Artist Spotlight — Mike Hernandez talks about Painting in Gouache

Mike Hernandez has gained a reputation for his skilled application of gouache in his landscape paintings. This preference for gouache dates back to his time at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA, where he used it as his primary medium. Recently, we had the opportunity to discuss with Mike his extensive experience with gouache and his forthcoming workshop.

Rich Brimer, Director, Carmel Visual Arts (CVA)

Okay, well, let’s talk about your upcoming gouache workshop. I know there are a lot of people that have been asking, do I have to use gouache? And of course, the answer is no. But what’s the benefit of using gouache in your class versus just coming in and forcing I don’t use new mediums What would you say to somebody trying gouache for the first time?

Mike Hernandez, Artist, Workshop Instructor (Mike)

Students could literally paint in any medium when taking my courses because it’s not so much about the gouache in and of itself. It’s not “paint with gouache because gouache will make your artwork necessarily turn out better.” Because this class is more specific to foliage. Right. Trees and foliage is what this particular workshop is about. But it’s not as if gouache makes it easier to do it. It’s just more of a matter of —I, as an artist—like teaching in gouache. It’s my preference. But you can do it in pastel for example. You can apply the knowledge of whatever it is I’m teaching in that class to just about any medium, but If I were to name some of the benefits for people who paint in let’s say an oil-based medium, gouache is pretty relative if they wanted something to use for smaller studies that were practical to the application of oil. I speak to this mainly because I used to be more of an oil painter myself.

Mike —Although I still sometimes paint in oil, I usually default to gouache because It’s cleaner and easier to travel with. I also don’t currently have the studio set up to paint in oils And the way I paint with oils I would want to use Liquin thus I would need better ventilation. Because of this, gouache makes it easier. Gouache is relatively safe and non-toxic. The cleanup is also a really big advantage.

CVA — So it’s very convenient, the medium.

Mike — It’s convenient, it’s clean, it’s safe, and it’s not toxic. So if I was to promote it as a medium, I would say, “Look, if you’re an oil painter, it’s great to have it as kind of an auxiliary medium.” People like Scott Christensen for example use gouache for smaller studies before doing larger oil pieces.  You can see these on his IG page. You can literally do these in a sketchbook. You could do that with, like, Bristol paper. Mark Hansen has done studies with gouache as well. A lot of artists use gouache, not necessarily as their finishing medium, but rather for studies. I tend to use it for my finished medium, for my presentation, and for my final paintings. They’re done in gouache because I like the value range. With gouache, it’s kind of a low-contrast finish. You don’t get the blackest of blacks in that medium. So it has a bit chalky, which gives it a softer look, a softer feeling of contrast to your images. So I like that about it. I like the opaque colors as well. But I do still think that oil has a stronger visual presence when it comes to color and textured expression. Every medium has its advantage, though.

CVA — Yeah, they do. And it’s so unfortunate that oil has risen to the king of fine art, whereas it seems the water mediums have been like stepchildren sometimes.

Mike —There is a movement in the art community for more of a presence of gouache right now, I’ve noticed that way more people are using it nowadays. There was always a movement for watercolorists, right? That was always there. But now gouache has risen to the surface. At one point, people back in the day were using gouache primarily for commercial art. Commercial artists or background painters were using it, but they weren’t using it in fine art. They didn’t use it in galleries. Once in a while, you might find it… I know Edgar Payne had a few Gouache paintings out there. Thomas Moran also used white gouache with his watercolors to do field studies, but not too many people were really saying, “Here’s a framed, finished painting in Gouache.

Painting the Galaxies

CVA — I looked up your recent exhibit online at Gallery Nucleus, the exhibit featuring new nocturn paintings. What a beautiful show that was.

Mike — Yeah, thanks. I had a lot of fun this year. I wanted to do something different, and I’m not quite sure I don’t remember what it was that started I know there was something, but everybody was asking, why did you start doing Nocturn? Where did that come from? I don’t remember. I honestly don’t remember. It started with a couple of pieces but I don’t remember why it was I did it. All I do remember was being I was always inspired by Bill Anton‘s Nocturns—what Bill Anton was doing, Frank Tenny Johnson‘s too. Nocturns are beautiful, and all kinds of amazing painters were doing these really nice works.

CVA — How can you paint galaxies unless you do it at night? You can’t. Those are just beautiful skies.

Mike — Yeah, thanks. I had a lot of fun this year and I really wanted to do something different, so then came the nocturnes. A lot of people were asking why I started doing Nocturnes and to be honest, I don’t really remember. Perhaps I was inspired by Bill Anton and Frank Tenny Johnson. Nocturns are beautiful, and all kinds of amazing painters were doing these really nice works back in the day so I decided to try some for myself. All of that hidden beauty in the night skies above us but we can’t really see it with the naked eye. that’s where technology and time-lapse photography comes in.

We might see hints of the galaxy in the night sky but most of it is hidden…and those colors!  That’s why I’ve been teaching a class called “The hidden beauty of nocturnal paintings” because it literally is all the hidden stuff that’s in the sky that you don’t see that’s above our eyes all the time.  I just figure out the colors of those night sky themes and make them bright enough to have an effect of lighting and color on the landscape, then you just kind of apply it likewise.

Be sure to sign up for Mike’s workshop


Mike Hernandez – Mastering How to Paint Water and Rocks en Plein Air


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