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Introduction to Gouache

Wed May 18, 2016, 1:02 PM by AthanArt:iconathanart:
:iconprojecteducate:
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Traditional Art




On Gouache by AthanArt







Definition of the Medium

Gouache is similar to watercolor and acrylic. But it has unique characteristics that differentiate it from both of them.
Like watercolor, it's water soluble and its binder is gum arabic (M. Graham & Co use honey ιn their gouache). The pigment ratio however is much higher compared to watercolor. It's also opaque (containing chalk). However, it can be thinned down to washes and worked just like watercolor. In that form it's less translucent than watercolors but you'll have a hard time to tell the difference. Most importantly it can build up opaque layers.
When it dries - like acrylic - the lights tend to be a bit darker and the darks a bit lighter. It dries fast and flat. Although - unlike acrylic - the opaque layers of gouache can be reactivated with water. Despite the matte look, gouache has a special vibrancy in opaque form due to the high pigment load.

If you work in watercolor, you can try adding just white gouache to your palette.

Did you Know?
Adolf Von Menzel, Anders Zorn and J.S.Sargent were masters on incorporating gouache on their works with exquisite results. 

So let's sum up the characteristics of gouache:

♦ It's opaque
♦ It dries fast, flat & matte
♦ It changes value when it dries (lights darken & darks lighten)
♦ It gives hard edges
♦ It reactivates with water
♦ It requires a particular water-to-paint ratio for strategic working.
♦ It's easy to travel with, set up and clean.


With the above in mind, make use of these tips:


On Diluting

  • Squeeze the paint on a wet towel to prevent it from drying on your palette before you use it. You can water spray it to keep it fresh alternatively.
  • - Why? Can't I reactivate it and still use it?
  • Yes you can, but the reactivated paint will be thinned down and will lack proper body to work with opaquely.


On Mixing Strategies

  • Use the right amount of water-to-paint ratio so the opaque layers can be reactivated and be blended together. If not then it will leave a weak spot, a stain.
  • When mixing, be aware of the value shift that will happen.
    With time you get use to it. If the change is dramatically big and bothers you, then the issue is in the water to paint ratio.
  • "When you go to mix a color, mix the HUE first, then the VALUE, then the CHROMA." ~ James Gurney


On the Process

  • The drawing will get covered as you build up opaque layers.
  • Work in tiles with precice value control. They create the form. Glaze with water and blend lightly between the tiles to get rid of the hard edges if you want.
  • If you apply a new layer to a half dry layer, they will blend together. Allow them to dry thoroughly.
  • When you apply a darker layer on top of a lighter layer, the previous layer (depending on how much pressure you apply and how much wet the new layer is) will reactivate and affect the new layer on top of it.
  • For this reason be decisive, mix thoughtfully, apply brushtroke and leave it.
  • Big area gradations are hard to achieve in gouache. So prepare big paint piles beforehand. Work in transparent washes for soft gradations.


Avoid

  • Overblending. Also be careful not to lift paint with the brush - unwillingly - when you reactivate layers.
  • If applied impasto, gouache might crack on a flexible surface.



Begin Simple

Gouache is a very crafty medium and requires very disciplined execution.
For this reason it's wise to start practising gouache - like any other medium - on monochromatic studies. Also practice on simple shapes, on solids.

First I'll demonstrate a sketch study of a grey wooden cube from life, in black and white.

What you'll need:
- A cup of water to clean your brushes
- Brushes (for this one I'll use just a synthetic flat no.8)
- Black and white paint (I use Winsor & Newton, Permanent White & Ivory Black)
- White Pallete (porcelain works best)
- Paper towels (I use bath towels, they last way more and I avoid wasting)
- As a painting surface you can use: watercolor paper, heavy paper, canvas, illustration board, gesso and anything that doesn't buckle easily (I'll use bristol paper for the following demonstrations)


Untitled by AthanArt



Monochromatic Study

1) Drawing
Sketching the cube. Don't be afraid to make the drawing more bold, you'll loose it later anyway.

Dsc 0001 1 1 by AthanArt

2) Stains

I start by using gouache like watercolor and stain the surface for some base tone. Getting rid of the white to work opaquely. From darks to lights, like in oil.

Dsc 0006 3 1 by AthanArt

3) Shadows
I start blocking in the shadow plane of the cube. At this point I should have mixed the lighter reflected light at the bottom right away, but I'll do that later on top. Sorry.
I also blocked the cast shadow on this step but it's on the next image.
I'm keeping my mixtures in a certain consistency of water and paint, so I can work the same and reactivate them later with ease if I need to.

Dsc 0012 1 by AthanArt

4) Halftones
As you can see, I moved to the plane on the light side, but it doesn't get lit much. Halftones will give you the most trouble in gouache due to the value change, as we spoke earlier.

Dsc 0017 1 1 by AthanArt

5) Lights
I moved to the lightest plane and mixed the right value. Once that dried I applied the highlights on the edges of the cube. So I use the edge of my flat brush and paint the ridge that catches the light.
At this point I visit the cast shadow and mix a dark midtone for its edges since it's not razor sharp.

Dsc 0019 1 1 by AthanArt

6) Reactivate & Finishing 
Here I visited the shadow plane and added the reflected light (which I should have done earlier). This way the core shadows at the edges between light and shadow become instantly darker, so I don't need to underline them any further. 
I also darkened the occlusion shadows, right where the cube sits, really thinly.

Clean your brush thoroughly. Water glaze over the edges and blend where necessary. I thrown in a wash to the foreground so it won't be boring to death.
Although, you don't have to do any blending. You can work with strategical tiling and it still will look great. That's gouache, Fred Fixler knows:

Fixler by AthanArt

And this sketch study is done.

Dsc 0020 1 by AthanArt

I did a second one and raised the local value.

Asd6 by AthanArt





These simple studies will be the solution to your problems. If you can't solve the various issues here then it's less likely that you'll do in more complex and demanding works. So it's always a good habbit to practice on simple ones.

But we're not done yet. Let's apply what we learned into a more complex subject!


Sketching a Head


As you know, the head is a combination of spheres, cylinders & cubes.
I chose a female head for this one. Females in gouache are difficult to do due to their rounder features as opposed to males. I'll try not to mess this one up.

- Pssst... with sunglasses on so we get away with less work!
- OK!


For this one I'll use the Zorn Palette plus some more colors:
(Permanent White, Yellow Ochre, Cad. Red, Ivory Black + Burnt Sienna, Viridian, Ultramarine)

As for brushes I'll use just a mid-size round no.6 & a 1 inch flat.

Dsc 0008 1 by AthanArt



1) Drawing
Make sure it's OK and then proceed. 

3 by AthanArt

2) Stains
Like before, dilute the paint to washes and lay some base tones. 

Dsc 0003 1 by AthanArt

3) Shadows (Hair)
I often start off by finishing the hair first and then move on to the rest. Her hair is blonde.
So I lay in the darkest darks to begin with. I use tiles, just shape recognition with the brush.
(Red/B.Sienna + Y.Ochre + Black)

As for color temperature, the shadows here are roughly warmer and the lights are cooler compared to them. You can only judge color temprerature based on what surrounds it. So we can't be dogmatic about color temperature. Color is so relative to a number of factors. Observe and ask yourself "is this warmer or cooler?". It's never just "warm" or "cool". It's always "warmer" or "cooler" compared to something. 

Remember
Change of plane = Change of Value + Change of Color Temperature

Darkest Darks by AthanArt

4) Halftones (Hair)
Continuing with the halftones on the hair. Top is darker and it lightens as it goes down. 
I don't get crazy about it, I simplify to a great extent and avoid copying everything I see.
(Red/B.Sienna + Y.Ochre + Black + White)

Halftones by AthanArt

5) Halftones to Lights (Hair)
Transitioning to lights. Increasing in chroma a bit here. I liked the hair a bit muted in the lights, so I kept the highlights low in value. This was a personal preference not a suggestion you should follow.
(Red/B.Sienna + Y.Ochre + White)

Halftones and Lights by AthanArt

6) Shadow (Face)
I start off by blocking the shadow side on the face and the glasses. Form shadows to reflected lights to cast shadows. Warmer and a bit cooler as I move down.
Notice how visible the tiles are.
(Red/B.Sienna + Y.Ochre + Black + White)

Shadows by AthanArt

7)Halftones & Lights

Beginning from the edge of the shadows, I mix the neutral transitions with more black added to the mixture.
(White + Cad.Red + Y.Ochre + Black)

Moving to the halftones, I see that the chroma there is greater.
(White + Cad.Red + Y.Ochre + a bit of Black)

Lights and highlights, which again I kept really grouped together. On the neck my mixtures are cooler and more greyish.
(White + Cad.Red + Y.Ochre)

Halftones and Lights by AthanArt

8) Background

I took my 1 inch flat and wet the background with water to avoid hard edges, just like you do in watercolor. Then I wanted to mix a cool color that will reinforce the flesh tones. I also wanted it flat. So I covered the background with a semi-opaque mixture and played around with the surface for variation.
(Viridian + White)

Background by AthanArt

9) Finishing

Now the fun part. Time to reactivate!
I dip my brush in clean water and start to glaze over (lightly, otherwise you'll end up picking up paint) and blend the hard edges. I also reinforce the highlights again as they get a bit obscured by the glazing.
It is normal that you'll go back and forth with the process until you get experienced with time.
Sign it and we're done.

Like always, I'd like to remind you that I'm not suggesting you to paint by numbers. After hard practice you will develop your own way of problem solving. However, make sure that it makes sense and avoid developing bad habbits.


Viridian by AthanArt




Epilogue

If you're still with me and reading then you get an extra treat :D.

Here's some prep work I did before painting the head above. Color comps will make your life easier so you won't end up experimenting on the final piece. Here is where I feel safe to do everything I want without fearing of ruining everything. I didn't even follow any of them...but you get the point.
Do as much thumbnails as you want, keep them brief and small. Solve the color issues and harmonies on these. You'll be much more confident.

*Notice the great results you can achieve with just the Zorn limited palette.




If you're considering to give gouache a try, then by all means do. It's a great medium and very dear to me along with oil.
I hope you enjoyed this article!

Vanity |Moleskine by AthanArt



Special Thanks to:




Other articles by AthanArt :
Portrait Painting in Oils




:iconathanart: Find me on
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Written for Traditionalists & projecteducate.

If you have any questions, then please leave them in the comments and I'll try to answer them. :)
Add a Comment:
 
:iconfmr0:
fmr0 Featured By Owner May 24, 2017
Thanks for making this Tutorial! :-)
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 24, 2017   Traditional Artist
My pleasure :)
Reply
:iconfotisntalianis:
FotisNtalianis Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016
Sir you are amazing!!
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016   Traditional Artist
Hope you found something useful in there, thank you! :)
Reply
:iconfotisntalianis:
FotisNtalianis Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2016
I did! That's how I started with gouache!!
Even tho I'm failing big time I understand more about the process everytime so thank you for putting this together!!!
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2016   Traditional Artist
Σας ευχαριστώ πολύ για τα σχόλιά σας, είναι ένα πολύ καλό μέσο και βοηθά στο να οργανώνει την προσέγγιση σε ελαιογραφία αλλά και ψηφιακό.
Κάνετε πολύ καλή δουλειά σε ψηφιακό απ'ότι είδα, συνεχίστε έτσι!
Reply
:iconposhyos:
Poshyos Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hi! Do you know how to dispose of gouache paint? I found a small glass container of white gouache but it's from around 5 years ago? I'm not sure if I can just throw it in the bin or if there is a more proper way of disposing of it. Please help!
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2016   Traditional Artist
You can ask in a local pharmacy shop, just make sure it doesn't end up on the soil or water regions. 
Reply
:iconposhyos:
Poshyos Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Ok thank you!
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2016   Traditional Artist
You're welcome, and a big thank you for taking the time to check this article! :)
Reply
:iconherbert45:
HERBERT45 Featured By Owner May 24, 2016
NEVER LIKED THE GOUACHE MEDIUM, BUT THAT IS PERHAPS BECAUSE I NEVER USED THE WINDSOR AND NEWTON BRAND...WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL I USED CHEAP GOUACHE...SEEMED LIKE THE INSTRUCTORS WASN'T TO FAMILIAR WITH IT.   WHEN I USED TO PAINT WATERCOLORS GOUACHE WAS GREAT FOR CLOUDS.

BTW- WINDSOR AND NEWTON ARE ABOUT THE BEST FOR OILS SO I AM SURE I WOULD GET BETTER RESULTS IN GOUACHE IF I USED W&N.   JUST TOO FIXED ON OILS THESE DAYS.
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 25, 2016   Traditional Artist
Indeed, paint quality is crucial. Winsor & Newton is a good brand but there are other even finer brands to be sure.
Yep be fixed with one at a time! :D
Reply
:iconwcqaguxa:
wcqaguxa Featured By Owner May 20, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Now, what is the difference between Temperas and gouache? :o
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Edited May 20, 2016   Traditional Artist
If you're not refering to egg tempera: Tempera consists of pigment and glue as binder. It's cheap water paint commonly made for children.
Gouache consists pigment and gum arabic as binder (with the exception of M Gram brand to my knowledge, which has honey). 

Reply
:iconhybridtea:
HybridTea Featured By Owner May 20, 2016
Great article :) I've had mixed success with gouache, might refer back to this article before I get started next time I want to try gouache painting.
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 20, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you, I'm glad you liked it. Hope you enjoy it and wishing all the best with that. :)
Wonderful gallery btw!
Reply
:iconhybridtea:
HybridTea Featured By Owner May 21, 2016
Thank you very much! 
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 21, 2016   Traditional Artist
:)
Reply
:iconkepidemic:
Kepidemic Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Student Filmographer
Ah, this is so useful! Thank you for this, I'm just starting to experiment with gouache and have felt a bit lost with it so far. It's really useful to be able to see your process :D
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Yes, sometimes a little stimuli is all we need to give it a go despite the hesitation. Thank you very much for reading it and commenting. ^__^
Reply
:iconnihilistic-hun:
nihilistic-hun Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Nice article.  That was helpful, I have been trying to practice with gouache more so I can use them in my Watercolor to add depth. 
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you, I'm happy to hear that. Indeed, wishing you sucess with that! :)
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Lovely article :clap:
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you very much!
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
:hug:
Reply
:iconthintoons:
thintoons Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Digital Artist
Makes me want to try this after reading this, a nice tutorial :)
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
I achieved my goal then, thank you for reading it! :)
Reply
:iconoliveartolive:
OliveArtOlive Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
I haven't seen many helpful resources to do with gouache, so thank you so much for writing this, it was very helpful :love: You make a tricky medium seem so easy

I will definitely keep this in mind the next time I paint!
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you very much for your kind comment. It's great to meet other artists who do have a passion for this obscured medium. I browsed your gallery and saw some really cool gouache works!

Wishing you all the best!
Reply
:icontudalia:
Tudalia Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
Amazing article!
Splendid processes and concise information! I loved all of it!
:) I might try gouache in future after reading this!
Keep being awesome!
:iconbigheartplz:
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you very much Tushar, I'm glad you enjoyed!
You too! ;)
Reply
:icontudalia:
Tudalia Featured By Owner May 20, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
You're welcome Athan!
Keep being awesome!
Reply
:iconxmangotart:
xMangoTart Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Student General Artist
Really glad to see one on gouache! it's one of my favorite mediums. The tutorial was great, I usually use gouache for landscapes but always had trouble using it for portraits. After seeing this tutorial, I'll definitely try it again! Thanks! 
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 19, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you very much for your comment! I'm so happy to meet a gouache lover :). I'm glad you find it helpful, all the best!
Reply
:iconcontraltissimo:
Contraltissimo Featured By Owner May 18, 2016
What an amazing and thorough tutorial! Thanks for this! :clap:
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Edited May 18, 2016   Traditional Artist
I'm glad you find it helpful, thank you for visiting! :)
Reply
:iconbear48:
bear48 Featured By Owner May 18, 2016  Professional
that was helpful 
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 18, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you very much ^^
Reply
:iconaki-rain:
Aki-rain Featured By Owner May 18, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
This cleared things up... I tried gouache before after being inspired by some other artists and thought it was just me getting too frustrated, but I guess it is difficult to work with. XD Maybe I'll have the courage to try again in the future but for now I think I'll just stick with watercolor and acrylic...
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 18, 2016   Traditional Artist
Indeed, it's quite challenging at the beginning but very rewarding. Thank you very much for your comment! :)
Reply
:iconfaeorain:
faeorain Featured By Owner May 18, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
I don't paint often, but when I do it's with watercolor and/or gouache. You can use them together, they work quite nicely. I like gouache because I can get results that are similar to oil or acrylic, yet be completely water soluble. This painting I made of Bjork was entirely gouache....I'm just excited to see the medium being featured because I don't see that many people here using it.

Bjork - ATC by faeorain  
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 18, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you for your lovely comment. Indeed gouache works perfect along with watercolor. And yes, gouache is also a rare medium to see among artists. This is an advantage however, it makes it more special since it's like a language which a few speak. 
Your painting is absolutely wonderful, glad to see it here!
Reply
:iconfaeorain:
faeorain Featured By Owner May 19, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
No problem at all, I'm glad to share when I can. I'm not professionally trained or anything, but I've had a lot of fun experimenting with gouache.
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 21, 2016   Traditional Artist
That's what matters :)
Reply
:iconroxya1:
roxya1 Featured By Owner Edited May 18, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
How do I know if my tube of gouache is bad? I picked up a tube of "opaque white" and it's most definitely not opaque. It's like a barely there watercolor and it reeks like correction fluid. I have never used gouache so I don't know what I'm doing either, lol. It might be very old, because I recently picked up a tube of watercolor in the same store and it was dried solid as a brick.
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner Edited May 18, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you for your comment!

Gertainly, making sure that tubes are not outdated is a good start. If the place there is dusty, the tubes leak or they're hard to squish - which means they're been the're for years- then avoid buying anything.

As for quality, gouache is a hard medium to work with if it's not artist's (designer's) quality. You can work with watercolors or oil in lower grade easily but not with gouache. 
Lower grade paints maily feature greater percentage of filler in the paint. After you squeeze the first amount out of the tube, it keeps giving you watery concistency. Also - for gouache - lower grade has too much chalk as filler for opacity instead of just more pure pigment.
The tube you mention might be watercolor in tube, chinese white. It's a hard to tell if I can't get a glance at it.

As for brands, there are many you can choose from, depending on what your retailer has of course:
Winsor & Newton, M Graham, Holbein, Ultrecht, Richeson, Lukas, Schmincke Horadam, Royal Talens, Pebeo, Turner and more. 
Reply
:iconroxya1:
roxya1 Featured By Owner May 20, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
That makes sense. The tube I have is Royal Talons gouache.
Reply
:iconathanart:
AthanArt Featured By Owner May 20, 2016   Traditional Artist
Thank you :) Royal Talens brand was my first experience with gouache.
Reply
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