Gouache: The Ultimate Guide to Painting Techniques and Tips

In the world of painting, where pigments dance, and emotions take shape, there exists an art form that casts a mesmerizing trance - the enchanting field of gouache. With its vibrant hues and touches of opaqueness, this unique paint medium is a favorite among artists and illustrators alike. From being used in animation and architecture to other artistic projects, gouache is the next best medium for any artist looking to create awe-striking, versatile projects!

A vibrant gouache painting of a burger with floating elements

Artists' Gouache Set - Strolling Through New York

If you've been looking to jumpstart your creative life with gouache, then this comprehensive guide is for you! We'll discuss gouache painting -  techniques, tips, and inspiration to help you unlock your artistic potential. From its rich history to practical application, we'll delve into the foundations of gouache and discover how this unique medium can bring your artwork to life. So, grab your brushes, and let's go! 

I. What Is Gouache? 

Although oil painting, watercolor painting, and acrylic painting have long dominated the art landscape, a clear contender: gouache. 

Gouache, pronounced as gwäsh, is a water-based paint medium used mainly in visual arts. It is a lightfast paint consisting of pigment, water, and a binding agent, usually gum Arabic. Some gouache paints, specifically tempera paint, are also made with chalk, contributing to their opacity. However, as many art supply stores will tell you, high-quality gouache paints should not contain chalk as fillers.  

A gouache painting of a girl holding some books

Fine Watercolor Brushes

Gouache is unique as a painting medium because it combines both the properties of acrylic and watercolor paint. Gouache is similar to watercolor paint but has a higher pigment concentration, giving it a more opaque and vibrant appearance. Unlike watercolors, which allow the underlying surface to show through, gouache provides solid coverage and can be applied in layers. Since it's also water-based, it can be easily reactivated by water, allowing you to rework your gouache painting again even after it has dried. 

Gouache is a favorite among many artists for its versatility and ability to create bold, matte colors and intricate details. It is often used in illustration, design, and traditional painting, and it can be applied to various surfaces such as paper, illustration board, or canvas. 

Shop for the Best Gouache Paint Set for Beginners! 

II. History and Origin of Gouache

Gouache is a versatile and vibrant medium with a fascinating yet mysterious history. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times, with early examples found in Egyptian and Roman art. Back then, they used egg yolk and chalk as binders for their pigments. Some of the earliest tempera artworks can be found in caves, involving hand prints and simplistic drawings about their lifestyles back then. 

 A gouache artwork featuring a globe and books on a table, alongside a candle

Watercolor Paper Pad (9"x 12")

However, it wasn't until the 18th century that gouache, now made with water-based gum, gained popularity in Europe. During the Rococo and Neoclassical periods, artists began to explore the unique properties of gouache and its potential as a versatile artistic medium. In the 19th century, when the plein-air painting movement arose because of Impressionists like Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezzane, and Edgar Degas, gouache was one of the popular mediums used. This was because of its fast-drying nature, which made it perfect to work outdoors for layering and scumbling techniques. 

Today, gouache continues to captivate artists worldwide with its rich history and versatility, making it a beloved choice for illustrations, design work, and even fine art paintings.

III. Famous Gouache Paintings and Artists

A gouache painting of the Girl with A Pearl Earring

Mixed Media Palette Knife Set

Gouache has been embraced by numerous talented artists throughout history, leading to the creation of many stunning artworks. The most notable gouache paintings made from the 18th to 20th century are as follows: 

  1. Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699 - 1779) - Known for his still-life paintings, Chardin utilized gouache extensively in his works, including "Jar of Apricots" and "Still Life with Glass Flask and Fruit."
  2. Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954) - In his later years, Matisse turned to gouache as a primary medium. His vibrant compositions, such as "The Snail" and "The Cut-Outs," showcase the pure, flat colors achievable with gouache.
  3. Paul Klee (1879 - 1940) - A Swiss-German painter associated with the Bauhaus movement, Klee incorporated gouache into his artistic practice. His gouache paintings, including "Twittering Machine" and "Castle and Sun," combine abstract forms, vibrant colors, and whimsical elements.
  4. Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953) - Dufy, a French Fauvist painter, employed gouache to create lively and colorful scenes. His works, such as "Regatta at Cowes" and "La Fée Électricité," showcase his bold use of gouache and his ability to capture movement.
  5. Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934) - A celebrated American cartoonist and animator, McCay used gouache in his illustrations and comic strips, most notably in his groundbreaking comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland."
  6. Charles Marion Russell (1864 - 1926)- As a renowned American artist of the Old West, Russell employed gouache in his paintings to depict scenes of cowboys, Native Americans, and the rugged landscapes of the American frontier.
  7. John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1955)- Sargent, known for his masterful portraits, also created stunning landscapes using gouache. His gouache works, such as "Garden Study of the Vickers Children" and "A Tent in the Rockies," showcase his skillful handling of the medium.

A gouache painting of a cute mushroom

Artists' Watercolor Brushes - Round

IV. Why You Should Use Gouache for Your Artworks

So, what makes gouache so wonderful as a painting medium compared to watercolors, oil, and acrylic? Here are compelling reasons to consider exploring the versatility, beauty, and expressive possibilities of gouache:

  1. Vibrant and Opaque Colors: Gouache is renowned for its ability to produce rich, vibrant, and matte colors. This quality allows you to create bold, solid areas of color and achieve a velvety texture in your paintings. Because it is also lightfast, this makes it great for digital art, giving accurate renderings and tonal values even in photographs. 
  2. Versatility: Gouache offers excellent versatility as a medium. It can be used in various art styles, from realistic to abstract, and can be applied to different surfaces such as paper, illustration boards, and even wood. 
  3. Layering and Corrections: Gouache also allows for easy layering and corrections. The opaque nature of gouache enables you to layer colors on top of each other, creating depth and dimension in your paintings. Additionally, if you make a mistake or want to make changes, gouache allows you to easily paint over or correct areas without leaving visible traces. 
  4. Quick Drying Time: Gouache dries relatively faster than other mediums, such as oil paints. This characteristic makes it suitable for artists who prefer to work with a medium that dries rapidly, allowing for efficient workflow and the ability to build layers or make adjustments promptly. 
  5. Portability: Gouache is available in tubes, pans, and even in portable sets, making it a convenient medium for artists on the go. The compact and mobile nature of gouache allows you to carry your art supplies easily and create artwork wherever inspiration strikes.
  6. Wide Range of Applications: Whether making illustrations, fine art paintings, design projects, or even exploring mixed media techniques, gouache can accommodate your creative needs and create detailed artwork with intricate patterns and textures, such as Impasto.
  7. Timeless Appeal: Gouache has a long-standing tradition in the art world and a timeless appeal. Renowned artists have used it throughout history, and its popularity continues to thrive today. By working with gouache, you are tapping into a rich artistic heritage and becoming part of a tradition that has captivated artists for centuries.

A vibrant and colorful gouache artwork of shoes and a helmet

Fine Liner Pen Set

V. Essential Gouache Supplies and Materials 

Have we convinced you to try gouache yet? If you're interested in taking up gouache, there are certain art supplies and materials that you'll need, such as:

  • Gouache paint (of course)
  • A painting surface such as watercolor paper, bristol board, or canvas 
  • Brushes
  • Palette knives for mixing your paints and adding texture
  • Rags or towels (for dabbing)
  • Palette
  • A small container to hold water for changing colors in between
  • Pencil for sketching your outlines 
  • Fine liner pen, if you want to add more details to your artwork 
  • Other mediums, such as acrylic or watercolor
A gorgeous gouache painting of Nami Island, Korea

Gouache is an easy medium to work with, and you don't need many supplies to get started on it. So whether you're a beginner or an experienced artist, exploring gouache can open up new creative possibilities and help you achieve stunning and expressive results in your art.

Discover the Best Art Supplies You Need for Gouache Here! 

VI. Gouache Painting Techniques and Application 

Once you have your materials and art supplies, brush in hand, you're ready to start painting with gouache! If you're a beginner who wants to learn how to start creating projects with gouache, take a look at these helpful techniques you can practice: 

Dry Brushing Technique 

Dry brushing involves loading paint on your brush and using little to no water at all to create unique strokes on your surface. This technique is particularly effective when making fine details, highlighting specific areas, or adding rough texture to your artwork. 

Wet on Wet Technique

The wet-on-wet technique with gouache involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and create soft, flowing transitions. It is a technique commonly used in watercolor painting, but you can also apply it with gouache to achieve similar effects. 

A graph showing the different gouache painting techniques

Scumbling Technique 

 This technique involves applying a thin, opaque layer of paint over a dry base layer, allowing the underlying colors or textures to show through partially. With this technique, you angle your hold on the brush to create swirl-like patterns, which helps add a subtle veil of color, texture, or tone to the surface, creating a delicate and nuanced effect in your artwork.

Layering Technique 

Layering is a technique commonly used in gouache painting that involves applying multiple layers of paint to create depth, texture, and a sense of transparency in your artwork. It allows you to gradually build up colors, values, and details, resulting in a vibrant finished piece. 

Glazing Technique 

The glazing technique with gouache involves applying thin, transparent layers of paint over previously dried layers to create luminous and subtle color effects. Because gouache is a quick-drying paint, it is easier to execute this technique than working with watercolors and oil. Plus, you can make areas lighter by thinning the colors with water. 

A 2nd graph showing the different gouache painting techniques

Blurring Technique

Since gouache can be reworked even after it has dried, you can use this property to your advantage. If you have some solid-colored shapes with edges that you want to blur or spread out, simply re-activate the area with water and blur with your brush. 

VII. Tips and Tricks for Painting with Gouache

A goauche artwork of a sakura branch with flowers

Watercolor Paper Set (A2 loose sheets)

  • Use a limited color palette: If you’re buying your first-ever set, you can start with a small selection of colors and learn to mix them to create a wide range of hues. This will help you develop color harmony in your paintings and make color mixing more manageable.
  • Test your colors before applying: Gouache can dry slightly darker or lighter than it appears when wet. To avoid surprises, test your colors on scrap paper before applying them to your artwork.
  • Work from light to dark: Similar to watercolor painting, it's generally recommended to work from light to dark colors when using gouache. This allows you to layer darker shades over lighter ones and achieve more depth and dimension.

A gouache painting of a bunny with a carrot

Satin Masking Tape for Painting

  • Keep your brushes clean: Gouache can dry quickly and become thick, so cleaning them frequently is essential to maintain their performance. Rinse them thoroughly between color changes and use a clean cloth or paper towel to remove excess water.
  • Experiment with different surfaces: Because gouache is opaque, you can paint on colored surfaces, such as black or colored cardstock, to create exciting effects. 
  • Layer and build-up colors: Gouache allows for layering, so take advantage of this by building up colors gradually. Start with thin washes and add more opaque layers to create depth and richness in your artwork. 
  • Embrace the opacity: Gouache's opaque nature is one of its unique qualities. Embrace this characteristic by using it to your advantage, especially when you need to correct mistakes, add highlights, or create bold, solid areas of color. 

Explore More Inspiration for Your Gouache Artworks! 

Become a Gouache Master in No Time With These Hacks! 

Now that you know everything about gouache, its properties, history, material, and techniques, it will be easier for you to master painting with this versatile medium! We hope you found this post informative, and if you're looking to get more inspiration, don't forget to drop by our Creative Corner for more gouache art ideas and projects. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Gouache paint is a water-based, opaque medium that consists of pigment, binder, and a white filler. It provides vibrant and opaque colors, often described as a combination of watercolor and acrylic paint.
While both gouache and watercolor are water-based paints, gouache is more opaque than watercolor. Gouache has a higher pigment concentration and contains white pigment, giving it a more matte and solid appearance than watercolor's transparent qualities.
Gouache can be used on various surfaces such as watercolor paper, cardstock, illustration board, canvas, and even some non-porous surfaces like wood or plastic. However, it's important to properly prepare the surface to ensure adhesion and longevity.
Gouache has a relatively fast drying time compared to oils, but it dries slower than acrylics. It allows artists more time to work with the paint, make adjustments, and create layered effects.
Gouache paints should be stored in airtight containers or tubes to prevent them from drying out. It's important to keep them away from extreme heat or cold to maintain their quality.

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