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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Benson

Gouache Exploration

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

This was my first time ever using gouache paints. I love exploring materials I have never tried before. I purchased this cute set from Amazon. Each color comes individually packed, there are 3 brushes and a plastic palette. The container is sealable. For this exploration, I only opened 6 colors because I'm actually concerned they'll dry up before I have time to use them all. The brushes that came with the set are soft yet stiff.

My initial reaction to gouache was that it was creamy and thick like tempera (I thought it was going to be more like watercolors.) My first exploration was with primary colors and white. I set up my mixed media 140lb paper, drew 15 circles in which I would practice adding more water, blending, adding white, creating marks underneath the paint to test how opaque the colors were, lifting paint and painting over a layer of dried paint. See pictures below.

I found that the wetter my brush, the easier to use the paint. Blending is easy but unless you use a large amount of paint, it does not go far. I also found that lines underneath paint still showed up for lighter colors but not for dark purple (I used micron pen line underneath the purple). For the dark teal, I used gouache paint to create lines and that ended up more textured than any other sample. I also noticed that my new paint was picking up the paint from the lines (even though they were dry) almost like the new paint reactivated the old paint.

The next video shows my layered paint exploration. Yellow was my base paint, once it dried I painted pure red on top. I noticed that the yellow paint reactivated and started blending with my yellow. It created a deep reddish-orange. I tried yellow on top of the pure blue dried paint, same thing happened. The new paint blended with the blue underlying paint and created a deep, dark green.

This next video shows my attempt at paint lifting. I added some water to the red base paint, blotted it with my rag and I was able to lift the paint.

Here is a picture of my circle experiments

Next, I wanted to try mark-making. I opened a light purple paint and a black paint. A few things I noticed: paints are harder to work with dry on dry; paints reactivate with water (even dried-up paint on the palette); soft brushes work best but they have a little spring to them, very soft brushes hold onto the paint and did not work well; because the paint is so thick, you really need to clean your brush between colors AND you have to change your water often; the more water you add to the paint, the easier it is to make marks. I also tried creating a tint and a tone (adding white and black) on the paper, it works better mixing the colors on the palette before applying it to the working surface.

I was also observing the way the paint moved on the palette, it had a watercolor-like consistency on the palette but the effects were far from watercolor-like on the paper. You'll also notice how the water from my brush reactivates the dried colors on the palette.

The next exploration was creating a collage of different colored papers to test how the paint reacted to different colors and textures. My observations: most colors (except white and yellow) covered the construction paper up; the paints seemed to dry even faster on the construction paper; the papers did not warp as they did with my watercolor/tempera explorations.

Another piece, this time with several bright gouache colors. Once it dried I went over some of the design with Posca acrylic paint pens. I noticed that even the paint pens reactivated the gouache and I was only able to apply color in one direction or the colors would blend.

And one last gouache painting, I wanted to try out a design in my sketchbook before creating it on canvas (it will be a gift for my daughter's apartment.)

My final observation from this exploration is that gouache paints dry very matte, almost chalky. Because it dries in a matte-like way, it is easier to write on top of the paint with Micron pens. The paint dries quickly on the paper, so much of the mixing needs to be done on the palette and water will reactive paint on paper and on the palette.

AGE and Expected Behavior:

I purchased non-toxic gouache paints, so I feel like they would be safe for middle/high school age. Definitely for students who have perfected their fine motor skills as this paint is thick and messy and seems to stain. The new brush bristles were completely stained after the first use, the little bit of paint that got on my hands, has still remained after washing several times.

Supporting Materials/Tools:

A variety of soft yet springy brushes

Smocks, the paint is heavy and it stains

Protective Table Coverings

Rags to wipe brushes

Water containers that are substantial enough to hold lots of water and brushes without tipping over

Drying rack, those paint seems to dry rather quickly

Use a spray fixative outdoors and away from students to set the painting, otherwise, the paint can be reactivated with water at any point.

Safety/Health Guidelines:

Some gouache paints are toxic, read labels to ensure only non-toxic paints are being used in the classroom.

Do not put paints or tools in mouth or near face.

Wash the paint off the skin with soap and water.

Containers should only be used for art work, not ever used to drink from.

Use water only, as a mixing solution


Off a variety of brush lengths, thicknesses, and widths

Provide ideas of things to paint

Set up a demonstration area that can play on loop for students who would like to reference back during their creative process

Off a variety of paper/canvas sizes

Project Ideas:

  • Painting the evening sky with stars and clouds, examining how colors work on top of each other

  • Still life, student choice or one central still life set up in the center of classroom where students can determine which perspective they want to paint

  • Self Portrait

  • Poster (social activism)

  • Cityscape with basic shapes and vibrant colors

  • Textures that can be used for a later project

Artist Inspirations:

Tommy Lennartson


Hafeli, M. C. (2015). Exploring studio materials: Teaching creative art making to children. Oxford University Press. Pages 88-90

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