Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SoHo Urban Artist Gouache

When I reviewed my Ebony Splendor Brights brushes, I didn't realize that I hadn't already reviewed the SoHo Urban Artist Gouache that I tested them with. I used them with the SoHo Urban Artist Acrylics but didn't post that example - only the gouache painting I did with them. Well, here it is again in context.

This is an example of the kind of subtle mixing and texturing possible with SoHo Urban Artist Gouache. The set's regular price at Jerry's Artarama is $9.99 for 12 big 30ml pots of rich, highly pigmented designer gouache. Pigments are non-toxic and binder is gum arabic - this is traditional opaque watercolor suitable for any illustration uses, sketchbooks, art journaling, sign painting, color mixing and color theory courses, recreating medieval and Renaissance illuminations (the miniature artworks and borders in manuscripts, scrolls and documents).

Because lightfastness is not mentioned with this product, I do not recommend it for wall paintings that may be exposed to light. If you use it for those purposes, consider a UV protective varnish and glazing the painting with UV protective museum glass or acrylic. It's possible to preserve fugitive mediums and I expect the lightfastness to be better than children's products, but not up in the range of expensive artist grade gouaches like Lukas, Holbein or Winsor & Newton.

In fact, even in those top quality artist grade gouaches, it's important to check the lightfastness rating of the pigments you choose. That's only a consideration in one sort of gouache painting - those that hang framed on walls. For all other applications, this is excellent gouache and can be used for any design or illustration purpose. ACEO/ATC miniature artworks are normally kept in albums with UV-protective sleeves on them, so I don't concern myself with lightfast mediums when doing them other than to caution the buyer or recipieent that I may have used some fugitive colors. Don't display gouache paintings for a long time, store in cool dark places and enjoy.

This makes them perfect for art journaling since the bound artworks aren't exposed to light until you open the book to that page. I'd suggest using lightfast acrylics for cover decoration on art journals.

I've used gouache for decades. A good gouache is opaque but can be thinned till it behaves like watercolor, which takes a lot of water. It can be as runny as ink or used as a heavy body paint that even takes some texturing strokes with a bristle brush.

The quality and pigment load are comparable to Yarka/Richeson gouache, along with the price. Yarka's a couple of dollars more and the pots are 40ml instead of 30ml, making this set a little bit more compact. The quantity of paint for that price is excellent in both products. The mixing qualities are splendid.

The red is a good spectrum red that tints to clean magenta or rose with just a touch of violet. The blue is a spectrum blue that's very deep and dark, it reminds me of Prussian Blue and probably is. Cool it toward Ultramarine with just a touch of the deep brilliant violet. Yellow is a clean primary yellow that doesn't lean as greenish as lemon or as orange-cast as a Cadmium Yellow Medium. You can retain full saturation around the color wheel with just the colors in the set.

Three classic useful earths are included, a deep brown earth, Yellow Ochre and an iron oxide red. For landscapes it's very useful to have Iron Oxide Red as one of your hues, it'll balance the vivid greens and modulate them.

Gouache is the perfect medium for color studies. If you're a serious pastelist, it can be a wonderful underpainting medium and used by itself is the wet medium that comes closest to the effects of pastel. Use with a bristle brush to get strong textured strokes or a softer brush like the Ebony Splendor multi-media brushes when you'd rather blend smoothly.

If you're teaching a class in color theory, these inexpensive sets plus a couple of Ebony Splendor brushes are the perfect medium to have your class test mixtures, create color wheels, study any aspect of color and structure. You can mix all the secondary and tertiary hues from the primaries or use the included secondary colors to get vivid tertiaries.

Black and white allow for tints and shades to create good value map sketches in monochrome or tint and shade any color for an infinite variety of hues.

One of the advantages of Gouache is that it's rewettable. Some types of gouache reconstitute better than others if dried. You can put some of this paint into a palette and create pre-mixed colors, even if they're dried into it you can rehydrate to thin or thick texture as desired.

Just like the Yarka set of gouache that I won in the 1990s for a medieval scroll painting competition, the jars don't have a perfect seal. The paint may thicken and crack, taking on a texture more like heavy mud or even drying solid. My set was slightly dried when I got it, some colors more than others.

Light goes over dark easily. This is one of the ways it's so good for creating studies to plan pastel, acrylic or oil paintings. Dry brushing can create broken color and interesting optical mixing. Loose marbling effects are easy to achieve by not thoroughly blending mixtures - drag a brush with one color through a patch of another on your palette, swirl once and mix on the painting. There is a reason gouache is beloved by traditional art schools and design studios - it's that versatility and opacity.

Here's where the quality of SoHo Urban Artist gouache really comes in. Rehydrating dried-up pots is a slow process. Add a little water and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. This softens the surface of the dried up paint and helps it rehydrate better. Then take a paint stirrer, can be anything, plastic, metal, a popsicle stick or toothpick, and stir patiently until all lumps have been smoothed out.

I've rehydrated two of the twelve colors now and the process went quickly. The dried paint softened in only a few hours and stirring the lumps away didn't take as long as I expected. So don't throw them away if you open a jar and it's dried up. Just put some water in up to the level the paint should be at, let it settle for a few hours and gently stir. Wipe any paint off the lip of the jar when you close it and out of the threads. This will both help keep too much air from getting in and also prevent a dried-paint seal that would make it harder to open later.

Of course, the sooner you catch the paint drying out, the faster and easier it is to whip it back to creamy smoothness. Texture should be something like thick house paint at its optimum. You don't need to lose even a speck of the paint. So if you like using pan watercolors, consider putting a good dab into the wells of a small folding palette to create a portable set. It'll rewet easily out in the field too when you want to do color studies for later studio painting.

These are great. Have fun illustrating your webcomic, illuminating an award scroll for any occasion, creating ATCs, art journaling and don't worry about it if your kids or grandkids want to join in. It's safe for grownups to share these paints with smaller loved ones. If your cat walks through it, just rinse his paws off in the sink. I still wouldn't advise eating nontoxic paint but it's a very useful thing to be able to illustrate with cat and kid safe supplies!


  1. Thanks for another great review, Robert. Is there a tubed gouache that you could compare this with? Many of the students I've met who "hate" gouache are using the Reeves or Jackson sets, which handle differently than even mid-range artist's grade colours. Would this be a step up for them?

  2. Your review cleared all my doubts and I checked out at and bought SoHo Urban Artist Gouache Set of 12..I have successfully completed painting landscape with Gouache and I am extremely happy with the results.

  3. I got my set of these quite some time ago and have only just got around to opening them. I was disappointed that many of them were dried up but I added some water and left them as you suggested and they seem to be rehydrating nicely. The pots in my set look different to yours; mine are kind of a semi-transparent rubbery plastic with a snap-on lid of the same material.