fine art consultant

Exploring and Understanding Gouache

When it comes to paint mediums, many people are aware of watercolor, tempera, acrylic and oil, but one medium that is often overlooked is gouache (pronounced “gwash”). Gouache is seemingly a mix between watercolor and tempera paint. It can be used like watercolors–thinning the pigment down with water and layering the colors–as well as thick and heavy like tempera paint straight from the tube. As an artist myself, I found working in watercolor difficult at first. I was unable to figure out a fitting paint to water ratio without the paint being too thick and too thin. That being said, there are many strong watercolor and gouache pieces which take advantage of the ability to layer colors. Watercolor dries with a satin finish while gouache dries matte, so if that aesthetic is desired, gouache is an excellent option.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

History

Gouache has been used in paintings since ancient Egypt. Egyptians used binding agents of honey or tragacanth glue with the pigments. Following that, the medium appeared on illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages. Although gouache was prevalent throughout the history of art, few acknowledged it or recognized its value. In 18th century France, the term gouache was developed and applied to the opaque water-based medium. Gouache was used by artists in combining different mediums to create a more unique surface in pastel paintings, as well as being used as a base layer in oil paintings. By this time, gouache began to include modern-day ingredients of gum arabic as the binding agent with an opaque white pigment, such as chalk. During the 20th century, the medium was manufactured in tubes, allowing artists to easily access it and use it outside of the studio.

How Artists Use Gouache

Landscape and nature painter Albrecht Dürer utilized both watercolor and gouache in his paintings. Because these two mediums are similar, they can work together to improve one another. In Wing of a Blue Roller, c. 1500 or 1512, Durer rendered a hyper-realistic view of a bird’s wing by using the buildable properties of gouache and watercolor. In instances like this, an artist might first put down a watercolor base to draw and plan out the values, then build the composition up with layers of gouache, creating structure, color, and details. Watercolor and gouache work very well together and can be layered to create depth and realistic effects.

Gouache vs Watercolor

Gouache and watercolor share many similarities, but one of the key differences is that gouache is much more opaque and mud-like than watercolor. In fact, the word “gouache” is derived from the Italian term guazzo meaning “mud.” For the most part, watercolor and gouache behave in the same way, but with watercolor, there is no real way to apply thick paint without it still appearing transparent. Because watercolor is watered down pigment, it has a tendency to bleed into other colors blurring the edges whereas gouache allows for clean and crisp edges. Even if the gouache was watered down, the paint would still remain opaque. Watercolor dries relatively matte but if more paint was layered on, it develops a satin sheen, while gouache dries matte no matter what.

Casey Matthews

Casey Matthews

Gouache in Contemporary Art

Today, it is not as common to see paintings only using gouache as most artists use it along with other mediums. Casey Matthews is a Florida-based painter who marries many different types of mediums and household objects to create pieces. His work includes many subtleties in color and line variation.

Spanish painter Annabel Andrews uses acrylic and gouache by laying down thick layers of paint which builds texture. Her work is very geometric with solid filled shapes sometimes accompanied by lines or other elements to help tie the piece together. The shapes are painted in a quick manner, not overly concerned about uneven edges or misalignment with other shapes.

Framing works with gouache

Because gouache is almost always done on paper, it is important to limit the amount of sun exposure to the piece. With too much sun exposure, the colors may start to fade and become less saturated than when initially put down. A good way to ensure your gouache painting is fully protected is to frame with UV filtering plexiglass and avoid direct sunlight. To learn more about plexiglass for archival use, read our blog post here.

Rebecca Shore

Rebecca Shore

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Fiber Art – Past and Present

Victoria Manganiello

Victoria Manganiello

Humans have been making textiles for thousands of years. Clothing, fabrics, baskets, and carpets are often practical as well as decorative and expressive. Because of their use as functional objects, textiles have long been seen as a "craft" rather than a type of fine art, but things are changing.

In the 19th century, British and American members of the Arts & Crafts movement started to challenge that distinction. The Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction to Industrial Revolution and mass production, advocating for a return to handmade objects and the employment of artists in creating household objects. Famously, British designer William Morris created furniture, wallpaper, tapestries, and fabrics that blurred the lines between art and craft. "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," Morris once said.

A century later, textiles were used to transform the boundary between art and craft again–this time by feminist artists in the 1970s. Understanding that textiles and fibers were historically the domain of women, feminist artists reclaimed textiles in the 70s and pushed them into the realm of fine art. Now, we call this category "fiber art."

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Fiber Art Techniques

Weaving

Weaving involves an artist using a loom to intertwine threads. By threading different colors, artists can create patterns or images in the weaving. Contemporary artists are also increasingly exploring different types and thicknesses of thread to create dynamic, almost sculptural weavings. Some artists use lap-sized looms for small pieces, while others use looms the size of a room to create large-scale wall hangings. Chicago artist kg uses weaving and found objects to create pieces that play with dimensionality.

Knitting and Crocheting

These are two similar techniques, both using a hand-held tool to create stitches or knots. Knitting uses two needles, while crocheting uses a single hook, to form patterns. Often used to make things like scarves, blankets, and sweaters, knitting and crocheting are increasingly appearing in art. Artists use these techniques to interact with objects in novel ways. Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos creates sculptures by crocheting around animal figurines. 

Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos

Yarn Bombing

This is a new form of street art that has emerged in recent years. Artists "yarn bomb" by knitting or crocheting around an object in a public space, much the way a street artist might use stencils or stickers to interact with spaces. Polish artist Olek yarn bombed an entire house Finland in 2016. 

Sewing

Sewing is the act of connecting fabric or objects with a needle and thread. Sewing can be used to create garments, often exploring the boundaries between craft, fashion, and fine art. This technique is also used with a variety of materials to create sculptural pieces. Chicago-based artist Nick Cave is famous for his fiber work, called "Soundsuits" which are both wearable by dancers or static sculptures in galleries.

Embroidery and Quilting

Embroidery is another type of sewing, which create images and patterns on the surface of fabrics. Quilting involves sewing different fabrics and fillings together to create patterns. Pia Camil creates large scale pieces from different fabrics, as well "wearable paintings" in the form of ponchos. Learn more about Camil and other pioneering fiber artists on Artsy.

Collecting Fiber Art

There are many reasons to collect fiber art. Acquiring fiber art pieces for your collection can allow you to engage with new mediums. Fiber art can add texture to a space, complementing furniture and color in a unique way. Many pieces of fiber art are "2.5D" or somewhere between two and three-dimensional works. If you are looking for a piece that can hang flat on a wall, but still has three-dimensional elements and utilizes space in engaging ways, fiber art wall hangings are a great option to consider. Fiber pieces can also have excellent acoustic properties, dampening sound in large, echo-prone spaces. Fiber art pieces of all types can add depth and texture to your collection and space.

Pia Camil

Pia Camil

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Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Art Collecting Culture

A few weeks ago I traveled to Amsterdam, the capital city of The Netherlands, to explore my heritage and a whole lot of art museums. When starting this company in 2016, I was put in a position to name our consulting firm rather quickly. After trying many options on for size, we landed on my surname which translates in Dutch to "The Great." Growing up I hoped it meant I was a decedent of royalty, but I've since learned it simply refers the stature of my ancestors. Either way, the name conveyed a sense of grandeur and was a perfect tribute to my grandmother who was herself an artist. 

After arriving at the airport I certainly found myself surrounded by those who are vertically advantaged, with a large part of the population over six feet tall. Equally great were the ways in which the Dutch lived; their iconic row houses are towering, skinny, and compact. At night I would peer into the windows as I walked along the canals and was struck by the consistent presence of original artwork on the walls. They even hung beautiful large-scale paintings in their houseboats!

Surely inspired by the multitudes of world-class art museums in their country, the line between historical and home blends seamlessly there. Many of the pieces hanging were contemporary, and it made me wonder why our culture doesn't make the leap as often. I am making a concerted effort to not only improve my own home by investing in work made by living artists but to also help others make their spaces "Great" in the finest sense of the word. DeGroot Fine Art strives to place superior, local artwork in offices, hotels, restaurants, and private collections alike.

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