Gouache 101: A Beginner's Guide to Painting with Gouache including Tools, Materials, and Techniques

Gouache 101: A Beginner's Guide to Painting with Gouache  including Tools, Materials, and Techniques

In this blog, we will go over everything you need to know about Gouache, from how to pronounce the word to understanding the medium to how to get started. I’ve also included a few tips to help make your gouache journey just a little bit smoother! 

Pronounced g-wash and known for its opaqueness, this is a water-based medium of paint that has been used for over 10 centuries for creating print-like materials like posters before digital illustrations became a thing. 

Types of Gouache paints

There are 2 types of Gouache paints - water-based and Acrylic. In terms of composition, the water-based Gouache paints usually use Gum Arabic to bind the pigment while the acrylic ones use Acrylic binders. In terms of usage, acrylic-based Gouache paints, like any other acrylic paint, cannot be reactivated once it dries while the water-based Gouache paints can be reactivated as many times as you like. 

So, if you’re someone who paints quickly and prefers layering over blending, then Acrylic is for you but if you’re like me who likes to blend colours or paints a piece over a few days, then the water-based Gouache paints will work best for you. 

If you’d like to explore more about Acrylic Gouache, this video is a good place to get you started. 

Gouache paints available in the market 

Typically there are 3 types of Gouache paints available in the market - Designers Gouache, Student-Grade/Beginner Gouache, and Jelly Gouache (also student-grade).

The primary differences will be in the composition, quality of pigments, and of course, the price. The Designers Gouache Paints are more expensive but will give you a cleaner smoother finish without being streaky while the students quality gouache paint might result in a more streaky finish but are much cheaper. You might also have to use more layers to get the desired opacity. 

I personally prefer the Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache paints. However, if you’re a beginner you can try student-quality Gouache paints.  Now, Winsor and Newton has also launched a student quality range. I’ve done a more detailed review of this if you would like to check it out. I’ve also reviewed the Himi Miya Jelly gouache, which is a great choice for beginners who want to dip their toes into the world of gouache. 

Materials you’ll need: papers, brushes, etc.

One of the reasons I love gouache is that it’s a very forgiving medium when it comes to all the other tools and materials you need to paint with it. 

In terms of the paper, you can use any hot- or cold-pressed paper. Any 200 GSM to 300 GSM watercolour paper will work just fine for Gouache paints. I personally use Canson Montval for a lot of my work. Unlike watercolours, where you might need a 100% cotton papers for best results, for Gouache paints you can use cellulose-based paper as well and get great results. Of course, if you are using more water, then a better quality paper would give you a better experience and results. 

When it comes to brushes, watercolour brushes work perfectly for Gouache. I personally recommend you start with round brushes in a few different sizes. I personally prefer Princeton or Oyster synthetic brushes. I also keep a flat and an angular brush for background washes. If you do a lot of artwork with thinner lines and outlines, then I also recommend that you invest in a fine liner brush. I recommend that you try different brands till you find the one that works best for you and your style! If you want more details on brushes for Gouache, then check out this video! 

Other than these, I usually have 2 cups of water, one to wash all the paint off the brush and another for a final rinse. This helps me avoid transferring colours in the palette. I also keep a spray bottle of water to reactivate the paints in my palette and of course, a palette to mix paints. There are many palettes available in the market and if you’re confused which is the right on for you, I’ve got you covered there also! 

Key things to remember when painting with Gouache

From my experience, here are a few things to remember when starting out with Gouache: 

  1. Colours appear different when wet: with Gouache paints, light colours dry darker and darker colours appear a little lighter once dried. 
  2. Always swatch before using: before you paint with them, swatch your colours, and wait for them to dry. This way you’ll know what your end result will look like and you can adjust your colours accordingly. 
  3. Reactivating your colours: if you are using water-based Gouache paints, you can reactivate your colours even after they dry in your palette. This is where the spray bottle comes into play. Just spray a little water over the dried paint, and it’ll be good to use again. 
  4. Consistency: ideally you want the consistency to be like melted ice cream. Thick enough to give you the desired opacity but thin enough that you are able to move it around freely. For background washes, you can of course thin them out to your desired consistency! 
  5. Mix more than you need: it’s almost the rule of thumb. ALWAYS mix more of the colour than you think you’ll need because trust me when I say it’s practically impossible to get the exact shade the second time around. 
  6. The Whites: Permanent White is better than Zinc White, if you’re looking for a clean opaque white.. Zinc white will not give you the opacity and brilliance you expect from a white paint. So, if your Gouache paint set comes with a Zinc White, I recommend investing in a permanent white tube.  

Techniques for working with Gouache

I strongly recommend that you check out the video to best understand the 3 basic techniques to get you started with Gouache but here’s the gist of it. 

  1. Blending: The result you are looking for here is a smooth transition from one colour to another. The key is to work fairly quickly before the base layer dries out. Start painting with one colour and once you are done, clean your brush thoroughly before you pick the next colour. Now you want to start with the new colour a little before where the previous colour ends. Blend and pull outwards. Once again clean your brush and add/adjust till you get the desired result. 
  2. Dry brushing: I use this technique to bring texture to my shades. For this technique, you will need your brush and the paint to be relatively dry when you pick the paint and then you gently brush the paint over a background colour or directly on your paper. 
  3. Layering: This is where you layer one colour over another. Contrary to blending, in this case, it is important to make sure your base layer is dry and that the colour you are using to layer is of the right consistency, ideally similar to your base layer. It’s important that your paint is not so watery that it reactivates your base layer.  Another key thing to remember is to not overwork the second layer, this will again reactivate your base layer. If you prefer layering but with ease, then consider working with acrylic gouache. 

The colours you need to get started

As a beginner, you do not need to purchase a large range of colours. All you need are the primary colours (red, blue, and yellow), black and white. You can mix these to get any other colours and shades you need. This is not only so it’s cost-effective but will also help you get familiar with mixing, colour theory, and consistency. I personally believe that these are skills that every artist must spend their time developing. If you are interested in learning more about colour mixing, consistency, and theory, I’ve developed an online course that can get you started. 

As you get better and more familiar, you can start adding more colours to your collection. 

There you go! You are not all set to get started on your Gouache journey. If you would like some extra guidance or prefer beginning your Gouache journey in a more structured manner, check out my online course Gouache for Beginners!

Oh, and remember to have fun and play with the medium till you get your groove. Trust me, it’s such a satisfying medium to work with and I really hope you enjoy working with it as much as I do! Watch the full video :

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