Gouache: Friend or Foe

Gouache and I go way back. I had not even heard of it until my freshman year of college, when one of my art professors informed the class it would be our primary medium. “Most students hate it,” she told us with a gleefully wicked smile. That was almost a decade ago, and I still remember the intense hostility I felt toward the paint. Try as I might, I could never get it to paint evenly and spent many a class dawdling in the back of the room, dreading critique time.

About a year ago, I decided to give gouache a second chance. It’s a convenient/dangerous thing that I live 3 blocks away from an art store. One of the store clerks helped me find a nice starter set, which happened to be on sale, so I came home with a pack of brand spanking new Holbein gouache paints. This past weekend I completed my first "full gouache" painting - see the in process photos through out this post!

Phase 1: laying down image tracing and main background color

Phase 1: laying down image tracing and main background color

Until recently, I hadn't spent much time with these paints, but I've decided to face my fears and give it a go! Gouache is essentially the middle child between watercolors and acrylics. Craftsy has a great article explaining the basics. Flat, opaque coverage allows for images that are far more detailed than those you get from watercolor. The consistency is similar to a watercolor, but even diluted, you will see good coverage. I am drawn to the bold colors provided by gouache as well as the ability to easily add fine detail without worrying about colors smudging and bleeding.

Phase 2: Begin to add in detail

Phase 2: Begin to add in detail

For this particular painting, my main goal was to get myself more comfortable working with gouache while playing with a fun, whimsical design. Here are some tips I learned while working through this piece:

  • Make sure you aren’t working with paint that is too thick. Water it down until you have a good consistency that spreads evenly across the paper. 
  • Paint a few test swatches to check your colors - dried gouache varies in tone from how it appears wet.
  • Allow each layer to dry fully before adding on. It can be tempting to paint quickly, because the gouache dries relatively fast. However, it’s important to allow adequate time between each primary layer to reduce paint becoming globby and/or smudging.
  • Experiment with a limited color palette! I tend to be excited by an abundance of colors, so it was difficult to restrict myself to one primary color. This ended up being a great exercise in utilizing pattern/texture to create visual interest.
Final artwork! Please enjoy the fall-inspired styling ;)

Final artwork! Please enjoy the fall-inspired styling ;)