Happy New Year, arty friends!
It's 2024, and we are kicking the year off with a wonderful medium: gouache! It's kind of like watercolor, but not exactly; gouache is a unique medium that many casual artists probably haven’t had the chance to try out yet. It takes some getting used to, but the practice is totally worth it.
To get you started on your gouache journey, I wanted to introduce you to five great gouache artists who show the medium at its best. This way, you can get some inspiration from the professionals and use that to create some stunning works of art of your own.
So grab your supplies and get ready to be inspired!
What is Gouache?
Gouache is a highly pigmented paint that is water-activated. It applies very similarly to watercolor, but it has the capacity to be translucent or completely opaque. This paint dries matte and a slightly different shade than wet. For this reason, it's good practice to make a swatch sheet so you have accurate values.
If you want to know a little more about gouache and the difference between this medium and watercolor, you can check out our blog here.
5 Great Gouache Artists
Jessica Jane is an artist based out of Columbus Ohio. She specializes in realism, painting mainly people, settings, and cats using Holbein gouache.
A factor I love about Jane’s work is her use of vibrant underpainting, usually a hot pink or bright orange. This layer adds a warm glow to her paintings, even after applying layers of paint. She often leaves a small outline around the subject that lets the underpainting show through. This adds a pop of color and draws your eye to the focal point. It's so unique and really makes you look at the painting a little more closely.
You can learn a lot from this artist by watching the process videos she posts with her pieces. It takes you from the moment she applies the bright pink underpainting and through all the various layers. This gives you a great idea of which order to apply your values in. Take careful note of the way she applies hair; it's masterful!
Inspiration point: Apply a brightly colored underpainting. This technique removes the intimidating factor of a blank white page and imbibes your piece with a vibrant glow. It also allows you to leave blank spots where the underpainting shows through.
Cutouts and pop-ups are much easier than they appear, and they really take your Cut-outs add a lot of depth to your cards, and Alex Beck is a great example of how expressive you can be with gouache. His large, exaggerated brushstrokes portray emotion and motion in such an exquisite way. He uses vivid colors to depict people, structures, and lush green landscapes. He also favors painting nudes in very vulnerable poses. Beck mainly uses gouache as a study medium for his larger oil paintings. Since it dries so quickly, gouache is the perfect medium for this that allows the artist to capture color like a pencil or charcoal sketch can’t.
Vulnerability is a theme he touches on often in his work. In his 2020 work Cupid’s Lesson, Beck recalls painting the gestural piece while in an inpatient facility. He calls it “a loving piece that reminded me I do love to live.” I wanted to mention this because it shows what power simple paint can have to express our feelings.
Inspiration point: Use gouache as a study medium. This is a fast-drying technique that allows you to accurately capture the colors in a scene for use later in a more formal medium like oils. The sketches themselves can even become works of art on their own, but they are made without pressure.
James Gurney is an artist who takes full advantage of gouache's quick-drying quality and transportability. He paints many stunning gouache on board pieces with so much detail, but it's his en plein air pieces that I want to talk about here.
En plein air means to work outside and capture your subject's live rather than using a photo reference. Gouache is great for this because it's easy to carry around your supplies, and it dries very quickly. Gurney captures moments like his spot on an hour-long ferry ride or the view from a plane window. Snippets of fleeting moments that may otherwise be forgotten. Looking at his work really helps open your eyes to the most mundane objects or moments being a potential art subject.
In a blog post about his painting of Jobsen Swamp, Gurney says, “Smooth [his dog] chases frogs, and I just chase the light.” This perfectly epitomizes his en plein air pieces, which capture light in a breathtaking manner. He has a YouTube channel full of tutorials if you want to learn how to gain these skills.
Inspiration point: Work en plein air. All you need to pack is your gouache, brushes, water, and your sketchbook, and you’re ready to capture whatever catches your eye. The gouache dries fast enough that you can finish your piece and shut it away in your sketchbook without ruining it or making a mess.
Rachel ‘Tuna’ Petrovicz
Rachel Petrovicz is a multidisciplinary artist from Vancouver, Canada, who is fondly known as Tuna. I found her in my Youtube recommended one day, and her cartoon style of illustration hooked me right away. But the element of her work I want to highlight here is her gouache pet portraits.
Pet portraits are a commission option in many artists' repertoire, and they can sometimes be very lackluster. Tuna, however, uses gouache to create pet portraits that are something special. It's her use of color that really sets these works apart. At a glance, a black cat is simply black, but with an artist’s eye like Tuna’s, you can learn to find the color in the darkness. With Tuna’s hand, the blacks of the cat are made up of blues, purples, and deep reds to give the animal a sense of depth and magic. The same goes for a white animal whose pale fur is deepened with shades of blue, pink, and yellow.
If you want to see this in progress, along with very satisfying studio vlogs, I highly recommend checking out her YouTube videos.
Inspiration point: Find the color. A black shadow is not truly black; it's intermingled with so many shades. If you look closely enough, you will start to see the delicious layers of color in everything! Layering colors can also be used to create your neutral shades like skin tones that have so much dimension.
Kiara Maharaj aka Kiara in the Forest
Kiara Maharaj is a nonbinary (she/they) fantasy artist from South Africa. In their own words, “My art is for the witches and goblins of this world.” Many of the artists we’ve looked at explore gestural or realistic work, but Maharaj’s work shows off how great this medium is for illustrative fantasy subjects. They are very talented at world-building and creature design, which they document in gorgeous gouache pieces.
What I want to highlight here is the way Maharaj uses black paper as a base for some of her fantastical paintings. Gouache is the ideal medium for this because it can be so opaque. She layers on various shades of green to create mossy rocks and craggy trees that look like something out of a movie. She often lights her scenes with candlelight, and the way she applies the paint makes them glow realistically against the black paper. This creates a mysterious atmosphere that is very unique. Kiara sells a course on how to execute this technique if you are very keen to learn from the artist themself.
Inspiration point: Use black paper. White paper is a classic, but there’s something about black paper that makes gouache sing. Try out a simple scene and see how you like it, and maybe even try out Maharaj’s stunning lighting techniques.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling super inspired after looking at all these artists' work, so I hope you are, too! I can’t wait to see what you come up with, so be sure to tag us in your creations on social media.