A beginners guide to Gouache

A beginners guide to Gouache

Gouache is a water based medium, and it's often referred to as uptake watercolor. It was the medium most used by illustrators before digital illustration emerged and it was even used in creating posters and things of that sort. It is a type of paint that produces a matte finish and has a unique look that can be used for both fine art and illustration. It is a great medium for beginners as it has a relatively low learning curve and is very versatile. What gouache artists love about it the most is its versatility and the richness of the pigments that it offers. In this article, we will take a look at the basics of gouache and provide you with everything you need to know to get started.

Types of Gouache - What's the right one for you?

There are basically two types of gouache that you need to know about standard water based gouache and acrylic gouache. Both of them pretty much give you similar results, but with some key differences in how they are used in terms of composition. Water based gouache uses the pigments and gum arabic versus the acrylic gouache which tends to use acrylic binders. 

What that means for you when you're working with the medium, once acrylic gouache dries on your paper or your palate, it cannot be reactivated with water, very similar to acrylic paints. As opposed to that water based gouache can be infinitely reactivated. So if you're somebody who likes to layer your paint without having to worry about reactivating your base layers, then acrylic gouache might be a great option for you. But if you're somebody like me, who tends to work on larger pieces over the course of a few days and tends to keep more of the paint on the palette to be reactivated later then water based is definitely the way to go. 

The cool thing about acrylic gouache though, is that you can use it on a variety of surfaces, including paper, canvas, wood, and more. Water based gouache also has a few different options that you’ll come across at your local stationary store. There are mainly three types of water based gouache that you should be aware of:

  1. Designers gouache
  2. Student’s gouache
  3. Jelly gouache

There are a few differences between the types mentioned above that you should understand in order to make the right choice for your art. The first key difference is that there's a huge price gap between student quality gouache and designers gouache. That price gap basically boils down to the quality of pigments used and the ratio of pigment used. So when you're working with a designer gouache, you will find that you get really smooth applications and you will not find it to be very streaky. On the other hand when you're working with student gouache, you might feel that the paint is a bit streaky in parts and it has fewer pigments, so it can be more difficult to control the opacity. So because of that you may need more layers to get your desired result. 

After having seen many reviews and also my own personal experience. I chose to stick with the Windsor Newton designers gouache as it is known to be the best gouache in the market as it is more pigment-dense and will produce better results.. But if you're somebody who's just getting started, who doesn't want to go all in because it is a little bit on the higher side in terms of pricing especially in India, you can try out some of the beginner's ones. Artesia is known to be pretty good, I personally have tried Reeves and I was pretty impressed with the results. And now Windsor Newton also has a student version of gouache. So it is important to find a brand that you like and that works for your needs. 

Papers, Brushes and other Tools needed

Artists love gouache because it is a very forgiving medium when it comes to all the other materials and tools that you need, especially as a beginner. You do not need to worry about too much else other than the paints themselves because you may struggle when you're using designers gouache as you may need to layer up a few extra times. Note that if you're not getting your desired results, it could just be the paint so don't get discouraged. 

When it comes to papers, you can use any cold or hot pressed papers. Both of them give you great results. If you want more texture, choose coldpressed paper. An example includes Kansan monofoil series which I use quite a lot in my coursework. 200 GSM is good enough, but any 300 GSM watercolor paper would be perfect, especially if you're using a little bit more water in your paintings, as opposed to watercolor where using specifics like 100% cotton paper gives you much better results. The same is not true for gouache, you could use cellulose based papers as well and be equally happy. You can use gouache with more water or less water when you're using it with more water, a better paper would definitely work. 

Watercolor brushes are perfect for gouache, it's good to have a mix of round brushes in a few different sizes. For round brushes the Princeton brand gives me a great tip to make thinner lines and fill tiny details. I also like to keep a flat brush and an angled brush handy because they can be pretty helpful for background washes. Budget brands and fineliner brushes can be very helpful to create art with white thin outlines and detailing. I find oyster synthetic brushes to be great as well. As mentioned before gouache is pretty forgiving. So just stick with brushes you're comfortable with and that work for the time that you want. 

Aside from my brushes, I have two jars of water kept next to me one I use to rinse off the brushes right after painting to get all the paint off, then the other one with clean water just for the final versions. I also keep a spray bottle of water to react with my paints on the ballot. 

Tips for working with Gouache

Now that you know the basics, here are a few key points to remember when you paint with gouache: 

The first point is that colors appear different when wet. Light colors tend to dry darker and dark colors tend to dry lighter, so it can be confusing at first, but with practice, you will get used to it. That brings me to my second point always be swatching. In reference to my previous point, the best way to work is to keep a sketchbook or a piece of paper next to you and always watch your colors before applying them onto your artwork. Wait for them to dry so that you know exactly how they're going to look adjust if needed and then proceed. Point number three reactivating your colors. So when you're working with water based gouache, you can always reactivate your palette, which is amazing because you can mix up colors that you really like store them, reactivate them with a bit of water. This is where having a spray bottle also comes handy because you could just spray on some water, reactivate your palette and then start using the color again. 

In terms of consistency, what you're looking for is something like melted ice cream. So you don't want the paint to be too thin because then it ends up looking more like watercolor unless that's what you're going for in terms of background washes, but you usually want it to be a lot more opaque. So make sure your paint is thick enough that it's opaque, but at the same time thin enough that you're able to freely move your brush around with it. 

Always always always mix more paint than you need to complete your artwork. If you run short, it's practically impossible to mix the same color again. Trust me I have made this mistake many times so I speak from experience. 

When working with white pigment, permanent white is always better than zinc white. Zinc white will not give you the opasity and brilliance that you're looking for. So if you buy a set of tubes that includes zinc white, be sure to pick up a tube of permanent white.

It is important to practice. Start with simple exercises to get used to the feel of the paint and the way it behaves. You can also practice mixing colors to get a better understanding of how they work together.


It is also important to experiment with different tools and techniques. Try different types of brushes and experiment with different types of strokes. You can also experiment with different surfaces and paints to find what works best for you.


Finally, it is important to keep your workspace organized. Make sure to have all the necessary tools and materials laid out and ready to go. This will make it easier to focus on the task at hand and make the process more enjoyable.

Getting started with gouache, can be a bit daunting

Gouache is a great medium for beginners and can be used to create beautiful works of art. With the right tools, techniques, and materials, you can create stunning pieces of art. So, don’t be afraid to give it a try!


If you’re looking to take your gouache skills to the next level, join my Gouache 101 Teachable class - Join the course. I’ll take you through the basics of gouache, from the tools and materials you need to the techniques you should use. You’ll also get access to exclusive resources and tips to help you become a better gouache artist. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up today and get started with gouache!

Those are all the things you need to know in order to get started working with gouache. Most importantly, remember to have fun with the medium. I cannot even tell you how much I love working with it. It's been such an exciting journey with this medium for me in the past two years. And if you have any questions about working with gouache, or if you have any tips or suggestions for me, please do leave them in the blog comments. 

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