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Experimenting with Gouache & Rotring Art Pen

Last roses, ink and gouache
Last roses, ink and gouache

I  saved two rose buds to paint when I pruned my roses last week (in case winter ever comes to the San Francisco Bay Area—it’s been ridiculously hot and sunny). By the time I could get back in the studio, one bud had opened and my order of M. Graham and Schmincke gouache arrived. Although I planned to test the new gouache by making color charts first, I knew the roses wouldn’t hold up much longer. Also included in my art supply order was a new Rotring Art Pen.

I tried out the gouache and pen in the sketch above. I also wrote a quickie review of the Rotring Art Pen and offer some technical information about gouache by experts on the subject. If you’d like to know more about gouache or the pen, please click the “Continue reading” link below.

Gouache Tips and Techniques

What a difference! Roz  (of Roz Wound Up) recommended I switch to M. Graham and Schmincke gouache from Winsor & Newton and she was so right! The new paints are creamy and rich and brilliant and work well thick or thin, painted transparently or opaquely. None of the chalkiness I was getting from W&N—or at least not until I’d severely overworked an area!.

I still need a lot of practice to get the knack of using gouache well, but what fun it is! It gives you the flexibility and opacity of oil paints and the transparency, flow and easy clean up of watercolor. I’m looking forward to making color mixing charts and doing more experimentation to understand them better. One thing I’ve learned is that like watercolor, gouache dries lighter than it does when it’s wet, which  can make color matching difficult.

AlthoughI don’t always follow the “rules,” I like to start off by at least knowing how something is meant to be used, basic techniques, etc. so I did a little research and found the following sites where more information about gouache techniques can be found:

Roz’s info about choosing a gouache palette
Interesting historical, technical and usage info on
History and technical info on Wikipedia

Demonstration of gouache technique on Kathy Robbins’ “The Color Journey”
Gouache painting techniques–a simple list

Rotring Art Pen review

I was also experiementing with a new Rotring Art Pen. I substituted Noodlers Black Ink for the cartridges that came with the pen. This required a little converter that is snapped into the pen. I enjoyed drawing with the pen as the nib is flexible and makes a ,slightly varied line. But even though the Noodlers Ink is supposed to be water proof, I found that it still bleeds just enough to sully colors, especially the light pink wash I put down first, turning it slightly brownish, which was annoying.

The fountain pen converter arrived with no instructions and I couldn’t get it to work. You twist one end and it creates a vacuum and sucks the ink up into the barrel. But I discovered that when you twist it all the way it releases the vacuum and all the ink pours back out. Then I couldn’t get the converter to connect inside the pen. I Googled “rotring art pen converter how to” and found someone who had the same problem and learned you have to push it really hard into the pen body until it snaps which requires a pretty forceful push.

Two other things that bugged me a bit about the Rotring, is that the area you hold is ridged, which is not very comfortable, and the pen cap doesn’t fit on the end of the pen. My cat thought it was fun to play “Gravity” with the cap, knocking it off the table and then chasing it around on  he floor. It’s a nice pen, but I’m not sure it can replace my favorite, the Micron Pigma .01.

14 replies on “Experimenting with Gouache & Rotring Art Pen”

I’ve been playing with my new Schmincke Horadams too after Roz’s recommendation and the colours are wonderfully jewel-like. I enjoyed my W&Ns (and will probably continue to do so) but these have a vibrancy that the Winsors do not. Thank you for the link to the document on gouache techniques; I have been looking this past week for this kind of information.


Oh, thank you for posting so much info on gouache (which I’ve never used!) I shall do some serious reading later, when time allows.
Your roses have a “solid” loook without the heaviness of oil.


Beautiful and what a good combination of media. One word of caution on the M. Graham gouache. I’ve used his watercolors and eventually have thrown them all out. They’re made with honey, and as a result attract mold and other varmin, and the tubes (the watercolor ones that is) would occasionally expand and develop leaks, leaving unpleasant messes.
Have you ever used the Rapidograph pens by Koh-I-Noor. They have an easily accessible ink container that you can change colors and inks readily. I like the 0.5 mm size the best.
Keep up the great blog.


This is beautifully done, Jana. Sounds like you have a new love, those gouaches sound wonderful to work with. Great results, too! You’ll find that the Rotrings are exceptional work horses, I’ve had a set of four for about 17 years and they still work. Never clog up, just keep trucking. And I leave them sitting for months and months at a time, nary a problem. Now, of course, I want a bunch of gouache colors to play with!


Beautiful debut with your gouache, Jana! Wonderful clear reflections in the vase.

Now I read all the tips about using gouache I see why I’ve not had a lot of success with it. Off to try again. thanks!:)


I found you through Odd Chick’s blog and was interested in your experiences and fun you are having with gouache…I too use gouache with watercolor paint to get different effects and I prefer my WN’s as the one I always end up with…grahmn’s honey base is a little weird to me although the gouache may not have it…you will find they work nicely with watercolor paints as well as separately and I also love the color saturation and have not had problems with chalkiness…

I also have one of these pens and had not figured it out! there was not any directions and I still don’t get it but after reading this, will try, try again…I wish I had just spent the money on the rapidographs now but will try again…I am afraid of spilling the ink or breaking it because of the pressure of trying to get it into the pen…well, at least it’s a common problem and one that is solvable!


Hi Jana
I love finding links to gouache users. I, too, switched to M Graham and Schmincke gouache and am in LOVE. I had been using Holbein Designer gouache which is fine if you use if out of the tube, but NOT in a palette, which is how i like to keep my paint. The Holbein crackled and crumbled and I finally had to clean out my palette and start all over. Wish I could afford all Schmincke’s but the M Graham is a wonderful creamy, pigment rich gouache that stays nice in a palette. What fun! Can’t wait to see more of your gouache paintings.


I was just about to go to Dick Blick and buy a Rotring Art Pen today for drawing and writing in my watercolor travel journals. After reading your thoughts on the pen, I might not really need one. Sometimes I get seduced by the thought that a new tool will help me paint the perfect painting, thanks for giving me some good info to base my shopping decision on.


Your comment made me laugh! How many times I have done that! In fact I just sold a very expensive recently purchased pen that after a couple weeks use realized I didn’t like and had stopped using.

I never use the Rotring. My favorite that I do recommend is the Lamy Safari with extra fine point and a converter that allows you to use Carbon Platinum ink which is permanent and dries quickly so works well with watercolor. And now I’m going to update the page on my blog where I raved about the expensive pen so I don’t mislead anyone. Jana


Hi, Jana, i just bought one Rotring artpen for my sketching book, i found it is so dirty after i added my watercolour brush. So i thought maybe I should try to use some other inks, like noodler’s waterproof ink. Then I found your article here, maybe I have to buy one sakura micron pen


I tried the Rotring but found it too awkward to carry with me, especially without being able to put the cap on the other end while working. Even the NOodlers waterproof ink tends to bleed when dry into watercolor. Definitely the Micron’s don’t but you can also try another waterproof ink that I use that doesn’t bleed — Platinum Carbon ink. It’s made for fountain pens but is waterproof. If you like the Rotring it should work with that too. Or you can take advantage of the bleeding and use the waterbrush to make inky washes with the non-waterproof ink. Jana


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