Does anyone use gansai?

Ellen Easton

Was Ellen E. on Wet Canvas
I've discovered a paint called gansai that some people call Japanese watercolor. And some say it's like either gouache or watercolor. It's actually neither. I tried it and really became intrigued. It's actually a glue-based paint that's a little like laquer but it's water based like western watercolors. It's a Japanese paint that, instead of being bound by gum arabic, uses a binder made of the collagen boiled out of animal and fish skin as well as honey and/or other additives. The pans are quite large---about twice the size of full pans of western watercolor---and there's more pigment than binder in each pan. I've seen people complain that the pans are only half full and they really do seem to be, but they actually contain more paint and more pigment to binder, making them a good deal financially.

The colors are pre-mixed but rather than being like our western "convenience colors", they're designed more for being able to take your paints with you where you know what colors you're likely to need so you don't have to mix. I know that sounds like our convenience colors but yet I find it different. I became so intrigued with them that after trying some smaller sets, I sold a piece of my jewelry to get the Kuretake 100 color set and I'm very happy I did.

The reason they're said to be like gouache is that you can paint with them thickly and they do cover completely like gouache, but they'll have almost a laquer-like shine when dry. If diluted more, they'll be transparent like our western watercolors. However, unlike western watercolor, they don't sink into cotton paper and become part of the paper. They dry a little faster and don't sink into the paper so much. Because of this, they lift more easily than watercolors we in the west are used to.

I read somewhere that these paints were used a lot for etagami, which in Japanese means "picture letter" and that's like a homemade greeting card. In the 100 color set I got, there are several shades of metallic gold, gem colors, pearl colors and opal colors. There are 70 regular colors and then those other ones. The gem colors somewhat remind me of some American colors by a guy whose name I can never remember.

I'm learning how to use them. They can be used similarly to watercolor and gouache, as I said, but it's a case of the old saying, "You need to know the rules in order to break the rules." And I have yet to try them on rice paper or mulberry paper, but I think that's what they were traditionally used on.

I just wanted to share this with everyone and see if anyone else has tried gansai. I handpaint Christmas cards every year for all my neighbors here in the RV park where I live so this year I'm going to paint snow scenes from Japanese World Heritage sites I found online. I thought that might be appropriate. I'll use some of the very subtle opal colors for the snow shadows and I think that might be pretty.
I had seen the sets on Amazon for a long time but never paid much attention. Just from the small Amazon images, I thought it looked like the paints were a children's paint set and then saw reviews complaining the pans were only half full. Finally I gave in and tried a small set. Around that time I had seen a blog post called Sadie Saves the Day and found out a little more about it. That's when I really got interested. It's not easy to ferret out information on gansai, but it's been a very interesting thing to do.

Some of the ads on Amazon call them face paints, so I guess they can be used for that, too. I'm not sure I'd use them for that because some of their colors they've called cadmium colors. A couple years ago people were commenting in reviews that they couldn't read the names of the colors because they were all written in Chinese but more recently they've been naming them in English. However, even though they do use English names, I'm not sure the ones named are single pigment even though the names sound like it.

I've tried a couple other company's gansai and I have to list those by number or the Japanese words for the paints because those companies don't use English.
They are the best! So much pigment, so watch the water/paint ratio. Very transparent with lots of water in mixture to make enough for a large painting when you need continuous color without "stop to mix more" areas!
They are the best! So much pigment, so watch the water/paint ratio. Very transparent with lots of water in mixture to make enough for a large painting when you need continuous color without "stop to mix more" areas!
I've found that I like to mix up paint in some little tiny bowls I bought on Amazonxckmcf0onmy788j'['ty. That way I get consistent amounts of color. I posted about those little bowls in a thread on "what supplies have you bought lately?" That way I have a little bowl of the paint that's consistent and I can just use out of the little bowl and it's reconstitutional from the bowl even if it dries if water is added to use it. Using it right out of the pans is possible, of course, but I love the little bowls.