How to Paint with Gouache for Beginners

By Katie Green

April 22, 2024

How to Paint with Gouache for Beginners

Are you ready to try something really cool in art?

Let me introduce you to gouache (pronounced “gwash”), it is a medium that is in between watercolor and acrylic paint. 

It’s perfect for making bold and vibrant art pieces that stand out. In this guide, we’ll learn what gouache is, why it’s awesome for artists like you, and how to get started with it.

We’ll go over the tools you’ll need and share some easy techniques to help you create your very first painting.

So grab your brushes, and let’s dive into the world of gouache painting together!

What is Gouache?


Basic Gouache Techniques:

Gouache is a versatile water-based paint that can be used in various ways depending on the desired effect.

It can be applied directly from the tube for a rich, opaque layer, or diluted with water for lighter, more transparent washes.

This adaptability makes it a favorite in animation studios where distinct visual effects are often required.


One of the standout features of gouache is its ability to be reactivated with water.

This means that dried paint on the palette can be revived with a light mist of water, making it a cost-effective and waste-minimizing option for artists.

However, this same feature requires careful layering techniques, as applying wet paint over a dried layer can reactivate the underlying colors, causing them to blend unintentionally.


There is also a variant known as acrylic gouache, which differs primarily in that it dries to a waterproof finish, preventing the reactivation of layers once they have dried.


Now that we have a better understanding of what gouache is, let’s explore how to use it effectively:


How to use Gouche?


Using gouache effectively involves understanding its unique properties and experimenting with various techniques. Here’s a guide on how to make the most out of this versatile medium:

– Flexibility in Layering: Unlike watercolors, which require preserving the white of the paper for highlights, gouache allows you to paint in both directions: from dark to light or light to dark. A common approach is to start by blocking in shadows and then adding lighter tones. This method helps establish depth and form from the outset.


– Practice and Experimentation: The adaptability of gouache means there’s no one right way to use it. Practice different approaches to discover how gouache behaves and to understand its full range of capabilities.

– Understanding Drying Shifts: It’s important to note that dark shades of gouache will dry lighter, and lighter shades will dry darker. This shift can take some getting used to, and it’s vital to anticipate these changes as you mix and apply colors.

– Learning Through Mixing: Determining the exact hue you’re working with can be challenging due to how gouache dries. This aspect of gouache may be difficult but becomes more intuitive with experience. Each painting session is an opportunity to learn more about these shifts, helping you refine your ability to predict the final dried color.

– Continuous Learning Cycle: The process of mastering gouache involves a cycle of practice, knowledge acquisition, gaining confidence, and increasing speed. As you progress, each element enhances the others, encouraging a repeating cycle of improvement.


Essential Supplies for Gouache Painting:

  • Paints: Invest in a set of high-quality gouache paints. Brands like Winsor & Newton and Holbein offer options that are well-pigmented and have a creamy consistency.

  • Brushes: A selection of soft watercolor brushes works best with gouache. Include a variety of sizes from small detail brushes to larger wash brushes.

  • Paper: Opt for watercolor paper that can handle the moisture of gouache without warping. Cold press paper is preferred for its texture, which holds the paint well.

  • Palette: A white ceramic palette is ideal for mixing gouache as it does not stain and is easy to clean.

Basic Gouache Techniques:

How to Paint with Gouache for Beginners 7

Wet on Wet:

This technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface or wet paint, allowing the colors to flow into each other and create soft, seamless blends. This method is particularly effective for painting skies or creating gradients in objects. The type of paper you use can greatly influence the effect, with some papers absorbing the paint faster, thus affecting the smoothness of the gradient.

Fat Over Lean:

A great tip for gouache beginners is the ‘fat over lean’ method. This technique suggests applying thicker layers of paint over thinner ones. Start by painting a thin, diluted layer of gouache, and once this base is dry, add thicker, more opaque layers on top. This method prevents the paint from cracking and promotes a stable structure in your painting.

Dry Brushing:


Dry brushing uses a mostly dry brush and thick paint, typically straight from the tube, to create a texture or detail in your artwork. This technique provides little control over the paint, which can lead to interesting, often unpredictable visual effects. It’s excellent for adding fine details or rough textures like grass, fur, or the rough surfaces of rocks.

Each of these techniques can open up new avenues for creativity and expression in your gouache paintings. Experiment with each method to see how they can best serve your artistic vision and enhance your projects. Gouache is indeed a flexible and rewarding medium, perfect for experimenting with an array of artistic styles and effects.


Gouache is a rewarding medium that fosters both creativity and flexibility in painting. With practice and patience, you can master its techniques and begin creating stunning works of art. So grab your brushes and start painting; the world of gouache awaits you.