Gouache experiment on toned paper

I’ve been having so much fun using a Stillman & Birn toned sketchbook these past few weeks that I decided to take it one step further by painting in gouache. But gouache is hard to find. The first store I went to had none, and the second place had a few tubes in a sale bin. I guess it’s not very popular, at least in my neck of the woods.

Back at home I placed a few things on my studio table — two of my favourite pieces of pottery (the one on the left recently made by a friend of mine) and a natural sponge that I use for painting (in case you can’t tell what the blob on the right is).

I drew first in pencil and then painted, using a limited palette of White, Lamp Black, Cadmium red, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow. I’ve never painted with gouache before but here are a few things I learned:
1. You need to mix up enough paint if you are going to paint a large area. Notice what happened in the background when I ran out of paint on the right side.
2. Gouache dries fast! You need to paint quickly.
3. It’s hard to duplicate a colour if you need to add more to an area (again, look at that background.
4. You can correct mistakes quite easily by painting over areas.

Here are a few things I like about gouache (and some of these are why I like oil as well):
1. The flatness of the colour
2. The subtleties of the colour
3. Working from dark to light
4. Adding white
5. The fast drying time.

I will certainly be trying this again. Especially since I cleaned out the sale bin at the store.


19 Comments on “Gouache experiment on toned paper”

  1. Soni says:

    Coincidental you’re doing this – I decided a few weeks ago to start using some cobwebbed studio toys > oil pastels, gouache, cre-pas, crayons etc – I’m combining them experimentally with WC so I Googled best Gouache reviews FYI & majority liked H Graham brand which has a beginner set ; My gouache is a cheap sale bin brand I will get into after I get through current fun with Oil pastels & WC ; Took a gouache course many years ago & do recall it’s best to use synthetic brushes

    But you’ve whetted my gouache curiosity now !!! Thanks

    I swear, you could paint garbage & make it look great – oh, wait, you’ve done that too 😆😏🖌


    • Luba says:

      Love the composition, colours & forms☺️


    • Hi Soni, You sound just like me. I dig out all the old toys too and play with them. I hope you have more luck with pastels than me. So far I haven’t been able to get a handle on them, but maybe that’s because the ones I have really are for children. AS for brushes and gouache — good advice. I didn’t use my good sable brushes for them either. Stiff brushes seem to work best with the thick paint, and many watercolour brushes I have are floppy, so I used my Escoda Perla brushes which are pointy but very springy. So let’s see what you do with gouache now!


  2. DiniAlice says:

    Intersting to get your take on gouache. I have some but have never tried it. Hope it’s not all dried up…


  3. Judy Sopher says:

    This is such a coincidence as I have recently started to use gouache again. I say again as I used to dabble in it and fortunately many of the tubes were still useful. I have to also thank Rosjenke for getting me interested in this again.

    Shari, you could paint well in any media. For a first or any gouache painting, it is lovely. In spite of or due to years of working in oil, I cannot tolerate the feel of it and the mess of it. Gouache is cleaner and water based which I love. It does dry fast and oil doesn’t ,but that also leads to some messy oil work.

    So-thanks again for this encouragement.


    • HI Judy, I’m glad this encouraged you to try. I remember you telling me that you didn’t like oils. So what do you think about the gouache? Do you like the quick drying paint? I haven’t tried it again but I will soon.


  4. Louise says:

    Hi Sheri
    Have you found James Gurney? He is a great exponent of gouache and a generous blogger.


    • Hi Louise, Thanks for the link to Gurney Journey. Not only do I follow his blog, I have also painted with him both in Montreal and at the New York Botanical Gardens. And I read the link you sent even before you sent it. He is the nicest and most generous man and hugely talented!


  5. Jeff Gold says:

    What a beautiful, direct study! I really like the boldness of color and the density of the objects. Being able to add highlights on darker colors really makes them pop. I had a similar response to your oil paintings. Very strong!


  6. Janine says:

    I’ll second (or third) the joys of using gouache. It’s very easy to work with, extremely forgiving when compared with transparent paint. I don’t know why it’s not more popular. Not all brands of gouache are equal, though. Some are chalkier and crack after it’s dry, both in the palette and on the paper, depending on how thick you apply it. You have to keep misting the palette while you’re working it to keep it moist. My favorite brands for being super pigmented and handling nicely are M. Graham and Schmincke. I don’t know much about the others but Holbein, WN and Daler Rowney are also popular. The other fun thing about gouache is you can paint on a lot of different types of surfaces, including toned paper, to get many different effects. You don’t need 100% rag paper for it to look good. I like the velvety look it gives, and of course, being able to easily correct a mistake is heavenly. 🙂

    Keep going!!! Can’t wait to see more.


    • HI Janine, Thanks so much for all of this info! I did poke around a bit on the internet but couldn’t tell what brands were good. My tubes are Winsor & Newton. They seem good for now but I always appreciate hearing about other brands that people have tried. I will certainly be trying more gouache experiments, especially since school is done now!


  7. Rene Wojcik says:

    Nice effect on toned paper. I have a set of Van Gogh Gouache which I often use but not on toned paper. Must try it. James Gurney works with gouache with marvelous effects…. Worth watching his work on YouTube.


    • Hi Rene. Thanks so much for writing. Yes, I have seen James Gurney’s work and I follow his blog too, but now I will have to watch his videos on gouache. He’s an amazing artist and a generous teacher.


  8. joantav says:

    I keep promising myself that I will do a few gouache paintings and try it out. It sounds like it has definite possibilities. I’ve watched James Gurney work with it and he makes it look so easy. lol I will be watching to see how you do using the gouache. I’ll learn a bit from your results.This came out nice!


  9. Noah Enholm says:

    The Moleskine watercolor notebook is popular in the painting community and is gouache-friendly. Its size fits most luggage and its traditional black hardcover protects the pages, making it ideal for travel.


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