Gouache Painting for Beginners – A Step-by-Step Tutorial

What is Gouache?

Gouache is a water-based art medium that is widely used by illustrators and designers due to its vibrant colors, high opacity and forgiving nature. Since it’s water based, it can be reactivated with water once it dries but contrary to watercolors, it’s not translucent but very opaque, allowing you to work from dark to light. It dries matte in contrast with acrylic paint, which makes it super easy to photograph and digitize.

Characteristics of Gouache

  • Opaque: Unlike watercolor, gouache covers underlying layers completely, which is perfect to make corrections and layering.
  • Matte Finish: Gouache dries to a smooth, velvety, non-reflective finish.
  • Re-workable: You can reactivate dried gouache with water, making it easier to make changes.

Materials and Supplies

Besides the gouache paint, the painting setup is about the same as watercolors, however let’s see the main differences between the materials and their uses for gouache painting.

Gouache Paints

While any paint set is good for starting, if you really want to learn how to mix your own colors, starting with a limited palette is the best. The primaries (magenta, cyan, yellow) along with black and white will give you virtually any possible combination. 

While the traditional primaries are also a good set to start with, they produce dark, muddy colors than the modern primaries, so we don’t advise them for beginners.

There are different types of gouache paints, varying from grade to presentation. Student grade gouache is usually cheap, it mixes well but the colors are not as vibrant, while professional grade gouache is very high quality but very expensive as well.

Regarding presentation, we have tubes and containers. Gouache works best fresh out of the tube or container, however it is much easier to use it from the tubes than to use it from the containers, especially if you’re a beginner. Small tubes don’t have enough paint, especially if you’re planning on working on several pieces or a single large one, so it’s better to get large tubes of the primaries to speed up your learning journey.


The best brushes for gouache are always the synthetic ones, especially for beginners. A simple starting set should consist of round brushes for detail work and lines (sizes 0-6), flat brushes for larger areas coverage and for washes (sizes 1/4 inch to 1 inch), filbert brushes for leaves and vegetation, and detail brushes for lines and fine details (sizes 00-1)

When painting with gouache make sure to wash your brushes thoroughly after each use, and to shape them with a little bit of soap to help them last much longer. 

Paper Types

You can use a lot of different surfaces when painting with gouache, however if we talk about paper, the best option would be watercolor paper, which is recommended for its thickness and ability to handle water well.

Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper has a smooth surface, good for detailed work. Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper is slightly textured, good for general use, but not great for details.

You can also use canvas, wood panels, and mixed media paper, as long as it’s thick and is made for wet media.

Additional Tools

There are some additional tools you’ll need to start painting and that you shouldn’t overlook:

  • Mixing Palette: For mixing your paints, make sure to pick one that has separated containers to avoid contaminating your colors.
  • Water Containers: Two containers, one for rinsing brushes and one for clean water.
  • Paper Towels or Cloth: For cleaning your brushes and controlling moisture.
  • Pencil and Eraser: For sketching outlines.
  • Tape: Optionals but you can use it to secure the paper and create clean edges.

Basic Techniques 

Opacity and Transparency

  • Gouache paint is opaque, however when diluted with water it acquires a level of transparency similar to watercolors, while it won’t be the same or dry the same, you can use this to your advantage for glazing and layering techniques. 
  • To achieve opaque layers, use less water and more paint, this results in solid, vibrant colors that cover underlying layers completely. This technique is useful for correcting mistakes and adding bold details.
  • White gouache can be used to correct mistakes or cover up areas that need adjustment. Its opacity makes it perfect for making changes without affecting the underlying layers, however you need to be careful to not overwork the paint and re-activate the layers under.
  • Add white to any color to create a lighter tint, this not only makes the color more opaque, but is useful for adding highlights and creating variations in color intensity.

Blending and Gradients

  • Wet Blending: This is a more advanced technique that you’ll need to practice in order to master gouache painting. Apply two colors next to each other on a wet surface and use a brush to blend them where they meet. This creates a smooth transition between colors, but it’s harder to achieve so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. 
  • Dry Blending: After the base layer is dry, apply a thin, semi-transparent layer of another color and blend it with a clean, damp brush. This method is great for more controlled blending and can be used to adjust the intensity of the colors.
  • Single Color Gradient: To make a single color gradient, start with a pure color and gradually add white paint as you move across the paper. This lightens the color and creates a gradient from dark to light. If you use only water like in watercolors, you’ll end up with streaky, inconsistent areas so be careful.
  • Two-Color Gradient: Start with one color and gradually introduce a second color while the first is still wet. Use a clean brush to blend where the two colors meet, creating a smooth transition from one color to the other.

Step-by-Step Gouache Tutorial: Painting a Simple Landscape

Today we will be painting a simple landscape with Gouache paints.  Below are the step-by-step instructions, along with descriptions and images to guide you in each step.

Step 1: Start With the Sketch

Start by sketching a very simple landscape, a couple of hills, a house, the sun, and some simple trees. Take a picture of your sketch in case any of it gets covered later on.

Step 2: Paint the Background 

Mix a light orange-ish color for the first background layer, and fill the sky with it.

Mix a light pink color and paint a cloud-like shape with it on top of the first layer.

Mix a coral shade and repeat the previous step.

Step 3: Paint the Sun

Mix a bright warm yellow color and carefully paint the sun.

Step 4: Paint the Trees and Background Hill

Using a lighter yellow shade from the mix you did for the sun, paint the round trees from your sketch. 

Mix a dark blue color for the background Hill and carefully paint it using your flat brush.

Step 5: Paint the Foreground Hill

Lighten the dark blue you mixed in the previous step, adding more yellow to it to make a greener shade and paint the foreground hill. Use the dark blue to paint the rest of the trees in the background.

Step 6: Paint the House and Flowers

Mix a warm gray and paint the base color of the house. Mix some light pink and light orange for the flowers on the hills and the trees.

Step 7: Work on the Details

Mix a reddish pink for the house’s roof, door and window. Mix a dark brown for the tree trunks and the details on the house’s door and window.

Step 8: Final Touches

Take a step back and observe, fix any mistakes or details you see, once you’re done, remove the tape carefully from your paper and appreciate your work!

And that’s it! You’ve just completed your first landscape using Gouache paint.  We hope you found it enjoyable and educational!

Frequently Asked Questions about Gouache Painting

Below we’ve included some frequently asked questions that have come up with students learning gouache paint for the first time.

How Does Gouache compare to Watercolor?

Gouache and watercolor are both water-based, water-soluble mediums. Which means that they can be dissolved with water and once dry, they can be easily reactivated with it. Gouache is often called the opaque sibling of watercolor, as it has the nearly the same properties when diluted but is fully opaque in high concentrations.

How Do You Pronounce “Gouache”?

The word “gouache” is pronounced as “gwash.” The “ou” in gouache sounds like the “a” in “wash.”

What are the Best Gouache Paint Brands for Artists?

The best gouache paint brands for artists is definitely Winsor & Newton, specifically their designer’s gouache, which is highly pigmented, smooth, creamy and velvety and also very lightfast. While this is the brand we consider the best, other come very close. You’ll be able to find more about them as well as other budget and beginner options in our complete guide: Best Gouache Paints for Artists.

Does Artchive have Other Art Tutorials?

Yes! Artchive has many art tutorials across many art mediums.  See the full collect at our Artchive Art Tutorials page.

What Art Mediums are Similar to Gouache?

The mediums that resemble goauche the most are watercolors for their water based and water soluble nature, acrylic paint for their water based and opaque nature, and tempera paint for their matte finish and opacity, although tempera paint is less flexible and less durable than gouache.

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