gouache painting ideas

Gouache Painting Ideas

Stuck for inspiration? Sometimes the hardest part of the painting is trying to think of what to paint and laying down the first brush strokes. 

In this guide, find a curated list of 20 gouache painting ideas and classes perfect for beginner or intermediate artists.

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Landscape gouache painting ideas

Get outside and paint on location

Gouache is perhaps the most well suited medium to painting outdoors. This is because it’s so easy to set up and clean away. Plus, you don’t need to take too many supplies out with you. Bring a watercolour sketchbook, a sealable palette, a few gouache colours, a travel brush and you’re all set.

Take your sketchbook and maybe even your easel to the park, to your favourite local beauty spot, or even away with you if you have any travel plans on the horizon. Inspiration is everywhere if you look for it. 

Coastal Landscape Tutorial

Bright blue skies and pink pops of flowering heather—this mini gouache painting is surprisingly easy to paint! Learn how to layer paint, create texture with the dry brush technique and line the details in the grass. For this tutorial, I use the Winsor & Newton Introductory set, plus titanium white and burnt umber. I used a synthetic square brush and a Winsor & Newton series 7 round brush for details. The cold pressed watercolour paper helps to create texture when using the dry brush technique.

Mountain sunset tutorial

Create a mountain sunset, with pink and blue pastel hues and flowers in the foreground. Winsor & Newton’s Introductory set has all the colours you need to create a piece like this. Jess Chung paints fairly thickly with gouache in this tutorial keeping it at a nice buttery consistency by spritzing the colours on the palette with a spray bottle so they don’t dry out on the palette. Jess also has a Skillshare class aimed at beginner artists wanting to learn gouache. 

Paint a sunlit waterfall with gouache

See the full painting process of this beautiful gouache painting, from planning the composition with thumbnail sketches, to the final details and highlights. Get a sketchbook with thick paper if you want to do a double page spread like this. It also helps to paint with artists’ quality gouache, like M. Graham that is highly pigmented to achieve these rich tones and clean colour mixes. Dilute the paint to add in semi transparent layers, for distant trees and add white to mixes to create opaque highlights. This artist Ed Pulella gives some great insight into how to paint atmospheric, dappled lighting in a forest scene. 

Paint a mountain lake

Paint a breathtaking mountain and lake vista—this one was painted from a reference I took just outside of Queenstown in New Zealand. Use a square brush to create layers of textures in the grasses and rocks, then in the final layer, use a round brush for details.

Paint a mountain lake reflection in this gouache YouTube tutorial.

For this painting, I used the da Vinci Casaneo synthetic square brush to block in the first layer, then I layered details and highlights on top of these washes using the dry brush technique with the Winsor & Newton series 7 brush.

Create a landscape study

Part of the beauty of gouache is its immediacy. You can let go of trying to render intricate details meticulously and instead focus on what drew you to paint the scene in the first place. The attraction of most references is the composition, colour scheme and interplay between different elements. To create a landscape study, try to focus on the broad shapes and textures in the painting, rather than the tiny details. Take this class on Skillshare by Clair Bremmer where she will walk you through how to plan a composition for a larger artwork and create sketches, focussing on composition as the most important element of the artwork.

A great tip when painting in a looser fashion to capture the essence of the scene rather than focus on detail, is to use the largest brush that you can manage for the space available. This will force you to focus on the larger shapes. Flat brushes are versatile, as you can use them to fill large areas of the surface, but you can also use the edge of the brush to create lines and details. 

Learn how to layer a landscape painting

Layering is a key concept in gouache painting and it isn’t easy getting it right. Sarah Burns teaches artists two ways of painting with gouache in this Skillshare class, diluting colour into thin washes and applying thick paint. Check out our gouache painting with gouache tutorial for more tips.

Botanical gouache painting ideas

Create a botanical illustration

Sara Boccaccini combines gouache and watercolour to create wonderful botanical illustration. Sara uses neutral tones and vibrant patterns to give the impression of whimsical prickly pears and cacti. Take the full botanical illustration class on Skillshare. Read our guide to find out more about the differences and similarities between watercolour and gouache and how they can be used together.

Floral painting with gouache

In this class, paint a unique floral arrangement—Peggy Dean will teach you the foundations of gouache painting so that you feel equipped to paint your own personal favourite flowers.

Paint a calla lily flower

Paint a calla lily, in this tutorial by Sandra Ruberto, learn to paint outlines, details highlights and shadows to make the flower pop. Get a liner or rigger brush to paint outlines and fine details.

Paint a seascape with gouache

Follow the painting process of this relaxing and tranquil gouache seascape. Gouache dries quickly, making it difficult to blend so use a spray bottle to keep the colours wet on the palette and mix transitional shades to give the appearance of blended water tones. This artists uses Miya Himi Gouache. Make sure to use cotton watercolour paper for the best results.

Still life gouache painting ideas

Watch how this artist creates a large scale gouache painting from scratch, of an arrangement of stainless steel tableware and fruit. Make your own arrangement at home—setting up a still life reference is almost as fun as painting it! You can get larger sheets of watercolour paper to use with gouache from Jackson’s or Blick.

Paint orange slices with gouache

These orange slices by Heather Martin are so luminous and juicy looking! Heather demonstrates fantastically how to create the illusion of details and light with the vibrancy fo the opaque gouache colours. Use a flat brush and the wet on wet technique to achieve a loose painterly look.

Illustration gouache ideas

Pattern design

Amanda Mckay is an illustrator and textile designer that teaches artists how to create pattern designs starting with gouache and finishing up in Photoshop. If you’re interested in learning more about applied arts, then this is a great introductory course. Apart from allowing artists to do amazing things like create surface pattern designs, Photoshop has many more applications, including editing art for print and social media.

Character painting

If you prefer the idea of painting to create your own characters rather than painting from life, or from a reference, check out this class by Vanessa Gillings. Vanessa walks artists through how to test colours before they apply paint, how to create flat, solid looking colours and how to bring characters to life.

Paint a portrait in gouache

Krysten Ritter portrait in gouache

Youtuber HamRib Art walks artists through the layering process with gouache when painting portraits. HamRib Art uses hot pressed watercolour paper which is great for thicker applications of gouache paint and detail work. 

Zorn palette gouache

Try painting with a limited palette. The Zorn palette includes four colours, ivory black, yellow ochre, pyrrole red and titanium white. Ivory black is a low chroma blue which can be lightened to create a range of neutral blue tones. This is a great muted palette to use for portraits.  

Mix skin tones 

Haze long starts with thin washes and gradually builds opacity in layers to create a portrait. The artist also shows viewers how to blend paint, deepen shadows and create details and highlights in the skin. Opacity is achieved after multiple separate layers due to the amount of water that is used in washes.

Paint a sunset in gouache

Learn to paint seven different glowing, vibrant sunsets in this Skillshare class taught by Zaneena Nabeel. From golden to red hues, create reflections on the water, distant islands and sunlit tides.

Nocturne painting with gouache 

Create an atmosphere by painting in black and white in this nocturne painting class. Zaneena Nabeel walks you through how to paint five different nocturnes including a seascape and a mountain-scape. Learn to create the impression of night sky scenes using only tones and values while omitting colour.

Paint on the go: create a travel journal

In this video, James Gurney paints his airliner while waiting for a flight. Take your sketchbook with you and take it out wherever you have some time to settle and paint!

This is a great way to stay in the moment at times where you are moving around a lot, painting like this is almost like a meditation. You may end up capturing moments and making memories of scenes that you may not have even thought to take a photo of. You don’t have to be travelling in another country or doing anything particularly exciting to paint your surroundings, it may be that the coffee shop window where you take a break from work has a nice view. Painting on the go can force you to appreciate mundane surroundings even more. Gouache is a particularly good medium for quick sketches, as it is so easy to set up and clean away.

Mixed media gouache

Do you have both pastels and gouache? You can combine the two. Gouache is a versatile medium that can be used alongside watercolour, pencil, pastel and more.

Finally

Whether you are sketchbooking or creating decor for your home, gouache is an excellent choice to create archival quality works. Read our guides to discover the best supplies for gouache painting and how to paint with gouache.


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