Testing Holbein Acryla Gouache: Stage 2


When the first stage of my Holbein Acryla Gouche test  had dried, I was disappointed to find that the Acryla Gouache looked rather dull and lifeless compared with other types of paint. The photo above is not very accurate, but you may be able to see that – even allowing for the unusual ground of a primed canvas – the overall effect clearly lacks the vibrancy of a watercolour painting such as the one below (which is on watercolour paper):

Blue-Day-in-May-finalThis is not entirely surprising, as the Holbein Acryla Gouache paints are, after all, gouache, which is intended to be opaque and will never compare favourably with artists’ watercolours for techniques depending upon transparency. However, these Holbein paints do not compare very favourably with Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache either. I don’t know whether the Holbein paints contain fillers, but they are not quite of the quality which I had been led to expect by their advertising, and some of the colours are particularly disappointing. Some colours are also not what their names lead you to expect (Crimson, for example), which is confusing although not serious in itself.

This is a pity, as the Holbein Acryla Gouche paints are particularly easy to work with, remain wet for a decent period of time, and clean up well too, but ease of working is not a sufficient basis for choice of paints: the resulting painting is of course the primary concern.

Before investigating the very wide range of acrylic paints now available – to see whether any might be better suited to my purposes than the Holbein Acryla Gouache – I decided to make a quick comparison between the Acryla Gouache and some very old Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics (now called Professional Acrylics) which I must have bought at least 10 years ago. My feeling was that all the Winsor & Newton paints I have in my studio (watercolours, gouache, acrylics, oils etc) have better pigmentation and more life than these Holbein paints.

So I created some quick colour swatches for both the old Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics and the Holbein Acryla Gouache on cheap watercolour paper. The photos do not represent the colours and brilliancy accurately, as there is very little light here at present in the dense Scotch mist, and even daylight bulbs distort colours, which of course are further distorted by their representation on the screens of diverse computers and mobile devices. I had to adjust the photos to try to arrive at a reasonable representation, but with only limited success:


It’s not dificult to see that the Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics (on the left), which are still in remarkably good condition despite their age, are capable of greater transparency than the Holbein paints when diluted, even though this is not the purpose they are intended for. By comparison, the Holbein Acryla Gouache colours on the right are indeed much more opaque, and cannot easily be washed out thinly, although this does vary from colour to colour as you can see in the Viridian on the far right. You may also be able to see that in most cases the Holbein paints seem generally less vibrant, despite some bright colours, and look as though they include fillers as well as the pigments and binder. (All these colour swatches are straight out of the tube, unmixed.)

Here are some closeup photos of the Holbein Acryla Gouache:



And here are the Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic paint swatches. (The Lemon Yellow in the closeup is not accurate, but in reality is much more vibrant. I had difficulty with the lighting for these photos.)



There is no question that the colours of the Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic paints are superior in clarity and brilliancy, and they are also capable of considerable transparency when used diluted on paper, as well as some attractive granulation, which was only present in some of the Holbein paints, and to a lesser extent.

However, when I want to paint with watercolour techniques on paper, there is no need to look any further than my Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour paints. They are considered by many to be the best watercolour paints in the world; I’ve worked with them for many years and have no reason to look for an alternative.

My problem is what to use for watercolour-like techniques on other supports such as canvas and board. The Winsor & Newton Artists’ (now called Professional) Acrylic paints range has an excellent choice of colours made from top quality pigments, but as you can see from swatches above, these are heavy bodied, high viscosity paints which do not mix readily with water. The thick paint in the top left-hand corner of each swatch shows how these paints are quite difficult to manage for this kind of technique: they are not amenable to painting out smoothly, although you can produce a very thin wash quite easily and the result has plenty of vibrancy –  but if diluted too far with water the result will be a paint film which will not be physically robust and stable. If used more thickly, on the other hand, they have a typical acrylic shiny and plastic-looking surface when dry, which can only be avoided by adding mediums. But that is not really a criticism of the paints per se, because these high quality paints are just not intended for this kind of use.

It would be possible to use Winsor & Newton acrylic mediums to reduce the viscosity and make the Winsor & Newton acrylic paints easier to work with in the kind of way I am hoping for, but the necessity of doing this in itself indicates that this is probably not the right answer, although it will be worth trying before I invest in a different brand, especially as many of the top brands are missing some of the colours I am used to, owing to contemporary concerns about using traditional but toxic heavy metals, especially cadmium…

In the meantime I should perhaps test the Holbein Acryla Gouache paints further, but so far – compared with other paints – I am not very happy with anything but their ease of working.

Testing Holbein Acryla Gouache: Stage 1


Owing to an unusual period of ill health I have been off work for several months and have not been able to contribute to this blog, but at last I am able to continue…

For some time I have been considering how to create relatively quick works on canvas – that is, quick to paint, and quick to offer for sale. Although I would love to paint in oils, it isn’t practical when work needs to be ready to sell without much delay. Oil paints need to dry out really thoroughly, and even then the canvas cannot be varnished for another six months. It’s a slow process.

Many artists use acrylic paints as a substitute for this reason, but I have never been able to get on with acrylics. I’m sure the fault is mine, but I just don’t like them, and I don’t like working with them either.

Looking into different types of acrylic paint very recently, in the hope of finding something which would provide a different approach, I happened upon acrylic gouache. I’m still not quite sure exactly what this is, but it’s some kind of compromise between gouache – an opaque water-based paint which is resoluble when dry – and acrylic paints, which are not resoluble when dry and can thus be overpainted with impunity, but cannot be blended with the layers beneath.

Intrigued, I bought a small selection of the highest quality acrylic gouache paints I could find in the UK – the Holbein Acryla Gouache range, which is manufactured in Japan. Holbein only make artists’ quality paints, and they are highly pigmented.

I had intended to try the acrylic gouache for illustration work, especially in cases where fine details need to be added over a scene painted in traditional watercolour – for example, when creating illustrations of animals and birds.

But at the same time I was starting to think about whether it might be possible to use watercolour techniques on canvas, though of course not with watercolour paints. Looking around online I discovered some tutorial clips by the American tutor Charles Harrington, who has produced both books and video tutorials on how to use watercolour techniques with acrylics.

Intrigued, I decided to try this out with the Holbein Acryla Gouache, rather than with acrylics proper in the first instance, and this is my preliminary experiment.

It’s too soon to draw any definite conclusions – those will follow in a future blog post – especially as the work was still wet when I photographed it this evening, but I certainly formed some immediate impressions…

As this was a test, I just used a relatively cheap canvas board (a pre-prepared sheet of thick cardboard covered with primed canvas), and it quickly became obvious that a much finer grained support would be required for these relatively delicate paints.


However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the ease of working with these paints, and their “sympathy” for wet-in-wet techniques. They are much more forgiving in some ways than traditional watercolour, and you can mess around with them on the canvas for quite some time providing you keep it wet.

I actually used a layer of clean water on the canvas to start with, as I would on paper – a technique which is hardly conventional when painting on canvas! However, it worked remarkably well, and unlike traditional acrylic paints, these Acryla Gouache paints did not dry out on either the plastic palette or the canvas during a session of about 45 minutes. Had I been using traditional acrylics I would have needed to add a retarder to stop them drying, and even then I’ve found they dry much too quickly. But these Holbein paints stayed wet and workable in a most impressive way, even allowing me to lift them back off the canvas with a clean brush quite a long time after the paint had been applied. In fact, by using this wet-in-wet technique on the non-absorbent primed canvas, the work stayed wet and workable for much longer than watercolour paints on paper, providing new possibilities for blending and reworking which watercolour doesn’t offer.

The colours, despite conventional names in most cases, were not quite as I expected, and I will need to adapt my mixing techniques to suit them. But despite being gouache, and acrylic gouache at that, they are evidently capable of considerable transparency, as you can see in the photos. All the white areas and pale areas are the white primed canvas support showing through.

These paints have very little body, however, and ultimately may prove unsuitable for works on canvas unless the ground is very fine indeed. A fine linen canvas is likely to be more suitable than a coarse cotton one, and would be worth trying if the rest of this preliminary experiment works out well. But at present that remains to be seen…