Category Archives: How-To

Reluctant Sorcerer


Reluctant Sorcerer by Meg Lyman

4×4″ gouache and ink on matboard


This was a fun little experiment in a few ways. The background color was left over from the background of Nautilius – I liked the color too much to throw out the extra pile of paint when I was done. The support was a piece of matboard left over from something or other, very absorbent. I put on a layer and wiped it off several times for the interesting effect.

After I painted the little cutie, I decided to try varnishing. Fellow gouache enthusiast Ralph Parker uses glossy spray varnish, and I wanted to try something similar. I had a can of Prismacolor matte fixative sitting around, so I put a few coats on this guy. Turned out fine! Didn’t seem to change the colors at all, and was not shiny at all (as advertised). I didn’t try wetting it after it was dry to see how well the fixative protects it, though. I’m a chicken.

Qiang Huang Workshop


Qiang Workshop I by Meg Lyman


Qiang Workshop II by Meg Lyman

As I mentioned, I had a workshop last weekend with Qiang Huang at the Whidbey Island Fine Arts Studio. It was a great learning experience, and like the other classes I’ve attended, I left feeling a strange combination of exhilarated motivation and bewilderment that I ever manage to paint anything worth looking at. After seeing great artists work, I have a very distinct feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s obviously not true, because I will slowly incorporate more and more of the things I learned from Qiang into my paintings. But for now I still feel like I’m painting with, as classmate Heywood put it, a sawed-off fence post.

I present these class works to you as they were when I left the workshop. The first one was about three hours (and a poorly-focused photo, sorry) and the second about six in 2 three-hour sessions – and the extra time shows. Plus, the master himself put a few strokes on the cloth in the second one! I could put some hours in retouching and fixing the things I see that are wrong with both of them, but I’ve found I learn better when I hold those errors in my mind. The unresolved issues jump out at me from the canvas and I strive to never let them show up again.

Speaking of canvas, I grabbed two Blick linen canvases on clearance for this workshop. It’s the first time I’ve used linen (as opposed to cotton) and I looooooooove it. It’s harder to find but now I crave it. Delicious, delicious linen.

Shades of Grey

I’m finally starting to lay paint on this background (see the bottom of the post). The magenta underpainting is slicker than snot on a doorknob, and the first layer of paint didn’t stick to it very well in some places. It’s reminiscent of the trials and tribulations I had painting with oils on smooth Gessobord. So, perhaps my problem with that whole thing was a lack of tooth. I’ll sand the gesso less next time and let you know.

Anyway, this is my first painting using gamut mapping. I had my color wheel all ready and cut a triangle into a sheet of palette paper. I picked my gamut and taped the sucker down.

My three primary tubes are Primary Green Light, Quin. Red, and Cerulean Blue. I wanted to start with the neutral grey in the middle, and so mixed the three together. Looks pretty neutral to me, maybe a bit brown. Excellent. I added white to give myself two shades:

I proceeded to paint it onto the magenta underpainting. The more I painted, the greener it looked. It’s a pretty cool effect to see just how relative color is in our brain! The color on the palette looks nothing like the color on the board. And once I paint over the magenta, it’ll look different yet again.

p.s. you can see how it was tough to get the grey to stick to the underpainting. I love learning.

Lemon Shark


Lemon Shark by Meg Lyman

4×4″ gouache on Claybord Textured, now known as Aquabord


He’s a bit of a sourpuss.

This is, of course, a continuation of the shark pun obligation I created for myself when I painted Blue Shark. Below are a few WIP shots showing how I used masking fluid for this one. It’s very helpful for flowing underwater backgrounds, although the stuff I use is blue and that makes it harder to see underwater. So to speak.


Painted-over masking fluid (applied along the edge of the shark outline)


Masking removed, imperfectly so. Workable nonetheless.

Woolly Watercolor Canvas


Woolly Mollusk by Meg Lyman

8×10″ gouache on pure evil watercolor canvas panel


So I exaggerate a little, but painting on watercolor canvas is completely counterintuitive to me, and I have the nagging feeling that I’m doing it wrong. I typically use gouache in a very watercolor-y way, at least on the underpainting. I naively assumed, since this was marketed as watercolor canvas, that it would accept watercolor. Watered down gouache is very much like watercolor, and it behaves the same way on paper. When I went to paint the shadows in watery purple, the mixture beaded up on the surface maddeningly. If I let it dry that way, I’d have ended up with blobs of color on a sea of white plastic nothing. I had to wipe it all off, leaving only a hint of stain, and let it dry before trying again.

The key to having any sort of success with gouache on watercolor canvas is to lay it on thick, nearly straight from the tube, and you’d better not have the gall to want to rework anything without it lifting right off. I have no idea how watercolorists are supposed to use it. As you can see in the final product, the weave of the canvas shows through – texture is cool – but it also creates tiny white dots that wouldn’t take free paint from a politician. And you use a lot more paint to achieve results that may or may not last until you touch it with your finger on accident while confiscating it from the cat.

On the plus side, I had fun painting magenta mountains. So there’s that.



Peppermint Nautilus by Meg Lyman

8×10″ gouache on Pastelbord


There is great potential in combining candy and cephalopods…

The Pastelbord is such an interesting surface to use with gouache. The background is watered-down gouache, the same consistency I’d use on matboard or paper… but I have to apply the wash two or three times to see it. It goes on normally, but as it dries the Pastelbord sucks in all the water and a lot of the pigment, leaving a ghost of the layer you though you put down. It also bleeds significantly, making for neat but sometimes unexpected effects. The opaque gouache doesn’t act much different from other surfaces, although its tendency to lift is much less. I like that. I just wish it didn’t tear up my brushes.

In other news, I just created an Etsy shop, finally! Here’s a link to the shop itself. I have quite a few originals there, and I’m just starting to populate it with prints. Check it out!

Arches Oil Paper

Happy 2013, everyone! To kick off the new year, I’m posting something related to one of my goals. Go, me!


Mt. Rainier in Green by Meg Lyman

~8×11″ oil on paper

$100 – e-mail for purchasing info or visit Etsy

I bought some Arches Oil Paper after hearing about it somewhere or another. The product is specifically made for oil painting and requires no preparation. I don’t know what chemical magic they did, but I wanted to give it a try. I liked the idea of using it for studies, not only because it requires no preparation (which can be said of gessoed boards), but because of its texture. The surface feels like a velvety mix between nice watercolor paper and cloth. It’s not gessoed – it’s just really nice paper that you can oil up as much as you want. The tooth is nice too, but without being all bumpy and plastic-y like gessoed surfaces can be.

So, in order to try it out, I picked a subject from my goals list that I have obsessed over since I moved here: Mt. Rainier. We’re 40 miles from the summit (as the crow flies), and although I can’t see it from my house, I can from a block away. It’s huge and ominous and fascinating and dangerous and coy all at the same time. On the days I can see it, I’m always craning my neck to catch a glimpse. It has a sketchy history and an uncertain future. I love the thing. I’m sure I’ll be painting it a lot.

This first try, I had a photo I took at a stoplight (I wasn’t driving!) and some leftover oil paint piles. I also had been wanting to try some old tubes of acrylic rescued from my grandma’s basement that she used for a class in the 60s. I put down some purple acrylic to define the shadow areas. I let that dry (worked fine on the paper, although the paint’s age made it sorta… chunky) and did the rest wet-in-wet all in one go. I used a heck of a lot of oil on some areas, and true to its claims, the paper took it just fine.

Those areas were I used a lot of oil dried shiny, and the others dried matte. I haven’t decided whether to try varnishing this – unlike canvas and gessoed board, the paint doesn’t come off easily once dried, so varnish may not be required. And it’s going to need a frame anyway. But if I do varnish it, everything will be shiny and it won’t matter. If I don’t, the two finishes will have to coexist in harmony. You can’t see the difference unless you hold it under the light a certain way.


Shiny! Even when dry.

The only thing I don’t like about this paper is its propensity to attract fuzz, and there is a lot of the stuff in my house. Sprocket’s fur in particular floats around on the slightest breeze. Because the surface is soft and velvety, it holds dust and lint like it’s going out of style. There’s not a lot you can do about it – brushing if off doesn’t work – so don’t leave it sitting out flat uncovered until after it’s dry.


Bits of fuzz and fur everywhere. You can see the surface texture too.

This isn’t my favorite finished product, but it was a great test of the paper, the acrylic, and a good motivation to paint more Mt. Rainiers. You’ll see more in 2013!


Jawactopus by Meg Lyman

4×5″ gouache on matboard

$30 – email to purchase

I never thought of Jawas as cute until The Husband started playing The Old Republic with Blizz.

Gouache works really well with colored matboard as a support. At some art stores, you can buy their (often huge) cut mat scraps from the framing department for as little as $0.50 each. Of course, not all matboard is created equal – some take more abuse than others, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s archival.

Yurmby Wheels

After having read Color and Light by Gurney, I wanted to transfer all that new knowledge from my brain into real-life painting skills. I had a bunch of tubes of paint, both gouache and oil, and no real idea how they interacted. Knowing that it was going to be imperfect, I set out to paint Yurmby wheels for both sets of paint. Ideally, it would give me a rough wheel to work from, and a good idea what pigments I was missing.

I started at to determine where my pigments fell in relation to each other. Is viridian bluer than phthalo green, or the other way around? Looking at the pigments on the back of the tubes and comparing them to handprint’s color charts helped with that. I laid out my tubes accordingly (chart printed from



Next I picked the pigments I would use on the wheel. Note that there are a bunch of tubes that fall between these “primaries,” and although I won’t use them on the wheel, it’s good to identify where they would go. Then I mixed all 12 of them together with some white to create a neutral grey for the middle. You could probably do this with a black and white mixture or neutral grey tube paint as well, although tube whites and blacks tend to be on the cool side.

Then I mixed each tube color with varying amounts of the grey to get less and less saturated. Keep in mind that these do not account for variance in chroma or value in the pigments themselves. I intended to keep the value consistent while I varied the chroma, but I’m a complete novice fumbling around and there are materials-based limitations as well. For example, yellow has a much lighter value than purple, yet I’m heading to the same value of grey in the middle. I think I did better with the oil wheel, but still… Let me know if you have better luck with that. The end results:



I did the gouache first, as you can probably tell. I’m pretty sure I put some things in the wrong places (PR83 gouache should probably be next to PR9), and I’m obviously missing some pigments (I have since acquired a tube of magenta gouache). But it taught me a lot, as you can see from the fact that the oil wheel looks much better.

Side note: the cerulean blue oil I was using was pretty horrible and streaky. It’s a Winton student grade tube that’s nearly 10 years old, but it’s always been like that. I went out and bought a new tube of M Graham cerulean blue and it is obviously tons better. Anyone else have that problem with Winton cerulean blue, or did I just get a bad tube?