BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO GOUACHE
Do you know why I love gouache so much? It is fantastic for sketching: it’s versatile, vibrant and looks soooo good! It is probably the easiest medium to learn and use, which makes it perfect for beginners. And the best thing is… gouache is very forgiving! That’s why I love gouache so much. It’s easy to clean up and correct mistakes. It gives you a lot of control and flexibility.
What is gouache
Gouache is a water-based paint, similar in many ways to watercolors. It dries very fast but can easily be re-wetted and has this beautiful matt finish. One of its key features which makes it so good for beginners is opacity of acrylic paint. With a thick gouache layer almost any mistakes can easily be fixed. And who doesn’t make mistakes, right? Create your first gouache painting with my class “Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils” and you’ll absolutely fall in love with it because with gouache there’s no such thing as a mistake!
However, it’s really important to remember that opacity might vary greatly depending on the brand and especially on the colors. Not all gouache colors are equally opaque. Some have a very good coverage and others are almost as transparent as watercolors. How do you know which one you have? Every paint tube has a label. If you look at this label closely, you’ll be surprised how much information it contains. Let’s have a look at the opacity rating. It is usually represented as a little square and shows one of the four degrees of opacity: opaque, semi-opaque, semi-transparent and transparent.
Want to learn how to read this entire label? Find more information on the Winsor & Newton's website.
Opacity rating is important because it will affect your ability to paint a new layer on top of another layer. Opaque paints have a higher layering ability than transparent ones and they are more suited for hiding mistakes.
How to apply gouache
As I alresy said, gouache is very similar to watercolor, so you apply it in pretty much the same way. Squeeze some paint onto a palette, get your brush wet, mix it with the paint and enjoy painting!
Gouache can be applied in different ways: thick layers (acrylic effect) or thinned with water layers (watercolor effect). The more transparent the paint the more it looks like watercolor.
I love combining thick and thin effects, which lets me enhance the brightness and contrast of my sketches and make them look more engaging and cool.
TIP: Here’s something important you should know about gouache: it might look a little bit different on paper than it does on your palette. The darker tones get much lighter after they dry, while the lighter tones might get a little bit darker. Solution? Keep an extra sheet of paper by your side so you can try out the color first. Make sure you let it dry completely to see what it will look like. It only takes a minute to dry, so it doesn’t slow down your creative process that much. Play around with colors and enjoy the adventure!
How to buy the right supplies
I know price can be a sensitive issue for beginners. You don’t want to spend tons of money on supplies until you’re sure that painting is going to become a real hobby. The good news is that you don’t need to buy expensive supplies to get started.
Here’s a checklist of supplies that I recommend for my gouache classes “Working with Gouache & Colored Pencils: Let's Draw Some Homes!” and “Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils":
✔️ gouache paints (obviously);
✔️ colored pencils;
✔️ 2B graphite pencil;
✔️ (kneaded) eraser;
✔️ (synthetic) brushes (small, medium, large);
✔️ draft paper;
✔️ roll of masking tape;
✔️ paper towel;
✔️ water (jar + spray bottle).
Paints and pencils
In very broad terms, there are two different kinds of paints: professional and student grade. Student-grade paints only come in sets, professional paints can be bought in sets or in separate tubes. Gouache paints consist of pigment and binder, the more expensive paints having more/better pigment.
Student-grade sets are enough to get you started and do my class “Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils”. In case you’re tempted to look at professional paints, here’s a little more information. Separate tubes of paint usually come in three or four price categories, the most expensive being around 15 euros per tube. Windsor & Newton, for instance, have four different categories. Series 1 being the least expensive, series 4 the most. Look for the ‘series’ number on the label: it shows the relative price of the paint, which is determined primarily by the cost of the pigment. I sometimes buy the most expensive kind because the colors are amazing and almost impossible to mix on your own.
For most of my sketches, I use quite a limited color palette: yellow, red, one or two blues, black, turquoise (my favorite color, series 4), burned sienna and two whites (a transparent one for mixing with other colors to make them look less bright and an opaque one for painting non-transparent layers and highlights). It's great if you have more colors, especially some less common shades. It's always fun to play around with them, to see how they mix and work together, but a very basic set is sufficient for your first amazing paintings.
I love to combine gouache with colored pencils because it creates a more interesting and engaging look and let you refine or correct any imperfections. If you'd like to learn my sketching style, you will need some pencils of different colors that match your gouache paints but are not exactly the same (a few darker ones for shadows and contours and one or two light ones for the highlights). You can read more about choosing colored pencils in my earlier post "How to choose colored pencils for sketching".
Every artist has their favorite brushes and will give you different tips on choosing them. I recommend synthetic brushes for gouache because they provide much more control than most natural hair brushes, are less expensive, and work very well. They are slightly stiffer than natural hair watercolor brushes, which tend to be too flexible and hold too much water.
The brush sizes depend on how big you want to paint, of course. For sketches in my A5 sketchbook format, I use a one stroke brush size 1 for the larger areas, a filbert or a round for the smaller areas and a round for tiny areas and details.
For instance, in this class “Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils” I am using a one stroke "Professional Acrylic Color" size 10 for the largest areas, a round size 8 Escoda Perla for smaller areas, and a round size 2 Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin for small areas and details.
You don’t need anything fancy because gouache is great on pretty much any paper as long as it's not too thin. Look for paper with a thickness of at least 200gsm (grams per square meter) to avoid buckling. You can use a sketchbook, a sheet of watercolor or mixed media paper. In fact, any kind of thick drawing paper will work.
My Beginner Classes
If you are curious about gouache and want to give it a go, try one of these two beginner classes on Skillshare.
What’s in them?
“Working with Gouache & Colored Pencils: Let's Draw Some Homes!”: This class will teach you how to sketch three very sweet, bright, and beautiful Amsterdam canal houses. You will learn the basics of gouache paint and colored pencils. It's perfect for beginners and fun for more experienced artists who love to draw architecture and want to learn new techniques.
“Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils”: In this class, you will learn how to create a loose and whimsical sketch in 3 easy steps. I will start by taking you through the tools and materials I'm going to use and give you some useful tips. Then, we will do some color mixing, put a color palette together and play a bit with gouache and colored pencils. And finally, we will create a finished artwork - a beautiful window sketch.
Follow my gouache and colored pencils classes on Skillshare if you want to learn more about gouache painting. As a new member you will get 1-month of Skillshare Premium for Free!