Gouache paint continues to grow in popularity. Many beginners over recent years have taken up gouache paint as a friendly opaque medium. Also many experienced artists are getting out their gouache paint for a fresh approach to familiar subjects. Gouache paint is popular because it combines the opaque nature of acrylics and oils without the issues of solvents in oil paint and the permanent drying nature of acrylic paint.
But gouache brings its own technical issues. These hurdles can be a problem for beginners to deal with.
In this article I want to look at a powerful process for learning how to use the paint quickly and effectively.
Gouache is Not Watercolor
The first idea I want to revisit is that gouache is not watercolor. Now it is true that if you mix more water into gouache you can create transparent layers of paint that resemble watercolor washes.
This is not new and is merely a technique that experienced artists can use for specific purposes. You can use similar washes of oil paint and acrylic paint too. For example this approach is fine for glazing or toning a canvas.
In general however it is best to use gouache as a strong opaque medium. Some of the gouache colors are more transparent than others and you can use this quality to build up layers. It is this idea of working in layers and increasing richness of color that I want to stick to .
So if you are starting out with gouache avoid mixing the paint too thin and instead use less water and more pigment for a manageable consistency to your paint. One that will increase the strength of the color and help you to build up layer upon layer. See this video on mixing the ideal consistency for your paint.
Follow a consistent process. In my latest demonstration I have simplified a scene to paint trees and light quickly and effectively. The main idea behind this painting is to create a light-filled scene where there are trees and shadows.
Step One: There are of course many more details in the scene, but I have left those out to emphasize the light and dark shapes and the warm and cool colors. As you watch this demonstration you will note that I start off with the large dark mass shapes. This is the trees and the shadow pattern. Use no white paint as far as possible.
Step 2: Once that shadow foundation is in place I can get started blocking in the light colors. These colors will usually also be the warm colors and in this case I use lemon yellow, medium yellow, red light, yellow ochre and burnt sienna to create a range of warm colors. In the warm colors I do introduce a little bit of white paint.
Caution with With Paint
When using white paint remember that it is a cool color and should be used as little as possible. Also add in a little more color after you add in the white paint. So what I do is take yellow, for example, and add some white paint to lighten the value and then I add a little bit more yellow paint to warm up the mix. In this way I do adjust the value without losing too much saturation in the color.
Step Three: Once the main shapes of light and dark have been created I can then go over their shapes with smaller shapes. However if I add smaller shapes to a dark mass the smaller shapes will always remain within that shadow family.
Keep the Pattern
Of course you will follow a similar idea with the light shapes. The smallest light shapes will also remain within that light mass or light family of colors. The idea here is not to lose the value structure that you started with in the very beginning. All you doing is adding color temperature changes to slightly improve the information in that shape. To make it more interesting.
That is pretty much the entire process starting from big mass shapes of light and dark and warm and cool color. Then adding smaller shapes that fall within the value structure.
Finally a few accents in light or dark color help to break up bigger shapes where necessary. Create a sparkle or a sense of light and mystery.
If you keep an eye on the consistency of your paint by not allowing it to become too watery you can easily build up layers of color and increase the richness and density of saturation. Add to this strong composition and structure that you created from the very beginning and you will have a good and strong gouache painting.
Start the Gouache Adventure
The demonstration in this video has been kept as simple as possible to encourage beginners to try out something similar. I teach this process starting in my course Gouache Painting for Beginners. See an introduction to the course and an introductory discount.
So there it is. Gouache is an opaque water medium that is friendly for beginner painters and rewarding for experienced artists as well. Just follow a basic process and keep the big idea in mind as you paint.
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