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How to Paint Animals & Landscapes in Gouache

Updated on April 2, 2013

How to Paint Animals & Landscapes in Gouache (Opaque Watercolour)

This Lens explains my way of painting with gouache. I'm not saying "this is how it's done", so much as, "this is how I do it". At art classes, instructors usually tell you to do it their way, instead of just letting you pick up useful bits of information. Here, take what you want and leave the rest!

Painting is relaxing and therapeutic. Gouache - opaque watercolour - is a wonderful medium, for both the beginner and the professional alike. One great thing, when you're starting out, is how easily you can change what you're not happy with.

I've posted more about this on my blog at

What is Gouache?

Put simply, gouache is opaque watercolour. It gives a nice flat, even finish and you can get some great effects with it. Take my word for it, buy it and you won't be disappointed.

The main problem with gouache is, I'm the only one who knows how to pronounce it. Here's the definitive pronunciation, from me: In the UK, say goo-ash, in the US, say gwash, to rhyme with wash. Simple. Now two of us can pronounce it.

Just think of it as watercolour with white chalk mixed in. That's why you don't get brilliant colours, more a sort of subdued, powdery finish. Wonderful.

There are some good Lenses on Squidoo that explain about colours - one great one by Michele Webber with the title, "Understanding watercolour paints ". You must read it.

How to Start Painting - DO IT NOW! - An easy way to get over painter's block

Color Squares
Color Squares

I've found over the years that telling myself to DO IT NOW can be a great way to start an activity. Since I'm also prone to plan things to death, DO IT NOW is a godsend. You need a plan, of course, but you can find that you never ever get out of the planning phase. There are always slight improvements to make to your plan before it's finally ready to go.

The same applies whether it's painting, writing, starting a business. For that reason, I find it's a good idea to make the plan your second activity, rather than first, and just dive into something that gets you going. This is where your DO IT NOW moment comes in. Just say it to yourself, grab your tools and START. So you need something easy, that you don't have to plan, as your first activity. Here's one for painting.

If you've never done any painting, start in the shallow end. On I show a way that not only helped me get started, it still helps now, when I get "Painter's Block". The secret is to take a sketch pad and mark off a load of three-quarter inch squares, then fill them in with your colours. Just for kids? Not at all. You finish up with more useful colour mixing charts than you can shake a stick at.

So get some paints out and say "DO IT NOW".

We can assume that, since you're reading this, you're interested in using gouache, ok? Well, first, get your gouache. If you click on the image above, you'll find a list of gouache paints I use, along with links to Dick Blick's art materials website. You don't have to buy them via that link, but it helps to support me if you do! And, of course, we both want that.

If you don't have any paints yet - DO IT NOW.

The System That Motivates me to Paint - My own goal setting and achievement system

This is the system I use to help kick me into action and keep me going on my goal achievement. I use it for my painting and writing projects and for my personal growth in general. I devised it over time as a method that doesn't lose its power to keep on working like many others I'd tried in the past.

This is a Kindle booklet and mini-course that uses what I call the Vital Power Zones system.

Make a Useful Drawing Aid - This will help you in copying from a photo or a drawing

Before we start, a lot of painters worry about using photographs because they think people will say they're cheating. If Durer had had a digital SLR, he'd have used it. So would Caravaggio and lots more. Cheats! Many painters who use photos have a self-conscious way of saying they make use of 'Photographic Reference'. Me? I'm too old to worry, so I just plain cheat. However, I only ever use photos I've taken myself, so they're just another aid in the process of making a painting.

To make this useful aid to copying and scaling images, get hold of a few clear acetate sheets - the kind used with old-style overhead projectors. They're usually A4 size. Get some fine-tipped permanent ink marker pens to use with the acetate sheets. You'll find both of these at a stationer's. The purpose is to help in scaling images from your original photo or drawing to fit your painting. Using acetates is something I came up with when I first started. There's probably a product on the market that saves you doing this, but I haven't seen it.

The next thing to do is to draw a grid on your acetate with your marker, so that you have (about) 28 squares horizontally and 18 vertically, so space your lines about 1 cm, or 3/8 inch apart.

The way to use the grid is to tape your original drawing or photo to the back with clear tape, or masking tape, then draw in pencil on your paper or canvas, larger, corresponding squares. You can correctly size and position your object on your finished work. For example, if I wanted the gateposts above to fill a 12 inch wide sheet of paper, I'd divide the width of the paper into about ten equal vertical lines, because ten squares easily cover the original, with a bit of space each side. Next, add the horizontal lines to make the squares. Then, it's quite straightforward to take one square at a time and pencil in what you see, estimating the fractions of a square on the original and on the paper..

Pick a Subject You'd Love to Paint and GO FOR IT! - Preferably an animal or two

Oh for the Wings of a Chicken!
Oh for the Wings of a Chicken!

You want a main subject that enthuses you, not something you'll get bored with along the way. I've always been interested in taking photos of animals on my travels, so I had lots to choose from. I also take photos of landscapes and old rustic buildings. For my first painting, I chose a Border Collie. For the next, I went for a Donkey and a Chicken.

The same applies whether you're doing landscapes, still life, portraits or abstract - whichever style you choose, the subject must capture and hold your attention for the whole period of its creation. So, choose wisely and take your time, if you have to.

This is where my next self-motivator comes in - GO FOR IT. Much like DO IT NOW, telling yourself to go for it gives you the confidence not to aim too low. Pick a subject that looks like a challenge, rather than something you know will be easy. You've already done easy in DO IT NOW, so come on, push yourself a bit. Remember, with gouache, you'll be able to keep changing things until you're happy with the result.

Using Your Home Made Drawing Aid - As shown in the example above

Work in Progress Showing the Grid Technique in Use
Work in Progress Showing the Grid Technique in Use

This shows a work in progress, acrylic on canvas board, using the photo above. Note how I've drawn, in pencil, a grid with slightly larger squares than the original. You can see from this how to scale up in size. I could even scale it up to paint a mural, by drawing suitably large squares on the wall.

Note the pencil work yet to be overpainted. You can also see how I complete a part of the painting before even starting on another part. Not quite top down design, whereby I'd outline the whole painting before starting to underpaint.

Sometimes, I'll mark in reference numbers across the top of the grid and letters down the side, with the same on the acetate grid, to help check which square I'm working on.

Note that within the same painting, you can use different sized grids, to draw some objects to other scales. In fact you'll probably do that quite often.

How to Prepare Your Watercolour Paper - Huh? What's to prepare?

Canson Montval Paper
Canson Montval Paper

A word about paper. I like a smoothe surface. Hot Press (HP) is smoothe. However, because I bought a pad of paper before I had any idea about the different types, I used 140lb Cold Press, which is a nice compromise between Rough and HP, as it turns out. I was going to explain here what 140 lb and 300 lb mean but it's unnecessarily confusing so for now, I won't.

Just to be clear, I suggest you buy 140lb Cold Press Paper (also called NOT). Dick Blick's item No. 10021-1006, which is a Canson Montval block of 15 sheets 12" x 16".

Click on the watercolour pad above to find a link.

When it comes to using the paper, you'll probably want to stretch it and mount it on a panel before use. Whether to stretch it or not depends on the thickness of your paper and how wet you get it whilst you're painting. If your paper is thick, say 300lb, then you won't need to stretch it, but with 140lb, I would, if I were you. The point is, when you apply wet paint to thinner paper, it can "cockle" - distort - as it dries unless you've stretched it.

The panels I use are half-inch thick white melamine laminated board, although anything that won't be affected by water should be ok. To stretch and mount the paper, soak it in a bath or sink of clean water until it's thoroughly wet, handling it carefully. Then, lay it on your mounting board and make sure there aren't any bubbles behind it. Use plenty of clean, flat tissues to soak up the surface water and then tape the edges when they're still slightly moist.

The recommended tape is the brown paper tape that you wet to stick but I've never had much success with it. I use one inch wide masking tape, also known as pressure-sensitive tape and I use a small wallpaper seam roller to make sure it stays stuck as the paper dries.

Now leave your paper to dry - bone dry. You'll find it very satisfying to see how nice and flat it dries. Just keep your hands off it!. I'm always very careful not to touch the paper. Place a thick sheet of clean paper under your hand whenever you're painting or drawing.

From Photograph to Painting - Transfer your subject to your paper

What this next sequence of three images shows is how I go from the original photo to the painting stage. In this case, I've used a different technique from the squares, to show you the level of detail I use in the pencil applied to paper or canvas.

I traced the image from the photo onto tracing paper and used a sheet of thin paper on which I'd covered the reverse using a thick graphite stick (same as a graphite pencil but about 6mm square, for speed). I placed this graphite side down over the canvas board and drew over the dog image on the tracing paper, thus transferring the dog detail to the canvas.

This painting is acrylic, but the same method can be used with gouache, since both are opaque enough to cover any pencil work on the paper or canvas.

The Tracing

The Painting

Paint Brushes for Watercolour, Gouache and Acrylics

The best brush I ever used
The best brush I ever used

When I started out, I found that there's more to using top quality brushes than their superior performance. It gives a whole different feel to your work. Apart from being superb to work with, Kolinsky Sable brushes make you feel like a professional. They affect your attitude. I use Winsor & Newton Series 7 or Series 16, from sizes 0 up to 5. For larger areas, I'll use lesser quality big brushes, because of the huge cost of large sables. Some of the synthetic brushes are also ok for that and for trying out effects, etc.

The best way to find the brushes that suit you, obviously, is to try as wide a range as you can, but you can't go wrong with the top quality ones.

The accompanying photo shows what I've called "The best brush I ever used". That may be an exaggeration, but these Elco brushes were so good to hold. A really high gloss finish, with a similar feel to a Windsor & Newton Series 7 from the business end. I haven't been able to find these anywhere for a long, long time and even though this one is worn out, I keep it just to pick up and hold now and then.

While we're on this subject, I probably go over the top with this, but I made it a habit to use distilled water right from the start, to avoid any lime scale marks. As I say, maybe I'm just being eccentric, but I think little things like that affect your whole approach

Amazon Spotlight

This is a Winsor & Newton Designers' Gouache set. I use the equivalent Daler Rowney set, but W+N use top quality materials as well.

Painting in Gouache - The Best Part

By now, you must be raring to go and wishing I'd let you get on with it. Well, you may have noticed I haven't mentioned something - how to actually use the paint. Well, that's the best part and you'll have great fun trying things out without me telling you what to do.

Just squeeze some paint out - pea-sized - onto your palette. Use a few colours you'd like to try mixing together. Put some water in some of the small mixing pans on your palette and use that to wet your brush and carry water over to the gouache, then mix right there on the palette.

If you want lots of a colour, mix it in the pan to the consistency you want, adding clean water from a bigger brush. I always have two 'cleaning' jars of water, one as a brush rinser, then the second as a 'clean' rinser. Plus, of course, my clean mixing water, that never comes into contact with a 'working' brush, just clean, water transferring brushes.

I think you have enough detail now to get started in painting with gouache. There will be more Lenses to follow but the lesson to take away from here is in the throwaway remarks. DO IT NOW and GO FOR IT.

You will never achieve anything by reading about it. you must jump in and get started, then once you've got into action, make a plan and follow it. You must also make sure you don't set your sights too low - remember the well-worn phrase, "Shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon".

So, grit your teeth, stick your lower jaw forward (not at the same time) and say to yourself "DO IT NOW" and "GO FOR IT".

Good Luck,



Holidays? YUK! Coffee Breaks? The world's biggest time-wasters! Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PS3? Duh...

How can we be expected to achieve anything with so many things to distract us from meaningful, productive WORK? Before long, the only people who'll be doing any work at all will be those in the Games, Food and Leisure industries.

On the other hand...we all need to wind down and relax, don't we? So why should we place so much emphasis on work? I heard of an old proverb that said "If work was so great, the rich would have found a way to keep it to themselves". D'you know, I think there's some truth in that...

Which is Better - Work or Play?

Great Gouache Stuff on Amazon - Discover the techniques for this wonderful painting medium

Gouache is a great medium for beginners and experts alike. If you're thinking of taking up painting as a hobby, then you'll love gouache as your first medium. You can make mistakes, wash them out and try again, if you need to. Gouache is simply transparent watercolor with the addition of white to make it opaque, so it will cover whatever is underneath it with ease.

You can use it as a watery or creamy liquid or anywhere in between. Apply it with brushes, pens, airbrushes - it's so versatile, there's no limit to what you can use.

Used by professional designers, it is available in around 90 colors in handy tubes. I've had some of these tubes for over 15 years now and they're still as usable as the day I bought them. You can't appreciate how good gouache is until you've given it a try.

Gouache Painting of a Late Little Feline Friend of Mine With a Prize-Winning Bull - Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and The Beast
Beauty and The Beast

I love this painting for its models. I've done a short SquidPaws lens about it but I wanted to show it here as well. People who see the original say "why did you put that scruffy cat in there?" Well, I did, and there she stays! By the way, I assure you that's a very good likeness of her.

There are three features in this painting that I loved painting in gouache: the straw, the rope, and the bull's coat (hat? hair? wig?).

Something I noticed about my paintings' subjects when I looked at them together after a while is that they all feature some kind of restraint - rope in this case, but in others, fences and in one case a dam. Must say something about my subconscious!

I'd love to hear your comments if you have time...

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    • witwoo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for the kind comment and for giving my lens a mention. You're a very busy lady with lots of great lenses and I hope to work my way through many of them over the coming months.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens and have featured it on my lens - How to Make Your Landscape Paintings More Appealing.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens and have featured it on my lens - How to Make Your Landscape Paintings More Appealing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a great lens, and I love the scruffy cat. Thank you.

    • chezchazz profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Great instructions and examples. Clear and easy to understand, if not emulate :-)

      Blessed on the Squid Angels Epic Back To School Bus Trip Quest. Your lens will be featured on âWing-ing it on Squidoo,â our lensography of some of the best Squidoo has to offer, as soon as the quest has been completed.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent instructions. Nice art too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great instructions, I like gouache a lot!

    • BetsiGoutal1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow, amazing info - thanks so much for sharing! :)

    • witwoo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @WildFacesGallery: Thank you, Mona. I admire you and Mike and others who've done all the hard work needed to make a living from your art, something I'd have loved to have done. My wife Trish and I run a toy store, so I understand what a lot of time and effort goes into the retailing side, let alone the painting, printing etc. Love your animal paintings!


    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great work. Love your paintings.

    • delia-delia profile image


      8 years ago

      Hello from a Squidoo Greeter! great lens...I use acrylic and never have used Gouache, this makes me want to go out and buy some and try it...your art is lovely.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image


      8 years ago from Iowa

      This is very nicely done. Excellent lens. I've not ever used gouache but you given great info here. Welcome from a squidoo greeter! I look forward to seeing more of your work and your lenses. :)

    • witwoo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @ohcaroline: Many thanks ohcaroline - you've given me my first ever Squidoo comment. That's given me all the encouragement I need to carry on makiing lenses!


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a wonderful instructional article on getting started in painting. I learned some things and will be checking back to read it again. Thanks.


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