How to

Ten Tips for Success in Gouache


Are you considering using gouache in your artwork? Look no further! In this blog post, renowned artist James Gurney shares ten valuable tips to help you excel at painting with gouache, especially when working on location. Gouache is an incredibly versatile and responsive medium, perfect for artists who enjoy painting on-the-spot. Despite its advantages, mastering gouache requires some skill and knowledge. So, let’s dive into these tips and elevate your gouache painting experience!

1. Embrace the Power of Big Brushes

Investing in expensive brushes is unnecessary. Surprisingly, some of James Gurney’s favorite brushes come from an affordable set purchased at a big-box craft store. When working in a 5-by-8-inch watercolor sketchbook, synthetic flat brushes (3/4-inch and 1/2-inch) with good spring and sharp edges are ideal for reaching small spaces. Additionally, have a few round brushes on hand for intricate details. Begin with larger brushes and gradually transition to smaller ones; but remember, whenever possible, use the largest brush suitable for each section.

2. Simplify your Palette

For beginners, using just black and white gouache offers several advantages. Eliminating chroma and hues allows you to focus solely on tonal values and the behavior of the paint. When ready to go beyond the grayscale technique, explore a simple warm-cool palette consisting of Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna, black, and white. You can create almost any image with six colors or fewer. By using fewer colors, your paintings will appear more harmonious since good color comes from knowing what to exclude from the palette.

3. Keep Your Paints Moist

To prevent your gouache tubes from drying out, store them in sealed jars, preferably glass containers, in your studio. When painting on location, squeeze out the required amount of paint onto a damp paper towel and spread it on one side of the palette. This method will extend the paint’s lifespan. If possible, avoid direct sunlight, which can accelerate drying.

4. Use Abundant Amounts of Paint

Gouache can be costly, so ensure you dispense an adequate amount at the start. Avoid repeatedly digging into the same spot where the paint used to be. Instead, prepare enough paint for each section of your artwork. Running out of a color midway through can make matching the shade difficult later on. Remember that gouache undergoes color value changes as it dries. Dark colors tend to lighten, while light values tend to darken. Don’t risk running out of a specific color, forcing you to mix more to match it accurately.

5. Prepare the Painting Surface

Multiple options exist for painting surfaces, including plain white watercolor paper, Bristol board, illustration board, or heavy gray paper. Priming the surface with a tint of red, blue, or yellow can enhance your painting. James Gurney often primes sketchbook pages with abstract designs, usually featuring yellow at the center, surrounded by blue. Applying gesso, casein, or matte acrylic as a primer will reduce the paint’s absorbency, allowing it to stay wet longer. Additionally, these priming materials create a sealed surface that won’t get dissolved by subsequent wet layers. The underpainting color will subtly influence the overall painting, peeking through semi-transparent layers and untouched areas.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Cover Up Your Initial Drawing

As you work, paint over your meticulously drawn outlines. Don’t worry; you can rediscover those lines later. Avoid simply painting up to an edge; instead, extend your strokes past the edges. Construct the preliminary drawing as a rough diagram, outlining basic construction lines and measurements. Use your brush to complete the rest of the painting. Embrace the challenge of covering a bright yellow underpainting with black-and-white pigments. This approach encourages you to cover the entire surface with opaque colors and paint across edges.

7. Paint from Background to Foreground

When tackling a complex scene, start by painting the entire background before moving to foreground elements. Focus on the dark window openings before addressing the mullions. Save the intricate foreground details for the final stages. Apply confident strokes that align with the perspective of the scene. Keep track of the eye level, vanishing points, and key points to ensure accurate form construction. Gouache allows for refinement and adjustments as needed.

8. Plan your Strokes and Commit to Them

Before executing a stroke, take a moment to consider its placement. Once you commit to a stroke, avoid scrubbing or interrupting the drying process. Let the strokes dry completely before adding additional layers. Begin with wetter strokes in the first pass and incorporate drier strokes later to build up opaque colors.

9. Experiment with Mixed Media

Gouache harmonizes well with other art mediums. Feel free to combine it with transparent watercolor, colored pencils, pastels, or even collage. Thanks to gouache’s matte finish, it readily accepts various drawing tools. Additionally, these matte surfaces photograph beautifully. However, keep in mind that gouache paintings are delicate. If you’re using a hardbound watercolor sketchbook, your artwork will be protected. For separate boards, safeguard the surface with a plastic sleeve, paper flap, or frame with glass.

10. Push the Values to Extremes

One common issue in gouache paintings is “middletone mumbling.” To avoid this, exaggerate the shadows by making them darker than they appear, and intensify the lights. Group light and dark masses together, creating two distinct large masses. Blend and soften similar areas to avoid overly detailed and fussy sections. Remarkably, gouache’s matte surface complements color pencil work exceptionally well.

Incorporating these strategies into your gouache painting practice will undoubtedly elevate your artwork to new heights. Embrace the versatility of gouache and enjoy the process of creating beautiful and vibrant paintings!

Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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