Mike Hernandez, painting with gouache en plein air
Mike Hernandez, painting with gouache en plein air

Can you paint outdoors with gouache when it’s below freezing? Mike Hernandez shares his tips here.

Plein Air Painting with Gouache in Winter

By Mike Hernandez

Plein air painting presents challenges for artists using water-based mediums such as watercolor or gouache. One of the most unique challenges in using water-based mediums outdoors is in freezing temperatures.

I encountered this myself for the first time back in 2006 on a snowboarding trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I had always carried a small compact gouache setup when traveling and I was really looking forward to painting the Tetons. The problem was that once my wet brush and paint came in contact with the board, the paint had already crystallized.

Later that evening I remembered that alcohol – more specifically, Vodka – did not freeze when I put a bottle in my freezer. Alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water does at -173.5 F, which makes it ideal for painting in freezing temperatures.

I decided to give it another go the next day by adding a ratio of 80/20 vodka and water and that seemed to solve most of the problem with the freezing paint. James Gurney, an amazing painter and another artist who uses gouache also had a similar recommendation of using 80-proof alcohol and he also added a hand warmer under the palette to keep the mixing tray from freezing as well.

Proper preparation, adaptability, and an understanding of the medium’s behavior in colder conditions are key to overcoming these challenges.

Learn more with Mike Hernandez’s art video workshops:
– Creating Drama with Color and Light
– Design Powerful Paintings: Composition, Color, and Perspective


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