There have been a lot of very kind responses to my gouache paintings recently, as well as a few requests for tips, and so I’ve decided to do up a little process post. I’m very flattered, and a little intimidated! So, please bear with me as I expose all my clumsy painting techniques. I should say that though I was taught the basics of gouache painting and dry-brushing, I took those and sorta ran off with my own methods, and they may not be the best way of working! Like any artist, I’m always adjusting my process. No doubt my next painting will be created completely differently, but at this point, this is what I do:
So here are my gouache tubes, disposable palettes, and palette knife (and juice!). I don’t know if many people use a palette knife when mixing gouache, but I like to so that I can preserve my brushes just a little more. I also save all my palettes throughout each piece, and I’ve found that I can reuse the gouache pretty easily even on these disposable ones so long as you’re patient enough to scrape and break up the dried bits with your knife and water. I’ve never liked using porcelain or ceramic plates for my palettes, even though they are easier for reusing your dried gouache, only because I run out of space too quickly when I’m mixing and I can’t save my colors.
Starting from the beginning! I always try to preserve as much of the energy of my sketches as I can when I pencil out my piece so I’ll usually blow them up and light-table them. Our light table has become a hugely valuable tool when I paint. It’s homemade! I hate to pencil directly onto the nice paper I’ll be painting on, so I’ll usually work over the pencils on the light table, like so:
If you think about it digitally, I typically treat this part like it’s all about laying in the flats. I’m going to have a relatively dark background, so I’ll paint that in last so my lighter colors don’t pick it up and get all blotchy from the retouching that would have been required in that case.
I can’t ever leave that light table on and step away! Doesn’t that look scary with that jar of water, and the table a little askew, and my laptop right there……….?
No harm done! My cat is dainty, and I’m lucky.
So I’ve gotten most of my girl painted in and I’ve already started dry-brushing on parts. Usually most of that detail work I’ll save till the end, but in some cases it helps to do it before hand. For instance, layering her dress over the dry-brushing I did on her arm (as you can see in the last photo) helps keep things crisp.
Starting on the background, I’m using this as an opportunity to smooth her shape out a bit and clean up any wayward brushstrokes.
It’s almost there! Now I get to dry brush! The absolute best part. Plus! I can abandon the light table now and just go to town adding details and cleaning things up. This is where I go back to my palettes and reuse a lot of my gouache. I’ve made the mistake of mixing too little at the beginning and only realizing it at this step and that is no fun! Gouache can be finicky with color matching, so I try to avoid remixing a color from scratch at this point because of that. Also, different colors may dry darker or lighter than when they’re wet, which may depend on the brand you’re buying. I use Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney (cheaper!). Some colors work better per brand in my experience. For instance, I hate Daler Rowney’s yellow ocher. It always dries in the tube on me and has a weird semigloss, whereas Winsor & Newton’s is great. Conversely, I’ve found Winsor & Newton’s turquoise blue to be super oily, like, oil with some blue in it.
Anyway, heading towards the finish…
There she is! All done. I’ve added my line work for the little firework sparks, and dry-brushing the light and shadow has carried it home. I hope this has been neat and informative. If you want to talk more gouache techniques or what not with me, feel free to ask! Thanks again for all the encouragement, guys!