Gouache Painting Tips

March 16th, 2012

A few of you asked about gouache painting tips, so this one is for you guys! All you really need to get started with gouache is paint, brushes, a palette, water, and something to paint on (I used bristol paper). It turns out that I’ll need a bit more experience before I become the Queen of Gouache, but I did have a few helpful epiphanies while I practiced.

Epiphany #1: Don’t buy cheap gouache. At first I got an inexpensive set of gouache paints from the craft store. I practiced with them for a week or so, but they seemed dull and I couldn’t get them to look as opaque as I thought gouache was supposed to be. So, I went to an art supply store and got some brand name (Winsor & Newton) gouache paint. Wow, it made a world of difference. The paint is velvety and thick, and the colors are so rich and vibrant.

gouache painting tips

Epiphany #2: Experiment with different brushes. It seems to me that if acrylic and watercolor got together and had a baby it would be gouache. That being said, I’m not really sure what type of brush you’re supposed to use with gouache. I just pulled out my big box of paint brushes, tried them all, and each one gave me a different sort of look. I liked using small brushes best since I was working on lettering and such.

gouache painting tips

Epiphany #3: When mixing paint, use white paint to lighten the color instead of water. (If you want your gouache to be opaque, that is.) I have worked with watercolors quite a bit in the past, so I’m used to making light colors by mixing water into my paint and allowing the white of the paper to show through. It took me a while to figure out that using white paint instead of water allows me to retain the gouache’s opacity while still achieving a lighter color. You can see in the photo below. Two swatches of the same blue—the top I lightened with water, and the bottom I lightened with white.

gouache painting tips

Epiphany #4: Don’t mix in much water. (Unless you want your gouache to look like watercolor.) A little water thinned the paint slightly and allowed it to brush on smoothly. Too much water made it transparent. I still need more practice to consistently achieve the perfect water to paint ratio. It’s tricky!

gouache painting tips

Happy gouache-ing!

27 Comments

  1. Amy

    I haven’t painted for an age. My preferred craft of choice is knitting or crochet generally but I would love to mess about with some paints and this post has given me some food for thought. I may head to the art shop tomorrow and treat myself to some gouache, it’s been 10 years but you’ve reminded me how much I love the stuff!!

  2. Great tips, I painting is such good fun, it’s been too long since I dabbled!

  3. Great tips! I have been spending most of my time lately working with acrylic and watercolor for my color media class, and these tips could apply to those mediums too (except for #3 with watercolor, of course). What you said in #2 about the combination of acrylic and watercolor is exactly what my instructor says. I made the mistake of adding too much water to paint, as you mentioned in #4, many times, and ended up with a washy look without much color. Thanks for putting this together – it’s a great list!

  4. Great tips, thank you for sharing.

    I love the textures of both of the brushes you’d used to write ‘hello’, it’s fun to play around :)

  5. Great tips. I’ve still not started on my oil paints and canvases but once I have, I’ll move onto gouache–exciting stuff!

  6. Joy

    This makes me want to paint so bad. Something about paint scares me though. Probably the fact that there is no “Undo” button.

  7. NellyKelly

    Its amazing how great your timing is! I’ve never worked with gouache before but somehow got it into my head to try it just this week! I spent some time hunting around looking for exactly what you’ve given us: just some tips and tricks from someone who has played around with it. Didn’t find quite what I wanted so I put the idea on the back burner… Til I opened up my google reader today and found this waiting for me! Thanks…

  8. Oh, what beautiful colors you’ve mixed! I’ve just started playing with gouache and I’m having a hard time keeping the paint on my palette wet from day to day. Do you just squeeze out new paint every time you paint or do you have any tricks to suggest for storing a palette?

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      I just let my paint dry out on the palette and then add a little water when I want to use it again, or I get new paint every time. I wish I knew of a good trick to keep the paint wet!

  9. amy

    Gouache should be the consistency of melted ice cream when you have the perfect mixture of water to paint, or at least that’s what I learned in school. Maybe that’ll help you out a little in your experimenting :) Happy painting!

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      Oh thanks Amy! That rule of thumb will help me out a lot, since I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream in my day. :)

  10. Brittany

    Gouache is the devil! That said, lol these are all great tips! However, gouache is just too tempermental for my liking. Not enough water and it cracks, too much water and it’s transparent! Once i finished my design class I promised i’d enver touch that stuff again… oil & pastel is my friend.

  11. Distilled water is another trick. Using distilled water keeps the gouache bright and pretty when dry. Amy is right about the consistency. I try to make my gouache consistency like cream (1/2 & 1/2). Gum arabic is another thing you can add especially if you are lettering like Amanda is doing. Winsor & Newton makes liquid gum arabic that will last you forever.
    Add a couple of drops to give your paint mixture more even flow.
    Love gouache! Great post Amanda!
    xo, Katy

  12. Amy

    I’ll add to the consistency discussion — I’ve been told it should be the consistency of ranch dressing :) You definitely don’t want it too thick or it will show your paintbrush strokes (unless that is the look you are trying to achieve). Finding the right consistency gets easier the more you do it.

    As for mixing lighter colors, start with the white and add the color to it. You’ll have much more success this way than trying to add white to a darker color. (I learned this the hard way!)

    Gouache is a great choice if you’re looking for a matte finish (as opposed to a glossy finish with Acrylic). It also behaves very differently, in that you are able to mix any color with ease, and it applies much more consistently.

    Hope this helps!
    Amy

  13. I love painting with gouache too ! But they are all dried out now. Do you know if I can make them soft and paintable ?
    Pls check out my picture gallery using gouache
    http://curiositaellya.blogspot.com/2011/10/picture-gallery-in-florida-home.html
    Thank you !

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      I’m not sure Ellya, I had some tubes dry out before and I ended up tossing them in the trash.

  14. Yas

    I came across your chronicles through another blog. This is amazing! I love seeing more and more people get into gouache paint. It was always the staple when I went to school and never realized I’d be picking up on it again after. I know it can be really unforgivable when it comes to mixing and smooth transitions, but I think the pieced out and rough shading actually adds to its charm! :)

    Also, you can score some bulk Winsor & Newton on Ebay! That’s how I got by on a student budget back then. They go really cheap!! (of course beware of fakes, but I don’t think those are common with these kinds of products)

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      Thanks for stopping by Yas! I follow your blog, and I love checking out your latest gouache work. You are the gouache master! Maybe I can soak up some of your skills from your comment? ;) We had to do one project with gouache in design school, but it wasn’t enough for me to pick up any mad skills, darn it! I’m still working at it. Thanks for the Ebay tip, I will definitely be checking that out.

  15. Yas

    *unforgiving I mean :)

  16. Julie Toffolo

    Hi Amanda,

    I have started working with gouache last year 2012 (that is too weird saying last year)! My frustrations are in the rendering with gouache; is it better to render at time of laying paint or go back later when dried and render with slightly damp brush? Julie (Australia)

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      Hi Julie, it’s great that you started working with gouache! I’m not sure what you mean by “rendering.” For the most part I lay down the first coat of paint and let it dry before adding additional layers, unless I want the top layers to blend with the bottom layer a bit—then it’s better to layer the paint on while the base coat is still damp. I’m not sure if that is what you were asking though? :)

  17. rainey

    Hi, I have enjoyed reading about gouache on this site as I have hardly found much information on this medium. I was curious as to what type of finish or varnish would be used with gouache? I am new to this medium and I was hoping I could achieve a no brushstroke or very smooth look to this paint. Also, the type of surfaces I assume would be the same for acrylics?Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      I’m not a gouache expert, but I’ve never used a finish or varnish on mine. I believe most artists paint on heavy paper or illustration board when using gouache.

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