Let me show you my best painting secret!
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You may have been wondering whether it's worth your while to start painting with gouache. After all, gouache does not have the star power of oil paints or watercolor. However gouache has many characteristics that make it suitable and even ideal for every artist to take up. In this article I will take a closer look at the characteristics of gouache paint and also how to start your first painting. Let's begin .
What Makes Gouache Paint Different?
Gouache paint is sometimes referred to as body colour or opaque watercolor. In essence gouache is a highly concentrated pigment with a chalk content to make it opaque. It also contains a binder such as gum Arabic. It is water-based and can be re-wet once it has dried. In this sense that is similar to watercolor. Unlike acrylics gouache does not dry to a permanent surface so the final painting will have to be protected with a suitable protective layer or framed behind glass.
An advantage of gouache is that it can also be used on canvas and panels provided they have been primed correctly with an appropriate primer like gesso. Personally I prefer to use gouache on good quality paper like 300gm cold-pressed watercolor paper .
Handling Characteristics of Gouache
You will note that in the demonstration that I squeeze out paint into a palette very similar to watercolor pans. I then remove some of the paint with my brush and put it onto a mixing tray where I apply water to the paint to loosen it up a bit. It is on the mixing tray that I also mix colours together to get whatever color I want.
The question often asked is how much water to mix into the gouache? As you will note from the demonstration the consistency of the paint straight out the tube is already soft and buttery. You can use the paint directly out the tube without adding any water. However because the paint consistency is relatively thick and because the paint dries extremely quickly you could find yourself struggling with semi-dry paint. A little water is helpful. But emphasis on a little. Test the consistency on some scrap paper to get a feel for the right balance between flow and pigment strength.
Starting Your Painting
I start the painting with a fairly loose mix of gouache which makes the paint somewhat transparent. I use this to block in the painting and at this stage you would be forgiven for thinking that I'm painting with watercolor. However from this point on I apply much less water to the paint as I want to take advantage of the vibrancy of the pigment.
I also avoid using white paint for as long as possible. Instead I prefer to build up layers of pure colour, whether mixed with other colours or not, so as to push the vibrancy of the paint. White paint has a tendency to cool down colour and you can end up having a painting that is quite cold and chalky in appearance .
I apply more white paint where I want a strong opaque layer. This could be in the final stages of the painting. This is also where I want highlights and other strong contrasting light effects.
An opaque medium
It is good to know that gouache performs very well in its transparent form and in an opaque form. It is the opaque nature of gouache that makes it stand out from watercolor. It also makes the paint very similar in some ways to painting with oil paint. I find that gouache works best when applied in numerous layers to build up the vibrancy of the painting.
I use a similar approach with oil paint. The big difference between the two mediums is the texture of the paint. With oils I get a thicker and more textured painting as I rely on impasto with contrasting thin layers. However with gouache you will have to mix the paint with a medium such as an acrylic glaze medium to get thicker impasto layers. The disadvantage of course is that this will make the paint behave like acrylic paint and will dry to a permanent acrylic consistency. Consequently I prefer to focus on the vibrancy of gouache layers instead of trying to achieve an impasto appearance .
Textures of light is another technique that is available to create an appearance of textured light. Also similar to scumbling where thicker dry paint is dragged over existing layers of dry paint. For example a light warm color dragged over a cool dark area (water for example) will give the appearance of broken light. This more than makes up for the lack of impasto textures.
Crazy Fast drying
Gouache is popular with illustrators who need to photograph their work. As the paint does not reflect light the paintings are very easy to photograph. Be careful to note that gouache paint will dry quickly and the value of the paint will become darker as it dries. With this in mind your highlights really need to be bright so that they stand out with sufficient impact. This is another reason not to dilute the pains too much with water so that you get the full effect of the strong pigment.
Selecting Your palette
There is a huge range of colours available from different manufacturers. Most of the typical colours have good lightfastness and are comparable to oil or acrylics. There are however more unusual colours. You could describe them as modern colours that have poor lightfastness. This is because these colours are intended for designers and illustrators who will keep their work in a book and the paintings are intended to be photographed or scanned.
If you are going to display your paintings on a wall where they will be subject to some natural lighting it is best to avoid these so-called fugitive colours. Check the tubes of colour and carefully to make sure that you are using the maximum light fast rating.
As far as colours are concerned all the the colours that I use in oil painting are available in gouache. I stick to the practice of using a small palette of colours. I aim for a warm and cool of each of the primary colours and a few convenience colours like burnt Sienna and yellow ochre and of course titanium white. You can mix almost any colour you like from a palette like this. However because gouache is all about strong colour feel free to choose whatever extra ready-mix colours you prefer. For instance something like orange will be a good addition to your palette.
What Brushes to Use?
As far as brushes are concerned a few synthetic flat brushes and a small sable brush or even a watercolor mop will come in handy. Have at least one small brush for small details. In this instance I avoid bristle brushes and stick to synthetic brushes or a natural sable brush suitable for water media.
If you are going to paint on paper having a sketchbook with good watercolor paper is ideal. Gouache can be transported very easily as you will see with my little palette. This is similar to the way that you would transport a pan of water colours.
Try and keep your gouache painting as natural as possible and avoid using mediums and other additives. Good quality paint as I've used in this demonstration with some water is all you need for excellent results. You can also see that you can find good quality paints of excellent value for money. This makes gouache painting affordable for everyone. Gouache also delivers excellent results very easily for anyone familiar painting with oils or acrylics.
Start your gouache painting today as a way to add variety to your process and learning.
Now watch the full demonstration video below to see my gouache paints being used for a vibrant painting.
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