Studio Views: Gouache and I

sv_lin_gouacheFor the last eighteen years, I’ve used gouache as my main medium. I fell in love with its bright, crisp colors, but it is gouache’s water-solubility that has kept me faithful. Many a time, after having a lengthy color deliberation with myself, I’ll find the brush in my hand hard with dried paint. Unlike acrylic paint (the destructor of many of my paintbrushes in art school), gouache just needs a dip in a pool of water to revive itself (and save my paintbrush).

That’s not to say that gouache is without its faults. It is a different color wet than it is dry, which keeps an artist on her toes. And just like all partners, its strengths can also be its weaknesses. Gouache’s clear, brilliant colors loathe creating soft, fuzzy images. In art school, I once tried to paint a romance novel cover using gouache (with Fabio as a photo reference!). Suffice to say, gouache scorns romance with a passion.

Yet, even with its difficult nature, I am very attached to my gouache. In fact, I am even particular about the brand. Seven or so years ago, my local art store stopped carrying my beloved Turner Design Gouache. I began going from store to store searching for it. No one would order it and I couldn’t find it online. Had I imagined Turner Design Gouache into existence? Finally, after hours of searching I found a phone number and address for the manufacturing company, located in NYC.

Thus began a series of somewhat sketchy phone calls. Yes, they could sell me the paint, a woman said to me. I could send her an e-mail, but she wouldn’t be able to reply because she didn’t have internet access (?). It would be best if I came to pick the paint up in person. I could leave the payment with the guy in front and he’d give me the package. Oh, and could I pay in cash?

What was this, drugs? But even though I thought it was odd, I said yes to all of her requests. Even with fears of some sort of random police paint bust.

The truth was, I didn’t care. I wanted my paint. I needed it! Hmm, perhaps gouache and I may have an unhealthy relationship…

I did get my paint. The exchange turned out to be fairly anticlimactic, but I had been so worried about the paint’s future availability that I ended up buying about twenty pounds of it.

And that has kept the two of us together for a long time. Through thick and thin, sickness and health, twenty-eight books and many deceased paintbrushes, gouache and I have been devoted partners. Here’s to another eighteen years!

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

Grace Lin

Grace Lin

Grace Lin is the winner of the 2022 Children's Literature Legacy Award. She is the co-founder of KitLitWomen* and the host of the KidLitWomen* podcast. Her novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a Newbery honoree, her early reader Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! won a Geisel Honor, and her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star won a Caldecott Honor (all Little, Brown).

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