Gouache Illustration?

  • Does anyone paint in gouache? I bought a bunch of paints like a year ago and tried it one afternoon. I had been told by someone who works for Jerry’s Artarama that it’s the medium most similar to digital painting. I had no idea what I was doing. They are very different than anything I have painted with and I got super frustrated. The experience ended with me running to the bathroom to puke my guts out 😂 (unrelated to the gross painting I made — it turns out I was coming down with a stomach virus).

    But I haven’t been able to look at those tubes of paint since. I literally shoved the entire mess in a drawer and tried to forget about it. Lately I’ve been itching to try again equipped with better knowledge. Does anyone have tips or favorite YouTube channels or books? It seems like the info out there is much more limited than watercolor.

  • Pro

    Gouache is actually the very first paints I've ever used, and incidentally haven't used them again since I left high school haha... I was so surprised to hear goauche is supposed to be fancy and expensive, since here in Quebec all the schools use a cheap student version of gouache for elementary schools and high school classes. They buy the stuff by the bucket! Apparently it's well suited for children because it's opaque but non toxic and washes with water. It's more solid than watercolor, and you don't mix it with water, but have a slightly moist brush to apply it. It's less plasticky than acrylics and is matte instead of shiny, it's also possible to re-activate it with water after it's dry, unlike acrylics. You can think of it like an opaque base and apply an even coat to each area you want to color, like paint by number. Then you can add more layers for lights and shadows and use a little water to blend in it the base color.
    Another thing to consider: since it's opaque and matte, you can use it on different colors of papers. It's gorgeous on a beige, brown or black paper!

  • @kristin-wauson It's funny to me that they told you that it was the most similar to digital painting. That would really depend on the style, but I'd think acrylic would be more similar to digital painting. I really struggled with gouache too, until I had one of my painting instructors who used to paint Disney backgrounds in gouache and acrylic before PS was a thing.

    Gouache is opaque watercolor. In fact, some places don't even call it gouache, they just call it opaque watercolor. If you have artist's quality paint, it's primary binder is gum arabic, the same as transparent watercolor. Except that the pigments are all so finely ground and processed with a few other stabilizers that they don't granulate or things like that. In use, I've found it falls between watercolors and acrylics; it can be watered down and used transparently like a traditional watercolor, but can also be built up and used opaque like acrylic. It also dries matte.

    I think in the last few years there has been an explosion online about gouache actually. Go on YouTube and type in 'gouache', 'how to paint with gouache' or 'gouache tips' etc, and you'll be bombarded with useful videos.

    I'll give you some tips from my experience though. Gouache works best when it's fresh if you are trying to work opaquely). It can be put into pans and re-wet like watercolor, but it'll never quite re-wets the same way. Its re-wettability also depends on the brand. I've had some brands get rock hard and unusable when dried up and had others reactivate beautifully.

    So there are two methods I've used:


    1. Put it into pans/wells like watercolor, let it dry.
    2. Reactivate like watercolor.

    Two (My teacher's favorite way):

    1. Take a paper towel and fold it up into a strip, and soak it in water. It should be dripping. That's what you will squeeze your color onto, so it doesn't dry.
    2. Put it on your palette. You can use either palette paper or a watercolor type palette (porcelain/plastic/butchers tray. Palette paper will allow for a more opaque style as if you were using acrylic.

    Try both out, mix the two, but just do which one works for you.


    • Gouache can go on thick or thin, but it's most useful/normal state where you get the smoothest even finish is like a thick milk or thin yogurt.
    • The color you mix will not be the same once it dries. Light colors will dry a bit darker, and dark colors a bit lighter. But sometimes it can be drastic, so be prepared for that.
    • Gouache is fast drying. That's one of it's perks. Historically it was used by classic oil painters for studies, in more contemporary times by illustrators and designers for it's vibrancy, versatility, and fast-drying nature.
    • As with any medium, the more colors you mix the duller it gets, but I've found this really applies strongly to gouache.
    • You should have a mega tube of white paint if you are working opaquely. But also remember that adding white will cool the color down, so add a warm color to balance the mix out.
    • You can paint on almost anything with gouache, but typically people use a watercolor, mixed media, or bristol paper.

    Some Artists:

    The professor I had:
    James Martin
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  • James Gurney does a lot of his work in Gouache and does demos on YouTube you can also buy lessons from him through links after the videos

  • @nessillustration Oh yeah, gouache is opaque watercolor so it is of comparable price to transparent watercolors. Which means expensive to most people, but it's based on the gum arabic binder and the high pigment to binder ratio versus acrylic or oil paints for example. Student gouache that comes in buckets uses cheap binders and dyes, and is like scholastic tempera in the States being used prolifically but artist's tempera being expensive.

  • @kristin-wauson I have experimented with it a few times and it is really nice on tan toned mixed media paper Canson and strathmore do a thick toned paper. I found it easier if you wet the paper first and build it up in thin layers rather than thick dabs of paint. Also some of the cheaper brands are not so good and hard to work with I recommend Winsor and Newton designer Gouache.Hope this helps abit.

  • @teju-abiola Fantastic information Thanks teju

  • SVS OG

    Goauche is watercolour with chalk in them basically. They are very forgiving once you get use to them. I tend to use them with watercolour. I have added a video link of me painting if interested. 🙂


  • I fight with gouache too, especially with how the values of the paint change from wet to dry - but I do love how the paint lays down - acrylic always feels too sticky to me.
    I wish there were more videos about how to work with it, but I haven't found any in depth instruction. It feels like a medium you just have to play with to figure out for yourself.

  • @dottyp
    This is fascinating- I'm going to have to try it this way

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    The biggest problem I've had with Goauche is that it dries so much darker than the wet color. That is even more when painting light colors with a lot of water. There are many times I lay down what I think to be the right value, only to watch in frustration as it dries darker, and darker, and darker.

    Now I only use it as some light highlights on watercolor paintings. Some people are so good with it, but I never got it to work very well.

  • @lee-white this was one of the things that frustrated me so much. I kept putting down very light values and watching them dry darker, then adding more light values, and they would still dry darker. You know what they say about the definition of insanity ...

  • @jason-bowen thanks for sharing!

  • @dottyp the toned paper is a great idea. I’ll have to try that. I noticed Chris Hong (artist on youtube) paints this way with gouache in thin layers. I bought M. Graham gouache since I like their watercolors.

  • @teju-abiola wow! Thanks for this. Great info! I guess coming from someone who had never painted digitally I should have taken that comment with a grain of salt.

    I have seen people using the wet paper towel trick. Stan Prokopenko has a painting Santa demo where he does that. I have always preferred letting my watercolors dry into pans because I’ve never been good at estimating how much of a color I need to squeeze out and I hate wasting paint. I have little kids so I am always having to walk away from painting sessions and come back later when everything is dried anyway. I used to paint with oils and I wasted a lot of paint. I have also questioned lately whether or not my watercolors suffer from rewetting which makes me sad. I use M. Graham watercolors because of their rewetting ability and bought M. Graham gouache hoping for the same.

  • @kristin-wauson I've never had a problem with reactivating watercolors and think it's standard practice at this point to put them in pans. Though some artists would swear the opposite and recommend using fresh squeezed paint always. Honestly comes down to personal preference. Tons of people use Gouache from dried pans because of the convenience, and M. Graham is a great brand for reactivating. I don't know if you already do this, but I always add a drop or so of water to each dry pan a few minutes before using them to make them easier to use. A little spray bottle works too and is also great for resetting dry mixed areas on the palette too. It's definitely a medium that requires practice and a lot of failure since it's tricky. Many art students groan at the mention of it's name, haha.

  • @kristin-wauson I will check out that video you mention. M graham gouache look really nice I might buy some when I get better at it Good luck

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