Formerly The College Watercolor Group - 601-986-5152 - grayswatercolors@rcn.com


About Gray's Pochoir

The process for reproducing Gray's Watercolors known as pochoir (po-shwah) (literally, the use of stencils) has been in use for centuries, and although the word 'stencil' often conjures an image of bold outlines and singular colors, it is from an old French word meaning 'to sparkle' - quite a different image.


A Gray's pochoir, The Courthouse, Flemington, N.J. Late 1800's, shown above in process, top to bottom: stencil preparation, testing, initial watercolor application, and finished watercolor print.

The word itself came into being as late as 1874, but the process has been in use for coloring monochrome prints since the 15th century in the West and much earlier in the Far East, and, historically, its applications have been widespread …. from 18th century fabric decoration in Japan to fine art books in France to the work of Braque and Utrillo in the 19th and 20th centuries. The process was introduced in England in 1926 by a printer named Curwen, who initially used copper for stencils, then celluloid, and in 20th century America in the studio of Martha Berrien, who also used celluloid for stencils.

According to Elizabeth Harris of the National Museum of History and Technology, "Pochoir is hard to classify…It is a sort of anomaly today. It is not strictly printing, nor is it just hand-coloring; it is not 'original' by the definition of the Print Council (which stipulates an original print as one printed by the artist or under his supervision from a master image made on plate, stone, or block by the artist himself); equally it is not mechanical because the colorists are people….Pochoir fits none of the conventional categories…."

Interestingly, Gray's pochoir process evolved independently - and finally incorporated elements not generally associated with the process, before or since. Although Gray's founder, Paul McConaughy, had been an Art History major, and although during the 1950's and '60's he had searched for a cost-efficient way of producing watercolor prints in limited numbers, the pochoir process and its history remained unknown to him during all the developmental years, only coming to his attention in the late '80s. It was Currier & Ives, the 19th century print makers, who had given him the idea of hand coloring monograph prints, but it was his own trial and error experimentation, first with stencils of unstable plastics and inexact cutting tools, that finally led him to mylar of a specific gauge and a significantly modified soldering iron that produced the highly effective stencils used by Gray's. Additionally, where other pochoir processes used fuzzy, thick brushes for color application with the stencils, McConaughy developed modified spray equipment for application of actual premium-grade watercolor paints.

Traditionally, pochoir is employed by an artist who draws the pen line of the subject, then uses a series of stencils as guides in adding color. In the art reproduction process used by Gray's, the original piece of artwork was drawn and painted by hand, then reproduced as a black and white lithograph on which watercolor was overlaid by skilled artisans. The earliest Gray's pochoirs - using stencils almost exclusively and in relatively limited numbers - are markedly different from the later ones in which the pochoir process had evolved into a far more sophisticated system of color overlay, using a series of many stencils and hand detailing, a process which produced an extraordinary range and subtlety of color, giving a sense of 'original' to each reproduction.

Gray's use of pochoir has been unique in the United States, both in the quantity and sophistication of the reproductions. Upwards of a million prints were created in Gray's studios, and some years ago when attempts were made to copy its specific pochoir technique, the courts declared Gray's process to be legally 'secret ' and one that could not be appropriated by others at will.

With the death in the late '90's of Gray's stencil artist, Mary Elizabeth Johnson, an extraordinary talent was lost; however, her gifts live on in the legacy of Gray's sparkling watercolor pochoir prints, created in large part by her magic.


Detailed hand finishing of pochoir prints in the studios of Gray's Watercolors

With the advent of new technologies, approaching the year 2000 the pochoir method was retired by Gray's - and with the closing of another chapter of pochoir history, the start of another innovative chapter of Gray's Watercolors.

For further information concerning Gray's Watercolors, you may call (610) 867-5087- or email the company at grayswatercolors@rcn.com.