints in the United States right now. Hopefully soon our regular suppliers will tap into this great gouache format, but for now you can at least know that one set will give you several years' use before you have to buy again. After 2.5 years and many a painting mine isn't even halfway used. 

Use notes:

I like to spray mine with water whenever I use it to keep them wet longer, and I add more water and give them a thorough mix every six months or so. A woman I met this weekend suggested adding gum arabic when I do this; she had a similar set and said it helps keep them wet longer. 

I also recommend making a color chart. It'll take dozens of hours depending how many colors you have, but it's an invaluable tool for color mixing. Make a grid of 24x24 (for 24-color palettes) and fill each square with the mixture of the colors at each axis. Since two squares will show the same color, you could water one side down to show how opaque the pigments are and how it looks lighter. 

My favorite chromatic black (rather than using the black it comes with) is Prussian blue, maroon, and burnt umber. This is a slightly purplish black and much more lively than the premixed black, and it gets along better with other colors too. 

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