Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - student project

Still Life Adventures With Acrylic Gouache


I have to say, from the very beginning, all of the foundational work I did for this class really helped me gain confidence in my painting process. Even though I’ve been working with Acrylic Gouache for Years, and painting my whole life, I’ve often struggled with translating what I see and keeping the faith in what I’m doing through the ugly phase that every painting goes through.

Taking the time to play: to explore thick straight from the tube gouache and gouache watered down to its very limit, to explore lines, to really pay attention to my colours and how I’m mixing them, all of it has helped me to grow. I hope the exercises and projects help you grow too!


Lesson One:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 1 - student project

In general, I work with my Acrylic Gouache at a 2-to-1 ratio. Two parts water to one one part paint. This leaves me with a slight translucency with most colours. But I noticed on one of my workshops that students preferred all different consistencies of paint, so I wanted to play around with consistencies myself to learn how to get different effects. On top of this, I wanted to focus on three different types of paint: what I call chalky paints (which are almost always opaque), translucent paints, and then granulating paint. So I selected the Shell pink (which is chalky, there is titanium white in there which makes it opaque), the light magenta which tends to show brush strokes even when it’s quite thick, and the rose which is translucent as heck, even undiluted, but can get wonderful granulating properties when diluted because of the neon pigments.

I also wanted to experiment with line. In general, when working with Acrylic Gouache, translucent colours are more watery and chalky colours are a bit thicker. To get dry brushing effects, you need to have (gasp, shocker) a dry brush! To get smoother more consistent lines, you’ll want to dilute you paint more than usual. You can always go over the lines more than once to darken them as needed (because Acrylic gouache does not reactivate with water, theirs no risk of smudging it!).

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 2 - student project

Once I finished my opacity and line exercises, I made myself some swatches. I tried a few different methods (to show you guys!) but I generally prefer the bottom right method. I think giving myself an idea of how each paint looks opaque and diluted and having my swatches on little cards so I can mix and match them to create colour schemes and to ensure that my colours go together! The process of creating swatches is so helpful for me, to understand how each paint behaves, so I always do this as soon as I get a new tube of paint!

Project One:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 3 - student project

I painted this funky jug that I actually traded for years ago on a bartering app in my city. I love its mottled brass exterior and the crazy lip on it that I have a very hard time painting. I really wanted to use purples for the background because I thought they could highlight the yellows in the jug. I started with a base painting of quite thick gouache over the whole surface of the painting and then added a lot of layers of very watered down gouache to create texture, depth and highlights. I also added a few crisp lines as well, to ensure I washing everything I learned.

Lesson Two:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 4 - student project

Layering Gouache was one of the most challenging skills for me when I first started painting with Acrylic Gouache. I love the bold graphic effects that some illustrators got, but I always felt like when I tried it came out somehow both super thick and not opaque at all. Now that I have a better understanding of the qualities of my paints, and the consistency I like to work at, I was excited to practice getting just the effect I wanted. When it comes to laying (or the illusion of layering), there are a few things to keep in mind, you want to ensure that you paint is the right consistency, where you can you want to layer light to dark and you want to think about your piece a bit before you start. Sometimes the best way to layer is actually not to layer at all.

In these first exercises, I practised layering light colours on top of dark and darks of top of light to see how my paints behaved, and then I practised controlling my brush, to ensure the areas I wanted to be left blank, were crisp and clean.

Project Two:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 5 - student project

Full disclosure: I had a bit of a set-back with this Project. I painted another floral still life that I was actually quite happy with, but I had to refill in order to fix some technical difficulties with filming. I was initially very disappointed, but now, looking back, I’m so glad that I had to refill. This second iteration (of brand new flowers!) actually gave me the chance to show off a lot more layering techniques.

I started this painting, like I start all paintings, by deciding on colours and laying down a base coat of paint. Since we haven’t covered mixing yet, I wanted to focus on choosing colours right out of the tube to get the effects I wanted. I wasn’t sure about the background colour (pale lime) but I decided to just go for it because I could always paint over it with something darker later. After I had the base colours, down, I started to work from back to front. Because my flower arrangement had a lot of light details,  wanted to embrace the translucent of the paint so that you could see lines and details through it. I left the small white flowers white, and then tried to add details, but they may have worked better if I had painted in that area grey or beige so that I could paint white on top to get more contrast.

Lesson Three:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 6 - student project

Colour! Now things get interesting. One of the most empowering things for me in my early experience with Acrylic Gouache was the process of creating my own mixing chart and uncovering how to my paints behaved and cooperated. Creating paintings with colours straight from the tube can give you some lovely results, but if you really want to start creating paintings that feel like you, mixing your own colours can really unlock a whole new world.

Mixing can be as simple as understanding colour theory and how colours are made (how to make greys, and browns using complementary colours and other tricks), and can be as easy as using your colour mixing chart as a road map to show exactly how your paint will behave. When I first made my colour mixing chart I used EVERY SINGLE TTUBE OF GOUACHE I HAD. It is enormous and unmanageable, and frankly probably doesn’t give me a lot more information than just creating a chart with 10-20 colours. Paying attention to the pigments in your paint when mixing, can help you decide which colours to include in your colours mixing chart if you have a lot of paint.

Project Three:

Still Life Adventures with Acrylic Gouache - image 7 - student project

When mixing colours from scratch it can be intimidating as heck, especially when you are looking at something with a lot of depth and shading and dimension. Like and apple. I like to start, again, in the same way, I start all my paintings by filling in every area with a base coat of colour. I like to make my base-colour something light to medium in colour, so that I can easily layer colour on top without a dark colour showing through. This particular apple had a kind of scrappy texture, so I focused on using dry-brushing effects to layer colour in order to create all the different colours. I start with a medium colour, only then progressing to a darker colour to create layers of colour, and also, to be sure I’m on the right track before I commit to something dark and hard to paint over! When Adding shadows and shading, I used a mixture of dark dry brush effects in the deep red, as well as watered down paint in the deep brown to create layers of colour. When adding highlights, I like to smudge and smear my paint with my hands and fingers to keep it soft.

Alanna Cartier
Artist, illustrator
Top Teacher