Working with gouache, a Stars Portraits tutorial

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Working with gouache

by Kathy Robbins

Working with gouache

Author : Kathy Robbins

Tutorial submitted on August 13, 2006

A short gouache demonstration, and useful information such as gouache definition, supplies, palette colors and suggested reading.


Working With Gouache - Opaque watercolor

"Where Man Is A Probable Stranger" ©
Gouache Opaque Watercolor

I want to state that I don't claim to be an expert on gouache.  All I know is, the first time I put Gouache down on watercolor paper, it was love at first sight.  
I hope that by showing you a few examples of how I work with gouache, you'll have a better understanding about the medium.  Who knows, it may encourage you to try Gouache for yourself!

Gouache demonstration

The Photograph ©

Courtesy of Maury Kettell.


I drew my composition directly onto 140lb Lanaquarelle 9" x 12” watercolor paper. I stayed pretty true to the photograph but added the fallen log for additional interest.


I chose a Blue-Purple as my dominant hue with Cadmium Yellow-Orange as the complimentary color.  Cobalt Blue and Violet are the adjacent hues to the Blue-Purple with  Yellow-green and Yellow-Orange as the two discord colors.  I went back and refined my drawing by adding a few more rocks for interest.

This is where the fun part begins.  I usually pick one main element in my painting, and connect everything else to it.  At this point I have a pretty good idea where I'm going with the painting.  Now it's just a matter of working the painting as a whole.

Nearing Completion

Working the painting as a whole, checking to see where improvements can be made.  Painting and refining the  water was very enjoyable and relaxing.  I had to keep in mind that the rocks both above and below the water line will influence the color of the water.    

I added some additional dark areas back in the foreground rocks.  I got carried away with flinging paint, both dark and light.  I did enjoy the process.

What is gouache ?

It simply is pigments in a gum-based solution, capable of rendering beautiful works of art.  Gouache (gwaash) tends by it's nature to dry to a rich vivid opaque color and is a favorite of illustrators.  Unlike watercolor, gouache doesn't rely on the whiteness of the support you're painting on to show brilliance.  Gouache lays right on the surface and isn't used as a stain like most watercolor pigment.  Gouache is thinned with plain old water, the same as watercolor, acrylic, and casein.    

Getting started

Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, and Da Vinci Gouache are the two that I use.  I started with Winsor & Newton  and have recently been working with Da Vinci.  For the demonstration on this page I used; Da Vinci Gouache and found it pleasing to work with.  I recommend either one as each has excellent qualities.  


Brushes:  Sable and artificial sable brushes work best. (Your choice of size and shape)

Surface:  Illustration board cold or hot-press and watercolor paper 140lb or 300lb cold or hot- press. (Your choice of brand)

Paints:  Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache or Da Vinci Gouache.  If you like working with a specific brand of watercolor, check to see if they also carry it in Gouache.  It is not necessary to invest your hard earned artist dollars in 10 tubes of gouache you may only use once.  Try this, just buy only 4 tubes: Permanent White, Cadmium Yellow Lt., Cadmium Red Lt., Ultramarine Blue.  Use your yellow and red to make orange, your red and blue to make violet and your yellow and blue to make your green.

Palette:  Any covered watercolor type palette or butcher's tray (cover butcher's tray with plastic wrap when not in use).  

My palette colors

Limited PaletteColors:  Permanent White, Cadmium Yellow Lt., Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Lt., Alizarin Crimson, Violet, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green, Sap Green.  This is the order in which I place the colors on my palette.

A few comments about my choice of palette colors, and how I work with them.  As you can see I try not to use tube earth colors on my palette. In my opinion, by mixing your own earth colors from the primaries, your colors will be richer and more vibrant.  I can't stress enough how important it is for a beginning painter to work with a limited palette.  When I first started painting with oils, I thought that I had to have every color on the planet.  All I got from that way of thinking  was frustration with dull, muddy colors.  Now in defense of mud, it is possible to  gain some beautiful grays/neutrals.   Only when your painting is totally muddy, does all life go out of it.  A  limited palette when traveling is also a real plus for an artist.
Tip:  Keep a spritzer bottle filled with water to keep your gouache paints moist.  I keep a small wet sponge inside my gouache palette when I'm not working with it.  Change your water container often. You might want to try using two water containers.
I hope this demonstration has served to give you an  understanding of how I work with Gouache.

Suggested Reading

Pamela Kay "A Personal View Gouache" Publisher David & Charles ISBN 0 7153 0289 2 Stephen Quiller and Barbara Whipple "Water Media: Processes And Possibilities" Publisher Watson-Guptill ISBN 0 8230 5695 3

Gouache for Illustration Rob Howard "Gouache For Illustration"  Publisher Watson-Guptill ISBN 0 8230 2165 3

Ned Mueller to my knowledge has yet to write a book on gouache.  He has written several articles about gouache in various publications of Artist Magazine.   Ned Mueller is the artist most responsible for my interest in working with gouache.

This tutorial comes from KRobbins4art

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