I Spent the Week Learning is a new series that follows individuals as they explore something brand-new. This week, Freelance writer and Skillshare student Jen Karetnick sees what it’s like to paint with Gouache.
Like many freelance creatives, I’ve been blessed with a number of passions—and have managed to monetize just about all of them. However, now it seems like everything I’ve ever enjoyed doing has become a form of employment, and I’m bereft of actual hobbies. Somehow, in the past year or so, Netflix has become my chief pastime.
Because I’m not exactly comfortable with that—and because there are only so many Law & Order reruns to watch—I agreed to learn how to paint with gouache when my editor asked me to take on a new project to see what it would be like to fast-track a learning experience as a Skillshare student.
I was a little nervous about jumping into painting with gouache. Maybe I suspected that I’d paint terribly enough that I wouldn’t be able to turn it into a side hustle. Actually, I had more than a secret suspicion; art has never been my forte. When I was 10, my elementary school arts teacher scolded me for my lack of depth perception.
But, onward I went. I took four Skillshare classes in a single week in an effort to get great at painting with gouache (although “great,” as you might guess, was ultimately an overstatement). Along the way, I picked up a lot of gouache knowledge and several valuable tips for painting with gouache for beginners. Here’s what I learned.
For those who aren’t familiar with gouache, it’s a highly pigmented wet medium. You can think of it as a paint that falls somewhere between watercolors and acrylics. Similar to those types of paint, it has to be mixed with water before you spread it across your paper or canvas.
What is Gouache?
I quickly found out that gouache is an ideal type of paint for me. I’m averse to odors, and I detest cleaning paint brushes, but fortunately, gouache doesn’t have an aroma, and cleanup is as easy as washing with soap and water. You can even let the paints dry in the palette, because all you have to do to reuse them is add a little dab of water!
How Do You Use Gouache Paints?
To use gouache paint, you’ll need the paint, paint brushes, a mixing tray, and a surface on which to paint. You simply mix a bit of the paint with some water in the mixing tray to achieve your desired consistency. If you mix in more water, you’ll almost get a watercolor effect (although unlike watercolor, the gouache will remain opaque). With less water, you’ll achieve a more rich, pigmented color.
What Brushes Should You Use With Gouache?
For painting with gouache, you’ll likely use the same type of brush that you’d use with watercolor. You can opt for synthetic or natural fibers in a range of different sizes. Once you start painting, you may develop a specific preference—some artists prefer synthetic brushes because they make it easier to control the amount of water in the brush (which can affect the overall look of the paint).
What Is the Difference Between Watercolor and Gouache Paint?
The biggest difference between watercolor and gouache paint is opacity. Watercolors are designed to be nearly transparent when mixed with enough water. Gouache, on the other hand, is heavier, denser, and more opaque. While you mix it with water, it still creates a flat wash of color, unlike the variation and transparency that’s typical of watercolors.
What Is the Difference Between Acrylic and Gouache Paint?
On the other side of the spectrum, acrylic paint is thicker and more durable than gouache. Acrylics can be applied to surfaces so thickly that it creates a raised texture, while if gouache is applied too thickly, it can become brittle and crack. And acrylics cannot be rewet and reworked. With gouache, if you add a bit of water to dry paint, you can reactivate it and make changes to your painting.
Take Advantage of the Bold, Beautiful Colors of Gouache
Explore the Art of Color Mixing With Gouache
4 Gouache Tips I Learned as a Beginner Gouache Painter
Over the course of my four-class gouache intensive, I learned the essential skills and techniques for painting with gouache for beginners. Beyond that, I picked up several gouache tips that helped boost my confidence as an artist and learn how to make this medium my own.
1. You Can Take Gouache on the Go
In Beyond Watercolor: Learn to Paint with Gouache, instructor Leah Goren surprised me with how portable gouache is. Packing a cold-pressed or hot-pressed watercolor book of paper, a half-dozen tubes of paint, and a brush is as simple as carrying a laptop. But what if inspiration strikes en plein air, when you don’t have all your supplies? Leah revealed that she’s been known to trash-pick a palette and cup for water—which led me to reuse a Diet Coke bottle for my water (which I could then cap and save for the next time).
2. You Don’t Have to Draw Well to Learn How to Paint With Gouache
As an avid non-drawer, I was delighted to learn that you don’t have to draw well to paint with gouache. In the class Gouache Illustration: Paint a Whimsical, Colorful Character, Vanessa Gillings demonstrates how to use computer assistance to create a certain pose or gesture. This told me that it’s okay to rely on technology, especially if I need to transfer simple graphic shapes or want to test colors before committing them to the page.
3. Breaking the Rules Is No Big Deal
Even though Dylan Mierzwinski’s course, Getting to Know Your Paint: Watercolor, Gouache, and Acryla Gouache, sounds technically complex, I found her “break the rules; it’s all about you” attitude reassuring. Plus, she provided some practical painting with gouache tips on how to generate color charts. This exercise in mixing paint results in a color guide you can reference again and again—your own Home Depot Paint Color Center right at your fingertips. That means less wasted paint, although I was startled how little gouache it takes to start painting in the first place.
4. When In Doubt, Paint What You Know
Finally, I was relieved to see that you don’t have to attempt a wide range of subjects in Alanna Cartier’s Painting Teacups in Gouache: Exploring Shape, Colour and Pattern. Because I stall at coming up with visual ideas, I’m fine with obsessing over, say, the mangoes that grow in my backyard the same way Cartier is with teacups.
Was I a successful Skillshare student? Did I improve after a week? I’m terms of skills, I can see that I’ve improved a little, although overall, I remain pretty happily lousy at this point. Knowledge-wise, I’ve gone from being a novice to being a rock-solid beginner. But, I can report that my husband was so intrigued by my gouache experiment that he started to paint with me. And you know what they say about the couple who learns gouache together…okay, yeah, there’s no idiom for that. But maybe we’ll think of one, and paint it as our signature.
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Cover image: Jen Karetnick with her gouache painting (image courtesy of the author)