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, which I’ve been using for close to a decade.
As a painting medium which I’ve used to build most of my illustrations within my portfolio, I love how versatile, flexible and free-flowing it is – but of course I had to learn how to use it first 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 the brushes I use, painting paper that I recommend, and a gouache tutorial which you can follow, this blog post is here to help you get a get head start with gouache.
If you’re unfamiliar with myself or my work, I’m a freelance illustrator and designer from Hampshire, UK. I specialise in editorial, publishing and advertising, and have worked for the likes of Quote Magazine, Scouts UK to Mary Christie Magazine. 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 paint and is most similar to watercolour. Gouache paint is quick to dry (much like acrylic), and can be worked back into when water is applied (unlike acrylic). You can paint thickly, but you can also paint very translucent, like watercolour. Even though it’s most similar to watercolour, it’s consistency and ‘flow’ can be linked to acrylics.
Basically, it’s a bit of everything – which is great!
Gouache’s history of first use was considered back in the 9th century. Deriving from the Italian word ‘Guazzo’, it has been used by countless artists to create impeccable works of art. In more recent times, acrylic gouache has been created, which is mixed with an acrylic-based binder, instead of gouache’s traditional mixture of gum arabic.
Gouache is most often sold in tubes, however you can also get them as ‘cakes’, which I personally paint with at the moment. It often dries darker than when it is wet, and offers a matte-like finish.
What Famous Artists Used Gouache?
“The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.” ― Vincent van Gogh
Probably one of the most famous artists to use gouache (and wonderfully too!), was John Singer Sargent, an American artist in the 19th Century who created gouache paintings such as ‘Bedouins’, 1905 – 1906, painted with opaque and translucent watercolour.
Another American artist, and one of my favourite painters of all time and for his use of colour, Edward Hopper, used gouache frequently within his work. Other notable and famous artists include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet to name a few! The list is endless, and shows you just how popular this painting medium is. If offers something completely different and unique to the artist, which is why I believe these artists (and countless others) are drawn to gouache.
Why I Recommend Gouache Paint
I would certainly recommend painting with gouache because of the points above, and also because the finished ‘painted-matte’ result is exactly what I love about it.
It can certainly be tricky if you’re new to the medium, however it’s so 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. It’s especially helpful if you like to go back into your paintings (after it’s dried), which you can do with gouache by applying water (like oil which takes days to dry!).
Gouache Vs Acrylic Vs Oils – Whats the Difference?
The difference with gouache in comparison to oils and acrylics is that it’s water based – and is a form of translucent watercolour. In contrast, acrylic is plastic based whilst oils are oil based.
Once gouache has dried you can work back into it with water, unlike acrylic which can’t be worked back into with water once it’s dried. Gouache is similar to oil in the sense that it can be worked back into (as oil is known for its slow drying where this can be achieved). Gouache has a more matte-like feel once dried, acrylic offers a more shiny effect once dried, whilst oil is a combination of both.
If you like paint that’s fast drying but can be worked back into with water, gouache is for you. If you prefer a paint which dries quickly and is set in place (without water interfering), acrylic is for you. Oils are for those who like slow drying paints, which can worked back into.
Gouache Recommended Materials : Brushes, Paper And Palettes
For my gouache paintings I personally use ‘Royal And Langnickel’ brushes. These come in a variety of sizes, and are very affordable. There not top-of-the-range, unlike some brushes, but they are reliable and nice to paint with. I don’t think you need top-of-the-range paint brushes for your brush set anyway. As a contrary to this, I also have 2 Windsor & Newton paint brushes (one Series 7 Kolinsky & Series 222 Designer Round), which are more expensive. These are used when I want to paint those finer details and offer great results!
When I comes to paper, there’s 2 that I use. I love ‘Seawhite Watercolour 350gsm A3 paper’, which is thick enough to withstand gouache easily. I cut mine up 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 too. My other paper that I love painting on is within my ‘200gsm Moleskine sketchbook’. I love painting on this thick paper, and Moleskine sketchbooks are always high-quality.
When it comes to palettes, for gouache I always recommend ceramic palettes, against cheaper plastic alternatives. Ceramic palettes are more free flowing when mixing, and are easier to clean than plastic palettes (especially with dried paint). I have two palettes, one ceramic, and one palette that comes with my painting ‘cakes’ – ‘Caran Dache Gouache Studio Set Cake Paint’. These are great gouache ‘cakes’, and comes with a metal palette as the lid of the box. I also highly recommend Winsor & Newton’s gouache paints, which I have several.
I use 2 used yoghurt pots for my painting water, which are roughly 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. One pot is used to clean my brushes (and is constantly dirty), and one pot is used to clean my brushes properly (so I don’t mix with dirty water on my brush – and is my clean painting water).
How To Paint With Gouache
When starting out with any new painting medium, it’s good to start off with basic painting and building up from there. If you’re a complete beginner to gouache, I recommend getting used to the painting medium by experimenting on a piece of paper, and seeing how you get on with it.
See what happens when you apply more water to your mixtures, what it’s like to paint with a thicker, more loaded paintbrush, or try with different colours. This exercise shouldn’t focus on how well you paint, but it should help you know how gouache functions.
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
Try to get to grips with gouache by fully exploring these suggestive ideas above. 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!
How To Paint With Gouache On Canvas
The first port of call to learn how to paint with gouache on canvas is to ensure that you put the canvas wooden pegs into the back of the canvas. Wooden canvas pegs usually come with every canvas that you purchase. 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.
To help you start on the right foot with painting gouache on canvas, I 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.
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.
After the gouache paint has dried as your base colour, you can either use pencil or even gouache itself to sketch out your desired painting. This is your choice, but I prefer pencil, as you can sketch the overall piece with ease.
In most cases, gouache works best on canvas when applied with thick paint. Of course you can work into the canvas with a watery consistency, but be sure to keep the canvas flat, and allow plenty of time to dry. Gouache is a great medium to work onto canvas, as it’s a quick-drying painting medium, and all you need is water to start painting!
My advice for painting on canvas is to start with a watery base coat, use pencil after this stage to sketch the entire painting, and then use gouache to start painting and create your masterpiece!
Gouache Painting Tutorial
One way to get fully 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.
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 for you. I recommend you select only one item, as if you select a whole load of items, this can get tricky (especially if you’re a beginner). Remember whilst painting along with this tutorial, that you are regularly cleaning your brushes – especially when mixing different colours, and change your painting water if your water is getting too dirty). So let’s begin with the first step towards your first gouache painting!
Step 1 – I setup my space like this when I’m painting. This might not be ideal for you, as you might work differently. However I thought it would be beneficial to see how I like to create my own gouache paintings. 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 – as coloured water can affect my colour).
Step 2– I then paint an ‘underpainting’. An underpainting is a base layer for your painting (like my yellow example above). This is often a block of colour that sets up my painting, and helps me break that dreaded ‘white space’. For most of my paintings, I use a limited colour palette, and I recommend you do the same. Before putting any colour to paper, choose 2-3 colours you want to use within your painting. For my painting, I’m choosing Yellow, Red and Green – and that’s it! I use complimentary colours or colours within my gamet to compliment this underpainting’colour. Choose a colour for your underpainting which you think will compliment your 2-3 colours.
Step 3 – 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 of my painting (as if your proportions are wrong, then it can be tricky to correct later on).
Step 4 – Once I’m happy with my drawing (including proportions and tonal values), I work out what colours I’m going to use. I would highly recommend you read some of my previous blog posts about colour if you’re new to colour – it will help you alot! Things you need to ask yourself: “what colour gamets am I going to use?, “what colours am I going to use for my dark and light areas”, “where is my focal point?”. With this piece, I have decided to focus on the colours Yellow, Red, and a complimentary colour of green. Remember to use white, load your brush with enough paint and focus on unsaturated colours.
Step 5 – 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 make sure I’m using complimentary colours for my greys within the piece, and I’ve decided to use my most saturated colours within the main subject to drawn you into 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 – 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 the ‘toughness’. 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 – 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), pick out several more objects around your house and paint these too, following the steps above. The more you practice with this painting medium, the easier it becomes.
Things To Consider And Avoid With Gouache
One of the major issues people have with gouache is it’s ‘patchiness’. This is something I have certainly encountered whilst trying to learn this painting medium. In contrast, acrylic doesn’t seem to lead to these results (probably because it’s plastic based). 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.
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. Your paintbrushes aren’t watery enough like a watercolour medium, and you’re not treating it like an acrylic / oil painting. This is because it’s not loaded with enough paint on your brush – you’re in the middle zone (so get out quick)! This is definitely one to practise and experiment with.
Other common issues with gouache and things to avoid:
- Painting 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.
- Painting with ‘muddy’ water or a dirty palette: clean your palette after every painting session and regularly change your painting water
- Painting with too many colours: limit your colour palette and you will paint stronger paintings!
- Rush the drawing stage and don’t study your subject: make sure you have things like proportion correct before putting any paint onto paper
- Not having fun whilst painting: be sure to have fun with it! If you’re not, you probably won’t come back again to practise!
How Have You Got On With Gouache Painting?
I hope you’ve enjoying learning how to paint with gouache! Remember that you can check out this blog post or my other blog posts by revisiting anytime to reaffirm what you have learnt and progress even more.
Gouache is a wonderful painting medium. Once you get into it you can get rather addicting, because of it’s versatility, free-flowing and matte-like finish. Even though I’ve mentioned this briefly, it’s worth addressing again: make sure you’re having fun when learning how to paint with gouache, or any painting medium for 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.
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!
Check out my previous blog posts and illustration portfolio, I’m a Freelance Illustrator and Designer from Hampshire, UK, and specialise in editorial, publishing and advertising. Cheers guys, and see you on the next post!
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