Gouache 101: How to Produce a Bold and Decorative Design | Kate Cooke | Skillshare

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Gouache 101: How to Produce a Bold and Decorative Design

teacher avatar Kate Cooke, Textile Designer and Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Class Project

    • 3. Materials

    • 4. Colors

    • 5. References

    • 6. Sketch & Layout

    • 7. Painting

    • 8. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Have you ever wanted to try painting in gouache but haven't been sure how to use it?


In this class, I'm going to show you how I paint with gouache, I'll give you lots of hints and tips to get the best from your paint and how to produce a gorgeous little work of art.

I'm Kate, I'm an experienced textile designer and illustrator, and for all my working life I've used gouache to create my designs.

Its opaque, mat coverage is quick drying, easy to use and inexpensive. It can wash like water color, blend like oil, and dry like acrylic, so really it's an all-round great paint!

I'll share with you my process for:

  • Choosing materials
  • Mixing a color palette
  • Finding inspiration
  • Designing and sketching images and,
  • Painting a beautiful design in gouache to hang on the wall

You don't have to be really experienced at painting, I will walk you through how to get started, and equally if you are an experienced designer or artist, I will be sharing my own personal tips for stylization and creating a decorative picture with gouache.

I will set a project for you to incorporate all the skills I will be sharing with you.

By the end of the class, you will have a really good idea of how to tackle painting with this fabulous medium, and how to compose, and paint your own picture.

So let's get started —  see you in class!

Meet Your Teacher

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Kate Cooke

Textile Designer and Illustrator

Top Teacher

Hi, I'm Kate, I live on the south coast of England near Southampton.

For many years I lived and worked in London as a textile designer working in the UK fashion industry, but the call of the sea was strong and about 15 years ago I settled in a little village on the banks of The Solent where I live with my husband, daughter and various dogs.

I've designed for lots of different companies including Marks and Spencer, Topshop, Debenhams, Boden and The RNLI.

Along with a friend I set up a company in 2012 designing home ware, stationary and gifts all with a nautical theme and that's where I turned from textile design to illustration.

More recently I've gone back to working freelance, so I can indulge my passion for hand painting and creating new things every day.See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello, my name's Kate cook. I'm a textile designer and illustrator, based in Southampton in the UK. In this skill share class, I'm going to share with you my process hints and tips for painting in gouache. So you too can paint like a designer. I spent a lot of time painting, especially in gouache. I've been a designer for many years, working both in the fashion industry, designing printed cloth and in the home and gift industry, designing everything from greeting cards to tea towels, art prints to cake tins. In this class, I want to share with you my method for painting and gouache, and the process I go through to produce a small painting. I'll take you through how I paint and design step by step, from how I mix my paints to where I get my inspiration from. Finally, showing you the way I compose my picture and paint it. We will cover the materials I use. And I'll give you some tips on how I draw the elements of the design, making it easy for you to simplify drawing a garden bird and a butterfly and sunflowers. This isn't a class on how to draw and paint nature in a realistic way. This is a class on how easy it is to stylize nature. It's aimed at all levels, from someone new to painting you'd like a few tips on how to use gouache, to the more experienced artists who would like to see how I use gouache to produce a highly decorative stylized composition. For your class project, I'd like you to paint a small picture using Gouache and incorporating the process and tips I'll be showing you. If you watch the whole class you will have a good idea of how to do this, and produce a painting that you could turn into a greeting card, or even the cushion design. So I hope you'll join me for this class. In the next section, I'm going to talk about the projectile set. 2. Your Class Project: The class project. The project I'd like to set you is to produce a small gouache painting of a bird, a flower, and a butterfly, similar to the one I'll demonstrate painting in this class. It's a great place to start if you're new to painting with gouaches. It's a simple design. It shouldn't take you too long to complete and will be a striking picture to put in a frame on the wall. I love painting plants as they are very easy and you don't have to be really accurate. The butterfly too is a pretty easy shape to draw and the little bird you can break down into simple shapes so it really shouldn't scare you. If you use the methods I show you on how to find your subject matter and how to decide on your color palette, then this should be an easy step too. After watching the class, you'll have my tips for organizing yourself to get started. You can do a few preliminary sketches so you are happy with the shapes of your bird and other elements, but I wouldn't waste too much time on that. The next step is to design a layout, sketching your elements, and placing them in a way that gives a great dynamic to the picture. Decide which element you want to be center stage and how the other visuals work around it. Then it's a case of painting all your elements and finally paint a neat background in. You'll end up with a bold, striking painting. I can't wait to see what you produce. So please post your projects below so I can give you some feedback on your little works of art. I'm really excited to see what you paint. I know you're going to be brilliant. In the next section, I'm going to talk about materials and what I like to use. So let's get started. 3. Materials: Materials. First of all, let's talk about gouache or designers gouache as it's known. It's a water-based paint that comes in tubes and while it is similar to water color, it's a lot thicker and consistency. You can water it down and use it like water color, but it's real properties lie in being able to mix it as a semi thick paint, which goes on in a smooth, opaque, and flat way. It has some white pigment in it, which gives it a slightly chalky look, and I bind it to make it less transparent. In the UK, one of the most popular brands is Winsor & Newton, and this is the one I use and always recommend. They have a huge range of colors and it mixes really well. Each tube of color is different in various ways which affect its price and opaqueness. There's loads of information on the tube relating to this but all you really need to know is the fact that some colors are a little more translucent and others. However, you don't really need to get too bogged down with this info, just to experiment with your different colors and have a good idea of how they would look on paper. The colors I use and recommend you get as a good basic set are flame red, primary yellow, sap green, ultramarine, sepia, magenta, indigo, jet-black, and permanent white. I usually by quite a big tube of permanent white as I use quite a lot of it. You can buy a basic set if you prefer, and I'm sure this would be fine for starting out. There are lots of different brands which are just as good so buy which is easily available and affordable to you. Brushes. To be honest, over the years I've gone through numerous brands and types and I've never really stopped to one brand. Basically, I think you get what you pay for. So just buy the brand that suits your pocket. The most important thing you can do is look after them. I'm forever shoving them into pencil cases. I worked between several studios, and then I get annoyed because they get ruined. But that's my own fault. It's best to keep your little tubes that they come with and put them back on when you travel but I never do. Ideally, don't go anywhere with them and keep them upright in a jar. For this class, I'm using a round pointed size seven brush and a Sable Series seven, size four brush, and a Kaufman Designers brush in size two. They're all from Winsor & Newton. The large brushes' mostly for mixing the paint. The size four is for painting the larger areas. Whilst the size two is for detail. I quite like this one because of its brush length. For some reason it behaves better. I use a heavyweight, good-quality, cartridge paper. This means the paper doesn't buckle when I paint on it and stays pretty flat. There were lots of brands out there and I wouldn't be too fussed about which you choose. This one happens to be by Seawhite, but you use whatever you can get. Other things you'll need. I always have a bit of paper towel handy for dabbing off excess water and paint. A pencil I often use is a cheap propelling pencil but a little sharpened HB pencil is fine too, an eraser, jar or glass of clean water for washing the brush. Try to change it regularly so it doesn't taint your palate. A palate or plastic cups, either is fine. I tend to use cut down plastic cups or old washed out yoga pots, as I like to mix plenty of paint. Then I keep them in a Tupperware box and it seems to keep them better for longer. But a palate is fine and you can cover it with cling film if you want to stop it drying out. If your gouache dries up, you can reactivate it by just mixing in water. But I just find that time-consuming, so I prefer to try and stop them drying out in the first place. Make sure you have a flat table to work on in a well-lit area so you can see what you're doing. The last thing is time. Give yourself a few hours to mix your colors, sketch your design, and paint it. Oh and a cup of tea or two to keep you fueled. In the next section, we're going to mix our color palate. So gather your materials, let's get mixing, and see you there. 4. Colors: Mixing your colors, so this is a really crucial part of the painting. Get this wrong, and the whole thing could just not work, so let's find some ways to make sure that does not happen. I often use references I've found online to inspire my color choices, I find that Pinterest is a great place to do this. I've created a color scheme ball. Which I can refer back to every time I need a new palette. When I find an image, I particularly like the colors, and I put it on my board as a real mix of ideas from room color schemes which are really easy to use as someone who has already broken them down into color swatches to paintings, and photographs. I love this painting by Hill McIntyre. Hope she wont mind me borrowing her color palate. It's really taking all my boxes, vibrant, contrasting, and powerful. I want to keep to a limited color palette of around eight colors as well as a white, so I suggest you do something similar for your project. I've printed the picture off to make life a little easier, and although my printer might print the color slightly differently, you still get the right idea. First I'm going to write down [inaudible] all the colors I can see. Then I'm going to underline the ones I really like, and want to keep. Next, I'm going to mix my colors using the picture to refer to. I'm going to start with the red. It's not that far off from flame red, so that's what I will start with. Allow a little bit of water to get to the paint to the right consistency for mixing. It's a pretty good match really, but I'm going to add a touch of permanent white just to stabilize the pigment a bit. A painter swatch to see how it looks as it will look different on paper to how it looks on my palette. Then I'm going to mix the yellow och-re tone. I start with some primary yellow, and a little bit of sepia. I love sepia it's a really useful color for [inaudible]. I'll also add some permanent white to keep the tone down. I will keep mixing a little bit of painting at a time until I'm happy with the tone. For the turquoise color. I'm going to mix cobalt, turquoise light, a little bit of ultra marine, and some permanent white. Turquoise is one of those colors that you really need to mix from a turquoise pigment. If you try to mix it with say, blue, and a bit of yellow. It just goes a really muddy teal color, so it's worth buying Turquoise paint if you want a good bright color. For the purple, I'm using magenta, touch of ultra marine, and a little permanent white. Have a dark background is a kind of midnight blue brown tone. I use mostly indigo with some magenta, and a bit of red och-re, to dirty it up. Plus a touch white to stabilize it. Try to avoid using black in a dull color like, this as it tends to just flatten, and kill a color, and you lose any nice tone, or shade. I will do the green next which will be a mix of sap green sepia, and white. Then the orange which is flame red a bit of primary yellow, and some white, and finally the pink, which is magenta white. With perhaps a touch, a flame red. Be careful with the magenta as the pink pigment is pretty strong, so use it a bit at a time. My first job back in the '90 in the London fashion industry, was as a colorist for a fabric merchant. I spent all my time re-coloring the designs into new colorways by placing acetate over the top of painting in the new colors. Which then got presented to buyers. It was before the time you could do this all on computer. Boy, was it laborious, but it really taught me a lot about color. Sometimes I my mix a palette and it's not until I stopped painting that I realize the tones need to be altered, but that's fine. A color scheme can evolve. You will get used to having pigments in the paint work with each other, so it's just a case of trial, and error, but try to only add a little of each paint at time until you understand the recipe for the color. You can then ramp-up the amounts to get enough paint ready for painting. I've got some off cuts of cartridge paper to use for my color swatches. It's an old habit from being a textile colorist that only feel the need to cut them out, and stick them on the sheet. You can just paint squares, and not bother cutting them out, but I quite like to keep a neat reference of my palette. If I need to mix more paint I have a swatch to match it to, so now that we have our colors, it's time to find our references, so join me in the next section to see how I do this. See you there. 5. References: Finding references. There are lots of places to look for reference matter to inspire your painting; books, magazines, the Internet, and of course, real life. I use all these and I'd like you to look at them to find the subject matter for your project. Pinterest is one of my favorites. It makes it so easy to collect pictures and save them on boards that you can categorize. I have a wildlife board where I keep most of my images of birds and insects. For this painting, I've chosen three images to use. The bird is nice, simple, compact. I can already see how I can break it down into easy shapes to draw. The butterfly is also a nice shape for drawing and the flower is a pretty standard flower shape so nothing too tricky. You might think they look a little dull but I will be adding my own pattern and color. All these images are just used as a starting point and then it's case of letting your creativity take over. I'm going to print them off as it's much easier to refer to them rather than looking back and forth of a screen. So that's my elements sorted. I hope that helps you look for some inspiration for doing your project too, just remember your images don't need to be too detailed or complicated. Simple is good. Join me in the next class on how I draw the elements and design and I'll see you there. 6. Sketch & Layout: Sketching your elements and designing a layout. In this section, I'm going to show you how I look at an image and break it down into shapes. It's much easier to draw. The bird is an easy one to show you. You can see the kind of shapes as I draw around them with a black pen. There are basically five shapes: The body, wing, tail, head, and beak, the legs. I've just drawn lines for and you can see how they line up with the curves of the tail and body. Now I'm drawing this simple shapes and I'll use a few more lines to connect them properly and put in a few more details. We can do the same for the butterfly, which I can break down in to sections; two in each of the wings, and one for the body, then I'll draw lines to connect the wings together. The flowers pretty simple to do as you can see. This is what you will need to move the elements that you choose to paint. Study them to see how you can break them down into sections to make it easier to draw. As you can see, you end up with a very simple, stylized version of the image you're drawing. Now we can start putting them all together in a layout. What makes a good layout? I think your main element, in this case, bird needs to take center stage. But this doesn't necessarily mean that it should dead center slightly off to one side may work better than your other elements need to just sit around it and work at setting the story. Really. Birds sitting on a branch looking wistfully into space as a butterfly lands on a flower nearby. I've drawn some lines with a ruler around my layout to keep me within a square boundary. Then I'm going to add it in the background around everything or not, the idea of a leafy branch arching up and around the bird to give a kind of frame to the composition. I can paint the leaves in different colors to give her a variety to the branch. I'm using those little flowers from the butterfly picture, up above the bird to frame the bird a little more. Another leafy branch here, again to lead the eye into the center of the picture. I will add more detail as I paint perhaps a few more leaves and birds. But I don't feel the need to draw everything in now, the patterns and the little details I use will be a reaction to how the picture looks as it develops. I'll probably wrap the lines are a bit slightly before I start painting. They're not so heavy and show through the paint too much, and there we have it already for painting. [MUSIC] Join me in the next section as we start painting in the elements. See you there.[MUSIC] 7. Painting: Painting a design. Now, it's time to get stuck into painting in the design and deciding where to put each color. I'm starting with the turquoise I find it best to start off with one of the lighter colors and work up to painting in the dark is last. I want to use it for the main part of the bird, but I'm going to use it in lots of different places around the layout. I just use it wherever I feel it looks good and that it really bother trying to paint each element individually totally in one go. That would just take too long. I'm not that patient. The next color to go on is the khaki. I've mixed a second slightly light tone as I've decided I needed two greens in the leaves. As you can see, I'm not really paying too much attention to the original photos of the bird and butterfly. I'm making the patterns in detail up as I go along, putting the colors wherever I feel they look good. Images become very stylized. I'm putting orange as the main petals of the flower and I'll be able to use the red over the top of this to add pattern and detail. I'm using some of the pale pink and red in the bird and also in the small buds and flowers. The purple was dark enough to look good on top of the turquoise. I'm going to use it for some spots on the bird, also for some of the leaves as it's a good contrast with the khaki. This is the darker khaki I'm using now. I'm going to go back to the purple spots and by using the turquoise, I can partially paint over the spots to give them a more interesting for the like shape. I'm concentrating on making all the elements look really decorative and using contrasting colors next to one another and not worrying at all about it looking realistic. Just painting in the branch now. I'll do that turquoise and then I'll put some of the turquoise in the butterfly. As you can see, I go back to colors I've used already all the time. I'll add some finer details like spots in the leaves and some geometric shapes in the bigger leaves. I like using these all shapes as they're not what you'd expect to find in a leaf, but that make them look quite funky and different. I also like to sometimes use outlines in contrasting colors to some of the leaves, but not to all of them. I'm going to add this little swirl here but if at the end of the painting I feel it's a bit much as I don't like it, because I'm painting in the background last, I can just paint it out if I don't want it. Few more details on the bird and then I think I'm happy with the design as it is. I might have a quick cup of tea before I start painting in the background. This way of painting in the background last is something I do quite often as I really like the effect it gives almost like a screen print with really clean cut edges to the shapes. I'll use my medium-size sable brush to paint the bigger areas and the smaller brush for the detail. If there are areas that don't really like smudges and random pink droplets; then I can just paint them out. Once I cover the whole background, I'll go back and paint a few details I've lost or add some extra ones. Now, I'm going to paint the bird's eye in the dark background color so it really stands out. I'm going to add some little spots almost like flower pollen. I can also change things I don't like. I think that the butterfly antenna are too long and straight. The beauty of gouache means that I can paint them out and when it's dry, I can just paint them back in corrected. I think it's done. I'm quite pleased with it. I hope you are inspired to have a go. I really enjoyed painting it and I'd love to see what you produce. In the last section, I'll talk about what you can do with your little work of art once it's finished. See you there. 8. Final Thoughts: Here's the final picture. All framed up, pretty for the wall. I hope it's inspired you to have a go with gouache. Maybe you have a subject in mind. It doesn't have to be the same as mine. Perhaps you just want to stick to painting flowers and leaves or something completely different like shells. Perhaps a selection of things you find on a walk. This class has hopefully helped you understand better how to paint with gouache, what materials you need to get you started, how to find your subject matter and how to tackle deciding on a color palette. We've also talked about how to break down image shapes. It's easier to draw an element like a bird or insect. Nothing should hold you back now, you have the tools to paint like a designer. If there's one thing I hope you take away from this class, is how to take an image of some wildlife, simplify it and be able to draw and paint it in your own decorative style using gouache, an amazing medium. Whatever you decide to paint, I really hope you post it on the board below so I'd love to see you what you do. I'm more than happy to leave feedback. Once you've done your painting, you could frame it and put it on the wall. I usually stick to doing my paintings in a standard size. I know that they fit in an off the shelf frame and mount. Or you could scan your design and use Photoshop to digitize it for use as a print or a card repercussion. There loads brilliant classes on Skillshare that will guide you on how to achieve this.Thank you for joining me. I hope you enjoyed the class and are feeling inspired. Happy painting.