Do you want to learn how to paint with gouache?
Are you struggling to get to grips with this painting medium?
Gouache is a wonderful painting medium, that I’ve been using for well over a decade.
It’s a painting medium that I’ve used to build my illustration portfolio. I love how versatile, flexible and free-flowing gouache it is. However, it was a complete nightmare when I first started with gouache! I told myself that I wouldn’t try gouache again, and I would stick to acrylic. Never say never, as now I’m advocating gouache and love it!
If you’re in a similar situation, then I’m here to help you. I had to learn how to use it and get over the many hurdles before it became natural.
Within this blog post you will learn everything there is to know about how to paint with gouache. From recommended brushes, painting paper, and a gouache tutorial that you can follow. I’m sharing tips to get you started, things to avoid, and an easy pathway to introduce you to gouache. This blog post is here to help you get a get head start with gouache. It’s mostly aimed at beginners, however all skill-sets can benefit.
If you’re unfamiliar with myself or my work, I’m a freelance illustrator and designer from Hampshire, UK. Specialising in advertising, publishing and editorial illustration, and have worked with worldwide clients. Mostly using gouache to form my illustrations. I use gouache a lot, and I’m looking forward to sharing all that I know! Let’s get started!
What is gouache?
Gouache is a water based medium, and it’s closest comparison is watercolour. Similar to acrylic, gouache paint is quick drying. You can paint thick, but you can also paint translucent watercolour-like paintings. Even though it’s similar to watercolour, it’s consistency and ‘flow’ can is also linked to acrylic paintings.
It’s a bit of everything, which is great!
Gouache derives from the Italian word ‘Guazzo’. Countless past and present artists use gouache to create impeccable works of art. In more recent times, acrylic gouache has hit the selves. This an acrylic-based binder, instead of gouache’s traditional mixture of gum arabic.
“Gouache is a type of water-soluble paint that, unlike watercolour, is opaque so the white of the paper surface does not show through. The term gouache was first used in France in the eighteenth century to describe a type of paint made from pigments bound in water-soluble gum, like watercolour, but with the addition of a white pigment in order to make it opaque.”Tate Gallery – Glossary of terms
Gouache is mostly sold in tubes, however they also come in ‘cakes’. I paint with gouache cakes. Gouache dries darker than when it’s wet, and offers a matte-like finish.
What famous artists used gouache?
Famous artists to have used gouache include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, to Paul Klee. The list is endless, and shows you how popular this painting medium is. This painting medium offers something completely different and unique to the artist. This is why these artists (and countless others) love using gouache.
Lets take a deep dive into the work of artists to have used gouache:
Know by many for being the master of colour, up first is Matisse. Bright and colourful cut-outs feature a lot within his later work, including this work titled ‘The Snail’, gouache on paper.
A stunning painting titled ‘Upper Falls of the Yellowstone’, painted with gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper. A fantastic landscape painting, which you can look at the ultra fine details on Christie’s website.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
When people think of landscape painters, Turner is often the first painter that comes to mind. Not only was he great at oil, but also gouache. Creating ‘Dinant, Bouvignes and Crèvecoeur: Sunset’, gouache and watercolour on paper. With a lot of these artists, watercolour and gouache forms a great partnership.
John Singer Sargent
Another famous artist to use gouache was John Singer Sargent. An American artist in the 19th Century, painting ‘Bedouins’, 1905 – 1906, with opaque and translucent watercolour. This particular painting is loose, showing gouache’s capabilities.
Another American artist, and one of my favourite painters, is Edward Hopper. He used gouache frequently within his work. Hopper created stunning paintings based on impeccable compositions, similar to the artist George Bellows.
Why I recommend gouache paint
I recommend painting with gouache because the ‘matte-like’ finish it offers. It can be tricky if you’re a complete beginner to gouache. However it’s versatile, and you can paint in many forms that makes it so appealing. From thick, watery, and wet on wet, there’s so many techniques that you can use to create stunning gouache artwork.
Sometimes I find the finish of acrylic too shiny, and love the finish and quality that gouache offers.
Similarities between gouache, acrylic and oils
Gouache is similar to oil, as you can work back into it with white spirit. It’s also similar to acrylic, that are both fast drying in nature.
Differences between gouache, acrylic and oils
Gouache is water based, and is a form of translucent watercolour. Acrylic is plastic-based, whilst oils are oil based.
You can work back into a dry gouache painting with water. In contrast, it’s very difficult to work back into a dry acrylic painting. Gouache has a more matte-like feel once dried, whilst acrylic offers a more shiny effect once dried.
Gouache has a quick-drying nature, in contrast to oils which are slow-drying.
Recommended materials & tools
All of the tools that I use are on my Resources page. I personally use all of the items in this page, giving my honest review of each item. Revealing the equipment I use on a daily and weekly basis to form my illustrations, fine art paintings to sketchbook drawings.
Before you purchase any painting brush kit, make sure you choose a kit in variety of brush sizes. Most beginners choose brushes that are too small. This comes from a lack of confidence, which is understandable if you’re new to gouache. I use a ‘Royal And Langnickel’ gouache kit. These come in a variety of sizes, and are very affordable. Some are round, flat or angular. This is the kind of set which is perfect for any gouache beginner. They aren’t top-of-the-range, unlike some brushes, but are reliable and comfortable to paint with.
You don’t need expensive paint brushes to get started. As a contrary to this, I also have 2 Winsor & Newton paint brushes (one Series 7 Kolinsky & Series 222 Designer Round), which are more expensive. I use these when I want to paint those finer details and offers great results.
When it comes to paper, there’s two that I use. I use ‘Seawhite Watercolour 350gsm A3 paper’, which is thick enough to withstand gouache easily. I cut the paper to the desired size, and use bull dog clips to fasten to a wooden panel (as it can curl). This seems to work well for me and I love the texture of the paper.
I also love painting within my ‘200gsm Moleskine sketchbook’. I love painting on this thick paper, and Moleskine sketchbooks are always high-quality.
When it comes to palettes, I recommend ceramic palettes, against cheaper plastic alternatives. Mixing and cleaning ceramic palettes are often pain-free. This is especially true when the paint has dried. I have two palettes, one ceramic, and one palette that comes with my painting ‘cakes’.
When selecting paints, I recommend purchasing tubes. This is often the simplest way to get started. Aim for a variety of colours. This doesn’t have to be expensive either.
I own Caran Dache Gouache Studio Set. These are great gouache tablets. This is different to tubes, and is essentially what it says on the tin. This set comes with a metal palette as the lid of the box. I also recommend Winsor & Newton’s gouache paints, which I have several. However, these aren’t needed for you to get started with gouache.
Make use of used yoghurt pots for your mixing pots. I use two small yoghurt pots for my painting water. One pot is my dirty water, whilst one is clear water. I don’t mix with dirty water on my brush, as this is my clean painting water.
How To Paint With Gouache
When beginning on your gouache journey, start with a basic painting and build from there. If you’re a complete beginner, I recommend getting used to the painting medium by experimenting on a piece of paper and seeing how you get on. Use a limited palette with these suggestions by not using all colours under the sun.
It’s important to note, that this painting exercise shouldn’t focus on how well you paint, but should help you know how gouache functions and flows.
Here’s other things for you to experiment with:
- Shapes – triangles, squares, and circles
- Experiment with larger and smaller brushes
- Overlap certain areas, and see how water affects dried areas
- Apply more water to your brush, what it’s like to paint with a thicker, more loaded paintbrush
- Experiment with different colours
Try to get to grips with gouache by fully exploring these suggestive ideas above. Don’t rush this stage, as it’s crucial that you become familiar with how gouache flows. After you’ve done some of your own experimenting and you’re used to painting with gouache, the next is to paint your own picture, from scratch.
Step by Step Gouache Painting Tutorial
To get into the world of gouache is to start painting your own pictures. With this gouache painting tutorial, I’ve assumed that you have some aspect of drawing skill (aimed at those who can draw things around their home without too much difficulty). If this is you, great! If you’re a complete beginner to drawing as well as gouache, I would recommend you spend a good amount of time sharpening your drawing skills by drawing from life, learning from blogs like this one, and generally trying to improve your drawing skill. Or take a look at how this one tip can help you skyrocket your drawing technique.
I suggest you select just one object from around your home for this exercise; like a banana, a simple ornament or a piece of stationary. The simpler it is, the easier it will be to paint. I recommend selecting only one item, as it can be tricky for beginners to paint a number of items. Some things to note before you get sorted:
- Remember to regularly clean your brushes. Especially true when mixing different colours, and change your painting water if your water is getting too dirty.
- Keep your head up if you’re not satisfied with the finished painting. This is just the start of your journey!
- Think in big shapes. Avoid those little details and paint the big shapes.
Step 1 – Setup your environment
I setup my space like this when I’m painting. This might not be ideal for you, as you might work differently. I’m working within my 200gsm Moleskine sketchbook for this exercise. Securing my pages around my sketchbook with bull-dog clips so my paper doesn’t curl. I normally position my palette and paints to the left of me, with 2 pots of water (one for cleaning my brushes, and one to ensure I’m mixing with a clean brush like previously mentioned).
Step 2 – Put an initial colour down
I then paint an ‘underpainting’. An underpainting is a base layer for your painting. This is often a block of colour that sets up the gouache painting, and helps break that dreaded ‘white space’. You might be asking what colour should I use for my underpainting? This colour should be similar or the exact colour of the overall colours you will be using in the painting.
For this exercise, I recommend you choose a maximum of three or four colours. For example, you could choose yellow, red and green like my example below. Keep it simple. This makes it easier to paint with going forwards. Choose a colour for your underpainting which you think will compliment your two or three colours.
For this step, don’t make your paint too thick, nor too watery. The idea with this step is to cover the page with colour. If you’re stuck, look at the image from step three.
Step 3 – Draw the subject
I let the ‘underpainting’ colour dry, and then draw the subject, trying to calculate correct proportion and tonal values. I spend a considerable amount of time here, as this is the starting point for most of my paintings. If your proportions are wrong, then it can be tricky to correct later on.
Step 4 – Choose your colours
Once you’re happy with the drawing (including proportions and tones), work out what colours you’re going to use. If you’re new to colour, learn how to use colour. This will help put you on the right footing. In general, here’s a few overarching tips:
- Think about tones: are you using either a light or dark colour?
- Focus on unsaturated colours: paintings are most often ruined by too many saturated colours.
- Use your palette to mix paint: before committing anything onto the paper, are you happy with the colour you’ve mixed? Make every paint mark count.
- Choose limited colours: reduce the number of colours, as this will make it easier.
- Paint in large shapes: Forget the finer details for now.
With my painting, I’ve focused on the colours yellow, red, and a complimentary colour of green.
Step 5 – Build in layers
I then build up my layers, focusing on both light and dark areas simultaneously. Focusing on form and trying to portray a sense of ‘3D-ness’. I’m using complimentary colours for my greys, and I’ve decided to use the most saturated colours within the main subject to make you focus on the focal point (the watch head). With this step, I’m more focused on getting colour down onto the paper, and not so worried about details at this stage.
Step 6 – Work out lights and darks
I keep looking back and forth at my painting and the subject, and I try and decipher things like tone, form and things like shadows. I add details like the watch strap and watch face. If you feel it’s getting too hard and isn’t going to plan, don’t give up! Have a little break and a stretch if you need it, but it’s important that you carry on and try and work through it. This happens to most artists, but this is where you’re learning the most, and by carrying on and finishing the piece will feel triumphant, so keep going!
Step 7 – Add details
Keep adding details until you feel happy with the outcome. If you make a mistake, that’s ok, and is part of the process! If you don’t like a certain area of your painting, either paint over it with thick paint and go easy on the water, or use a bit of water to remove certain aspects. And there you go, your gouache painting is complete! Great stuff, well done! There’s even things I don’t particularly like with my gouache painting – as I feel the desk lines as the background are too striking and prominent – but studies like this are all about learning! If you’re feeling up for it (and have the time to do so), paint more objects around your house, following the steps above. The more you practice with this painting medium, the easier it becomes.
Things To Consider With Gouache
One of the major issues people have with gouache is it’s ‘patchiness’. This is something I have encountered whilst trying to learn this painting medium. You may find that your gouache paintings will result in ‘streaky’ lines. If you do, don’t panic! It doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong! To solve this problem, load your paintbrushes with a good amount of paint, with a tad of water. Gouache doesn’t deliver ‘patchy’ results from using thick paint. In contrast, acrylic doesn’t lead to these results (because it’s plastic based).
Remember that gouache is an opaque watercolour, so if you apply too much water to your mixes, it can result in this ‘patchy’ effect. Think of it like this: get out of the middle zone. You want your gouache paintings to be like watercolour, make your paintbrushes watery. If you want less ‘patchy’ results, treating it like an acrylic or oil painting, then load it up. Patchy paintings means you’re in the middle zone (so get out quick)! This is definitely one to practise and experiment with.
Gouache common issues and things to avoid
- Don’t paint with ‘muddy’ water or a dirty palette. Clean your palette after every painting session and regularly change your painting water
- Don’t paint with too many colours. Limit your colour palette and you will paint stronger paintings. Consider learning different colour schemes like tertiary colours.
- Don’t rush the drawing stage by not studying your subject. Make sure you have things like proportion correct before putting any paint to paper.
- Don’t not make it fun! Have fun with it, if you’re not, you won’t come back again to practise!
How to paint with gouache on canvas
As a first port of call, you should firstly slot the canvas wooden pegs into the back of the canvas. Wooden canvas pegs usually come with every canvas purchased. These help you retain the tension of the canvas paper. So before you put gouache or pencil to canvas, definitely do this first before anything else.
I then recommend you paint the canvas with a base coat, using a watery gouache consistency first of all. This takes alway the dreaded ‘white canvas’ feeling, and it helps you make a start. Have you ever looked at a canvas, and been fearful to to put pencil to paper? It’s the ‘white canvas’ feeling. Procrastination can sit in, and it can be hard to make begin. But by applying a thin, watery consistency to the canvas is a great way to solve this issue.
Canvas painting with gouache
This allows you to begin the canvas painting which is so important. I usually choose a colour which is going to be the main colour for the painting. For example, if I’m painting a surfing canvas painting, I would choose blue as the base colour.
Once this base colour has dried, you can either use pencil or gouache itself to ‘sketch’ the painting. This is your choice, but I prefer pencil, as you can sketch the piece with ease. In most cases, gouache works best on canvas when applied with thick paint. When working with a watery consistency, keep the canvas flat and allow plenty of time to dry.
Gouache is a great medium to paint onto canvas, as it’s quick-drying and all you need is water to start painting! To begin a gouache canvas painting, I firstly recommend starting with a watery base coat. This breaks the dreaded ‘white’ canvas feel. Secondly, I then use pencil after this stage and sketch the entire painting. Lastly, I then use thick gouache to paint the final artwork.
Don’t paint on a low-quality, low gsm paper. Always try and paint with watercolour paper with a high gsm (grams per square meter), 200gsm+ is ideal.
How have you got on with gouache painting?
I hope you’ve enjoying learning how to paint with gouache! Check out my illustration portfolio, as I’m a freelance illustrator for hire!
Gouache is a wonderful painting medium. Once you get started, it can get rather addicting. It’s versatile, free-flowing and offers a lovely matte-like finish. Even though I’ve mentioned previously, it’s worth addressing again: make sure you’re having fun! When learning how to paint with gouache, or even learning how to draw or that matter. If you’re not having fun and at least painting the things you want to paint, then you’re going to stop pretty quickly. Learning how to paint is tricky for anyone, and can make it doubly as hard if you’re not enjoying it.
Learning how to paint can be tricky for anyone, remember everyone is a beginner at some point. However you can make it harder if you’re not enjoying it. I’ll love to know how you have got on with your own gouache paintings! Be sure to ask me any questions below or share your own paintings – I would love to see them!
If you liked this article
If you liked this article, check out my top seven tips to further improve your gouache paintings. This is an addition to this blog post, where we can learn even more tips and tricks.
Or take a look at this guide to learn how to improve the accuracy and proportions of your drawings. I uncover my decade long drawing experience, and how you can improve this key attribute to your drawing skill.
Cheers guys, and see you on the next post!
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