Art Insights: Learning to Paint with Gouache


© David Sandum. Left: "Summer Evening," 2004. Right: "Spring Turn into Summer," 2016

Most people have never heard of gouache as a painting medium. I first learned about it in 2004 while reading a book about Chagall. Color has always been important to me, and I was amazed at the strong effects of gouache compared to the softer aquarelle/watercolor mediums.

I'd been looking for a fast way to paint on paper, so I immediately bought some gouache tubes at the art store and began experimenting. Since then, I have worked with them almost daily and have developed the technique.

Above, you can see my first gouache painting (left) and one of my latest (right). Yes, things have evolved in 12 years!

​Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Carefully choose the surface. You can use gouache on either canvas or watercolor paper. If you use canvas, a smoother canvas type such as cotton canvas works best. If you use paper, don't use drawing paper or thin, cheap watercolor paper. It curls up, making it difficult to work with. My two favorite types of paper are the two below: the first (on the left) is inexpensive, but it has a good weight and is easy to work on. The second (on the right) is more expensive.

Ideal paper for gouache

3. Paint fast. Gouache is a close relative to tempera and binds to the surface very quickly, drying completely in 10–15 minutes. So don’t put too much paint on the palette at once. Alternatively, you can draw the outlines with soft pencil ahead of time. Do not use dark pencil, because it can create a mess on the paper.

​4. Mix gouaches like acrylics. One advantage of gouaches over watercolors is the flexibility to mix them like acrylic and oils. Also white can be used. This allows you to build up your piece in layers, but be careful not to do too many, because you risk damaging the paper.

5. Expect some fading. Because gouache is water soluble, expect about 20% color fading after it dries, unless you add very little water and use top-quality pigments. My favorite brands: Holbein and Winsor & Newton professional series.

My favorite gouache brands. (David Sandum studio.)

6. Keep everything clean. Make sure to keep your water and brushes clean, or the paint will turn muddy. Use heavy paper towels, not only to keep things clean, but also to lessen or soften color if needed before it dries. 7. Make corrections. Because gouache is water soluble, you can use a damp brush to lift off areas you don't like, similar to how you would work with watercolors. 8. Be spontaneous. Have fun! Painting with gouache is best quick and impulsive, or planned, sketched, and filled out. I paint fast, without any idea of what will evolve. I also usually work on three to five at once. I do the base of one, then move on to the next. I hope these tips help you work with the medium. I'd love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment.

(Since I've moved this blog to a new site, I cut and pasted past comments here)

Jay Marvinlink 9/18/2016 05:55:13 pm

Love your work. I own several of your gouache and your book. You've got a lot of talent. Look forward to your blog. Good news on your wife!

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:34:06 pm

Thanks Jay. I love your work too. Great to share insights and experiences here. Thanks for tagging along :)

Reply Valerie Kamikubolink 9/18/2016 06:02:19 pm

You have always been such an inspiration, David!

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:34:56 pm

Thanks Valerie. You are such a good friend and talented artist. Great to have you along here.

Reply Carolyn Pappaslink 9/18/2016 06:28:55 pm

Interestingly, I bought some gouache for the first time recently but haven't had time to try them out properly since starting school. I will definitely pull them out when I get a chance.

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:37:18 pm

You will do great with gouache Carolyn. You are used to watercolors, so this will be a fun experiment for you. Just use a lot of water if you want that effect. Please keep me posted on how it goes here. One of the funniest things about gouache is how people pronounce it! Haha Have heard some funny ones.

Reply Krista Lauritzen 9/19/2016 02:55:02 am

Thanks for posting this information, David. Very interesting! I also loved to see your early work and how you've evolved! Wonderful news about your wife!!

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:39:39 pm

Thanks Krista. You've been on my team from the start. I have such fond memories from 2003 when I taught public speaking at American College in Moss. I loved those teenagers so much. I hope to get my MA done someday so I can return. Hope you got your own room at the hotel! (saw your FB post).

Reply Krista 9/24/2016 12:55:27 am

Ha, ha! Yes, luckily I didn't have to share.

David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:32:44 pm

Thanks Krista. Good to have you along here as well. Always love to hear from you. Love, David

Reply Sandlink 9/19/2016 06:22:00 am

It's been many many years since I used gouache, I got sidetracked by acrylics and now watercolour so thanks for the reminder and tips. I agree, Strathmore are such a reliable source of paper, I love their mixed media sketchbooks too. Thanks for the info re ebook edition I promise to leave a review when I've read it :) Finally massive congratulations on the cancer free news! So lovely to hear success stories, especially as I have three friends currently fighting it. Sending many healing vibes to your wife and to you, it takes its toll on the whole family I know.

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:43:45 pm

Thanks Sand. It's been such a hard road with the cancer. It's still not over, with check-ups and the fear of it returning. My wife is now also on hormone-blockers (5 years). So we are all trying to regroup and find our footing. Unfortunately, my depression has also been very difficult. Another topic for a book. Thanks for looking into my Ebook and for writing a review when the time comes.

Reply Carol Walshlink 9/19/2016 07:18:03 am

Hi David, I love your blog. Hope I keep receiving them. You are an amazing artist and a wonderful, generous man. It has been years since I tried gouache and you made me want to try it again.

I am thrilled about your wife's news and recovery. You both must be ecstatic. Yeah! Warmly, Carol

Reply David Sandum 9/19/2016 05:47:54 pm

Thanks Carol. Thanks for tagging a long with the blog - a new experience for me, even if I had Posterous many years ago. Re the cancer, we are still fighting to recover. We are so glad the prognosis is good, don't take me wrong. But it's been a year full of struggle, so it takes time to recover. My sister's husband (45) is also terminally ill with cancer, and my wife sister has leukemia. So we are still going through issues in the family regards to that. Hope all goes well with the gouache. Please keep me posted here.

Reply Hugh 9/19/2016 08:20:23 pm

This is great, David. I've only worked with designer's gouache. I need to try the artist grade. I really like the medium. This makes me love what you do with it.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:37:38 pm

Thanks Hugh. "Designer's gouache" is a term that some brands use, because many designers use gouache to fill in designs. It is often used for posters, car designs, book illustrations etc. Many artist's use gouache as well, but in the end it depends on home the brand market themselves. The Holbein professional series really is top notch. Brands often grade the pigments from series 1-7 (for example), or A to F. The higher the number/letter, the better the pigments, and, the higher the cost ;)

Reply Ben 9/23/2016 10:09:01 am

Thanks for all your updates. You're a kind and stoical man whose compassion and determination sing through your art. It's inspirational. Keep up the good fight, and thank you.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:39:19 pm

Thanks Ben. I will continue to use my art to deal with life. It is how I keep going. Glad I can be a gateway for inspiration.

Reply Cyn Rogalskilink 9/23/2016 10:20:05 am

I so appreciate this post David! Being a 3D mixed media artist, I am often hesitant to try 2D art, thinking I don't know enough about it. Thanks for the explanations! I, too, am thrilled about Kjersti's good news; I continue to keep her family in prayer. Richest blessings to you!

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:40:30 pm

Thanks Cyn. You are such an awesome and loving supporter. Your prayers are felt and appreciated.

Reply Petrula 9/23/2016 11:18:06 am

So wonderful to see all of the amazing progress you've made with your art and writing! You are an inspiration to many, including me. :)

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:44:01 pm

Thanks Petrula. Regarding your progress comment: Sometimes I feel that I'm getting nowhere. You know the feeling when you work and work and things don't appear to move forward. This is one of the problems with depression. We are so hard on ourselves and often feel we are not good enough. But if we continue to write, and paint, or to be creative, things are always in motion (even though we may not always feel that way). x David

Reply Miriam Riecklink 9/23/2016 12:21:03 pm

Love your work. :)

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:45:07 pm

Thanks Miriam. Grateful for your support.

ReplyJay C Westerfield 9/23/2016 12:28:48 pm

Glad to see you are doing so well. Very interesting blog, great insight into what it takes to be an artist.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:47:03 pm

Hi Jay. So good to hear from you again, and glad to see you're following along here. I am going to keep posting things about my artistic process. Please let me know if you have any questions or things you wonder about. Hope all is well with you in Indiana. Should be some good corn coming :)

Reply Betty Kaye Svjomburglink 9/23/2016 12:49:43 pm

I have wanted to try gouache nut was not sure wjere to start. Thanks to your blog I will now venture into the gouache world. Thank you for sharing!

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:51:14 pm

Hi Betty. Matisse said "Creativity takes courage." Just jump into it. I am sure you'll be just fine. Remember that not all we do as artist's is good enough to exhibit. Allow yourself time to practice and fail. That is how we learn. I'd say, out of 10 gouaches I make, 3-5 turn out good enough to sell. the rest I put in a pile to paint over, add to, or use the back of the paper to make another.

Reply David Jenkins 9/23/2016 01:41:46 pm

The gouache you sent us last year is proudly displayed in our home. I see it daily and am reminded of our friendship. Thank you again for sharing your talent. You truly are an inspiration.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 03:54:18 pm

Thansk Dave - my friend in the Pacific North West! Your gouache had so many layers, I hope that it will not start to flake! I sprayed it with a layer of Satin Spray, which I hope will keep it together;) One of those paintings I worked on for years! Very glad you and your wife have it.

Reply Michael Chomselink 9/23/2016 02:17:17 pm

David, so good to know you have a blog. I will definitely be a follower, reader, and, from time to time, a commentor. You've been an inspiration to me since I first met you on the web. And when I saw your email with the news of your wife's news, I was vicariously delighted. I'm an oil painter, but from time to time I use Gouache for commercial illustrations and preparatory sketches for my portraits. It's a wonderful medium, instant and forgiving, bright and direct, I should use it more often. I look forward to your future posts. Michael.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 04:00:44 pm

Hi Michael. What a kind message! It is wonderful to be able to interact with other artists here. I also use gouaches as sketches for larger oils, and especially etchings. I always paint impulsively, not knowing exactly what will evolve. But with aquatint etchings and larger oils, one must plan more. So it's great to have small works on paper to go by. Also thanks for your comments regarding my wife. Life is sure unpredictable and it's been a very hard year. We hope that slowly things can start to get back to normal. We are not there yet, but one day at a time...

Reply Deb DeSando 9/23/2016 02:31:47 pm

Hi David! Wishing you even more well-deserved success with your blog and the e-book!!! You know I love you and your work!!! :)

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 04:01:54 pm

You rock Deb! Here's to progress! I appreciate your friendship and support. x

Reply Erica Stenkronalink 9/23/2016 02:42:05 pm

Nice blog, David. I've never tried gouache myself but one of these days I will. Thanks for useful information. I'm happy for your wife's recovery. I'm so amazed by your productivity, words and pictures just flow out of you!!!

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 04:04:02 pm

Tack Erica. Always good to hear from you. I so appreciated your mail a while back about your reading experience with my book. It is moments like that when you feel all the struggle may have a purpose. Ha en fin helg.

Reply KYLIE FOGArtylink 9/23/2016 04:58:05 pm

Great blog post David! Love the vibrancy in your works, they are really uplifting. :) ~ K

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 04:06:29 pm

Thanks Kylie. I'm glad that you mentioned the word 'energy' with my work. My goal is to always transmit emotion and make the viewer feel something. Good art is always a dialogue.

Reply Hannah Kozaklink 9/23/2016 11:00:05 pm

David, The first time I saw one of your drawings from Auschwitz, I was truly moved. You are a talented artist and I thank you for sharing your soul with us with your book as well.

Thank you for the information on this medium and your inspiration.

Reply David Sandum 9/24/2016 04:07:45 pm

Hi Hannah. Always good to hear from my talented photographer/writer friend. Very honored by your words. Thanks for following the blog.

Reply Jonathan Herbertlink 9/26/2016 06:45:05 am

David, it is a pleasure to know you, and I always enjoy seeing your work. All the best, Jonathan.

Reply David Sandum 9/27/2016 07:48:50 am

Thanks Jonathan. It's always good to hear from you. Hope you are enjoying sunny Florida. Quite the move from Brooklyn! I'll never forget visiting your studio. Very impressive work.

Reply Georgie McNeeselink 4/3/2017 01:18:49 am

Hi, David! I just now discovered your blog. I am bored at work and the thought struck me to search for you. I love your work. I was amazed to realize how long I've been following you. One of these days, I'm going to actually get an entry into the Twitter Art Exhibit. Take care!

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