top of page

Art Insights: Learning to Paint with Gouache

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

© 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

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.)

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