Today, I want to share my personal techniques for using gouache and provide a comprehensive guide on how you can get started with gouache paint in your sketchbook. I find it beneficial to have a pan of white gouache in my field kit because it allows me to have an opaque white color that can be easily mixed with other colors on my palette. Alternatively, you can create a small palette dedicated solely to gouache.
Typically, I combine gouache with watercolor since they are both water-based paints and can be mixed together. However, it’s important to note that gouache is opaque and behaves differently from watercolor. Gouache can be used in various ways in your sketchbook, and sometimes it’s best to use it directly from the tube. Let’s explore this versatile medium together.
Get Started with Gouache: Understanding Gouache Paint
Gouache is a water-soluble paint composed mainly of pigments, a binder (usually gum arabic or honey), and sometimes chalk. The opacity of gouache is achieved either through a high concentration of pigments or the addition of chalk. Cheaper gouache paints tend to produce streaky results, while artist-grade or good-quality student-grade paints offer even and opaque layers.
Gouache vs. Watercolor: Unveiling the Differences
Watercolors are known for their translucent qualities, allowing artists to build up layers and create a glaze effect that adds depth to their work. Gouache can also be used in a similar manner, but building up multiple transparent layers can be more challenging. When using gouache, it’s common to start with thinned-down paint and gradually decrease the amount of water for subsequent layers. This technique, known as “fat over lean,” is reminiscent of oil painting principles. If you’re familiar with oil, acrylics, or casein painting, you’ll find that gouache offers similar effects.
Gouache dries to a smooth, solid surface that conceals what lies beneath it. This characteristic is particularly useful when adding bright elements to a painted surface, such as white clouds against a dark sky or vibrant markings on a bird. Gouache allows for easier reintroduction of details compared to painting around them.
Another distinction to be aware of is the application process. While watercolor requires working from light to dark (as you can’t add brightness or white space back into the painting), gouache allows for the addition of white highlights or working from dark to light, as light colors can be applied over darker areas.
Using Gouache in Your Sketchbook
When sketching with watercolor, I always keep a bit of white gouache on hand for highlights and to correct minor mistakes. If you aim to create a complete gouache painting, you can mix a tube of white gouache with your tube watercolors since they are fully compatible. Alternatively, you can carry your gouache paints with you in a compact kit or as tubes. However, keep in mind that transferring gouache into pans may not always yield satisfactory results.
Gouache is best utilized directly from the tube. Fresh gouache offers a creamy consistency that allows for thick strokes. While dried gouache can be reactivated, it won’t be as malleable. If you’re working outdoors and only need to add a touch of white or light values to your sketch, a small field kit would come in handy.
In my watercolor palette, I have a pan of white gouache that I use for mixing colors and adding highlights, clouds, or fixing minor mistakes. This technique is perfect for those who want to dip their toes into gouache and give it a try. However, when I want to create an entirely gouache-based painting, I prefer using fresh gouache paint straight from the tube.
Which Gouache Paints to Choose
Gouache comes in tubes, so if you only plan on using it occasionally in your sketchbook, you may want to transfer it into pans. Some brands dry better than others, as certain paints tend to turn into solid cakes or crumble when reactivated. Over the years, I have experimented with various brands and found that Schmincke works best for me when it comes to rewetting the paint. Winsor & Newton paints require a bit more time, and inexpensive paints often fail to deliver satisfactory results. Adding a drop of glycerin to your paint can help keep it moist. Personally, I prefer using fresh gouache from the tube each time I paint, although this is less practical for outdoor work.
Painting Techniques with Gouache
Gouache requires a slightly thicker application compared to watercolor, especially when painting over darker layers. Avoid making your mixes too thin, as they may turn transparent and cause the paper to buckle. Aim for a consistency similar to cream, which will yield favorable results. Gouache can be applied with a dry brush to achieve textured effects. Layering is possible to a certain extent when using a dry technique, but when excessive water is used, the layers below will reactivate, resulting in muddy colors. Working quickly can help mitigate this issue, so keep it in mind if you plan on working in layers.
Gouache undergoes a drying shift, where light colors tend to darken and dark colors tend to lighten. This phenomenon occurs due to changes in the paint’s surface during the drying process. If you’re uncertain about how your colors will dry, create a few test swatches. In practice, I’ve found this issue to be less pronounced.
After painting, make sure to give your brushes an extra thorough cleaning, as gouache tends to stick to the bristles more than watercolor.
Examples of Gouache in My Sketchbook
I’d like to share some instances in which I’ve used gouache in my sketchbook. Over the years, my use of gouache has evolved from merely adding small touches of white to my watercolor sketches to incorporating a wider range of colors and even creating entire gouache sketches. Gouache can be a time-saving tool when adding intricate details. Don’t be swayed by watercolor purists who abstain from using white on their palettes. If you examine the works of renowned artists like Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent, you’ll notice that they didn’t shy away from incorporating white into their paintings.
Gouache can yield captivating effects on toned paper, as showcased in these sketches where I utilized it for highlighting while leaving the paper as the middle tone.
Gouache proves especially useful when adding details and highlights to darker areas. This technique works exceptionally well for accentuating highlights and delicately painting feathers on birds or the wings of butterflies.
For my gouache sketches, I prefer using the paint fresh from the tube, allowing myself ample time to work. These scenes focus on light and color, intended to create a deliberate and thoughtful composition, rather than a spontaneous sketch from nature.
Have you experimented with gouache in your sketchbook? Would you like more tips on getting started with gouache? Let me know in the comments below!