Gouache Painting Tips

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!


  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. terriaw

    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!

  3. Joy

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

  4. 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…

  5. Kate

    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?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      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!

  6. 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!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      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. :)

  7. 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.

  8. Katy

    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

  9. 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!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

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

  10. 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)

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      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.

  11. 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)

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      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? :)

  12. 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.

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      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.

  13. claire

    Hi, I know this post is really old now, lol, but I came here (from Pintrest)looking for *newbie* gouache tips. Like another commenter mentioned, there is very little information on this medium – I guess its not “trendy” enough in this digital age. Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing your experiences, and love your work – so bright and colourful! I have taken my brave pill, and made a few brushstrokes just to see how it works/dries, and am loving it so far! Thanks again, and I have bookmarked your blog. :)

  14. Matthew Tsirides

    Started painting with gouache today, seems a bit strange at first gives you the idea of watercolor but I guess I just have to get use to the water/paint combination as stated above! :) Great tips by the way!

  15. Chevalier Daniel C. Boyer

    In addition to diluting gouache with water you can dilute it with other things. I have diluted gouache with rainfall, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Cherry Coke and am just beginning to dilute gouache with sweat.

  16. Brittany

    Oh no, you can definitely fix mistakes, as long as you work quickly! Keep some paper towels near by and when you have a mistake, use a brush to add water to the mistake and dab it away with the paper towel. Keep going until most of the mistake is lifted. Be careful to not add too much water and let it soak into the paper or the paper (especially with bristol) will start to come apart. You can practice dabbing up paint mistakes on a piece of scrap paper. Its easy and it usually gets most of the paint up without a problem!

  17. Jillian

    What color did you use in #3? Have you experimented with making a color metallic? I want to make a metallic greyed green so I was thinking of mixing silver with green.

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I’m not sure what color it was (it has been a few years since I wrote this post). It looks from my palette like I mixed it rather than a straight color from a tube. I’ve never tried metallic gouache, but it seems doable!

  18. Vivien

    Of course I’m looking up different gouaching methods and come across a site that recommends your exact tutorial on it. You are so generous and wonderful and this tutorial IS SO helpful! Which by the way, I DEFINITELY BOUGHT THOSE IKEA SHELVESSSS! #allthankstoyou

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