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Artist’s Process: Gouache and Acrylic Mixed Media

Although most artists would recognize and have experienced using Acrylic paint, Gouache can be somewhat of a novelty. Gouache (pronounced “gwash”) is a water-based paint that combines the best worlds of both Acrylic and Watercolor paints. Like Acrylic, it can be used to be opaque, and lighter colors can be layered over darker colors. Like Watercolor, it can be thinned with water to be transparent. It acts like a Watercolor, with the layering abilities of an Acrylic.

This painting I did with Gouache and Acrylic was done on a A2 Painting Pad. Being a fairly large piece, I felt comfortable to work in a more realistic style. This post is mostly going to describe my personal process of using the mediums, and not everyone’s’ process will be the same.

After rendering the sketch, I set to work on the paint.

Since the paints I used are opaque, I wouldn’t be able to see my sketch very well after a base layer of paint, and details had to be added slowly while looking at the thumbnail in my sketchbook. Things to keep in mind when painting with an opaque medium like Gouache and Acrylic are lighting, deepest shadows and color pallets.

In progress. Here you can see the way the paints completely cover the sketch in the areas I was painting.

Lighting is important, because you need to keep in mind where to start building up darker tones, as well as highlights. Since you can’t see your base sketch after the first layer, it usually helps to layer white on the highlighted areas as soon as possible. That way the painting won’t get too dark too quickly. Although you can layer lighter colors on darker tones with both Gouache and Acrylic, it makes the process take longer and you easily lose details as you layer.

The deepest shadows in the piece are also important to keep in mind. Too many similar tones can cause the main elements of the piece to get lost. Sometimes taking a photo of your painting or drawing and putting it into grey-scale can help with this. If most of your painting is black or dark grey, your main elements should be light grey or white. If most of your painting is light grey or white, your main elements should be black or dark grey. This helps balance the composition of the piece a bit, as well as helping you find the deepest shadows of the painting.

Grey-scale of the final painting, as well as the paints used. Note how the skin-tone and lettering appears almost white, and the inside of the cloak, chest-plate and background all seem to blend together because of the similar color tones.

Lastly, color pallets are important. Like with most paints, Gouache and Acrylic are made to layer and blend. Shading requires a lot of colors from a similar hue, but different tone, like shading a light blue with a dark blue. With so much canvas to cover and so many colors to use (as well as the fact that you can only see the base layer of paint and none of your sketch) it is important to keep your main colors in mind. What colors do you want to stand out? What colors are you going to use for shading? Are there any light reflections or colored lighting you need to keep in mind? What about the background?

A closeup of the effect that gouache gives. Like Acrylic, you can see the brushstrokes of shading, and in places you can see the more watercolor characteristics, such as the canvas texture coming through on the cloak.

As an artist who tends to dabble more in transparent mediums such as Watercolor, Gouache is an interesting transition to more opaque mediums. It was definitely a challenge to get use to, but the Acrylic and Gouache work very well together. I recommend trying out both mediums, especially Gouache for transitioning from an opaque medium to a watercolor, or from a watercolor to an opaque medium.  

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