Superbly combining the flexibility of watercolor with the opaqueness and flow of acrylics, gouache is an extremely versatile medium to work with. It can be effortlessly manipulated using just water — adding a little water can lift the medium and push its pigment around after drying, if watered down it can function as watercolors creating blooms and washes. Additionally, it can be layered light to dark or dark to light, unlike watercolor, you can paint in whites instead of masking them off. Even the mistakes in the paintings can be easily covered up.

With an aim to create an explosion on the canvas, Fauve artists of the early 20th-century applied pure, brilliant color aggressively straight from the paint tubes. Famous masters of this radical art movement including Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall experimented using the versatile gouache medium in combination with other materials like ink, oil, and watercolor and found great success in their search to create novel and interesting color combinations and dynamic compositions. Matisse, in particular, worked with gouache and decoupage techniques to create his famous series of ‘Blue Nude’ that remain popular with audiences worldwide for decades.

Owing to its ease of use and numerous attributes, gouache has been used today in the film and animation industries as well for working out the layouts, concepts, and backgrounds.

Here’s all you need to know about working with gouache paints— tools, materials you need, and some basic techniques.

Quite affordable, your set up for working on a gouache painting doesn't need to be huge or advanced to be effective with it.

  • Brushes

Brushes used for gouache are typically the same as watercolor paintbrushes. Made from natural and synthetic fibers, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, you can choose the ones that suit your painting style. For example, some artists prefer using round brushes a lot also, but kit themselves with square brushes too. As the medium can be pushed around on the paper surface quite easily, the shape of the brush doesn’t as important as oil or acrylic paints, still equipping your toolkit with a few key brushes is always better.

Tip: While working with gouache, always keep your brushes wet. This will help spread the paint easily on the surface and keep it workable as you paint.

  • Paints

Like acrylics and watercolors, there are lots of gouache pigments available in the market. As you only need a rainbow-like spectrum of colors, so it’s a good idea, to begin with a few primary colors in your palette, along with tubes of black and white paint, so you can mix them to achieve a range of hues. For an upgrade, you can buy the beginners’ gouache paint sets that include a variety of colors.

For using gouache, press it out straight from a tube or mix it on a palette. You can water it down to look like watercolor or apply it opaque like acrylics.

Tip: Experiment with different paint brands to find out which you enjoy working with and most importantly suit your style.

  • Surface

Gouache is fairly wet paint, so you need a sturdy painting surface that won't buckle and ripple when it gets wet on the application of the paint.

Owing to its versatility, it can be used on a wide variety of painting surfaces including illustration board, heavier weight paper such as watercolor paper, mixed-media paper, thick drawing paper, and Bristol board. However, it doesn't work too well (like acrylics) on canvas, so avoid using it especially if you are a beginner.

  • Color Palette

Organize your palette according to warm and cool values.

Mix the colors with the consistency of mud in mind, as you can always water them down later when needed. Keep the colors you will need more often in separate airtight containers and use them as needed. A palette knife wouldn’t be able to lift paint off the surface, instead use an old brush for mixing the colors.

  • Staining

Similar to glazing, staining involves covering the area to be painted with a bit of color watered-down to provide a base for the rest of the painting. Start by mixing the gouache color, and then pick it up with a wet brush, which will help the pigment move around the paper surface easily. Using even strokes and refilling the brush with the gouache as needed, lay in an even coat around the area that you want to paint.

Tip: Create a thin consistency of the gouache so that it can be swathed across the page building a foundation to work from.

  • Opaque Layers

Similar to acrylic painting, opaque layers are used to hide layers underneath while painting in gouache. Owing to the rich and vibrant quality and a lovely, heavy, velvety texture that absorbs light rather than reflecting it, gouache paints create a very smooth appearance. This makes it an ideal option for opaque coverage.

Once you have placed the foundation of your artwork, you can begin laying the opaque layers in the painting. Use the gouache paint without adding much water, and you will achieve a rich, opaque color that completely covers anything underneath it. As the medium has a very tactile look, this technique gives you endless possibilities to add opaque elements or create detailed compositions including clouds in a sky or a tree or shrubs in front of a mountain.

Tip: While adding in the details to the composition, remember that contrast is key for really letting the fine linework show through. Be mindful of the light and dark, cool and warm, and complementary colors to get it right.

  • Dry brushing

Dry brushing is a method of layering color in a way that preserves the texture.

Simply pick up some semi-wet gouache paint with your brush, then brush most of it out using a paper towel or scrap piece of paper so that you are left with only 30 percent of the original load. Then, quickly sweep the “dry” brush over your painting. You’ll achieve a feathered, almost ragged effect that can be used for texture, highlights, or backgrounds.

Tip: In an attempt to add interesting texture in your gouache art, don’t tend to overdo using this technique else your color will become muddy

  • Softening edges

Gouache stays workable almost indefinitely.

This versatile medium gives you the liberty to rework hours or even days after it has been applied just like watercolors. To create a gradient between the different paint strokes, load up your brush with water and apply it to the previously laid dry paint of gouache. This will help you pull the pigment and blend the two colors together.

Tip: You can also use the paintbrush to push the pigment from side to side to achieve a good blend in your artwork.

  • Blurred Strokes

This technique is similar to scumbling. This a more natural way of painting but it offers a much looser look in color and texture.

Use the brush to pick the paint from the palette and place it carefully on the paper gently mixing and blending colors as you paint on the paper. Be mindful of not blending the colors too much.

Tip: Do not overwork else you will end up messing up your art.

  • Blooms

Being a water-based medium, you can water down the gouache paint to behave and move around like watercolor. Hence, these irregular, splotchy, abstract chunks of color can be easily achieved with gouache.

Load your brush with lots of water and a small amount of gouache pigment, then blot it on the paper surface. You’ll get little puddles of color that spread and bleed in an abstract way. Using more water and different colors, you can blot blobs of color into the puddle on the paper.

Tip: Use this technique to can form an interesting background to build upon.

  • Rags and Paper Towels

Always keep some clean rags and paper towels on hand.

You can use them to dab excess paint or water from the brush or dry your brush between dips in the water while switching colors. Also, they are helpful in removing any excess paint from the surface.

  • Protecting The Painting

When displaying one of your gouache paintings, make sure to protect it appropriately. As gouache can be reworked indefinitely, a drop of water can always reactivate the paint and ruin your painting. So, make sure you put them safely in a glass frame or use a spray fixative.

Happy painting!