[Gouache] Painting 101, Lesson 1


Anyone can paint.

I hear all the time "I wish I could paint / illustrate", and when I tell people that anyone can paint I get some wide eyes and unsure expressions. When I say that anyone can paint, I’m not being pandering - I really believe it.

Granted, there are plenty of people that don’t care to try or practice, but I’m not talking about those people - I’m talking about anyone that has the desire to try a new thing and work at it a bit.  

Here are my tips for a positive experience with painting:

  1. Choose your paints and materials carefully, because some kinds will be more frustrating than others.

  2. Start with a simple style. If you’re trying to paint like Michelangelo, you’re probably going to end up disappointed.

  3. When you aren’t satisfied, keep going. 


Choose your medium.

I tried oil painting first - I liked the look of it - thick, bold and you can get some really incredible textures from it (which are mostly appealing if you’re going to be painting on canvases) but I quickly learned that I do NOT have the patience for oil paints. At all. They dry sooooo slowly.

Then I tried watercolors - they are fun, portable, and the look of them is really unique, but they are not forgiving. Since I was looking for bright, punchy opaque colors, watercolors weren’t for me. Enter gouache paint.

To me, gouache is the best of both worlds between watercolor and oil paints - it’s meant to be mixed with water, so you can control how thick it is, it’s opaque, and it doesn’t take long for the paint to dry.

Other tools you should have:

Paintbrushes: don’t get the cheapest ones at the store, because you do get what you pay for, and the bristles will probably start falling out all over your wet painting. Look for the student-grade brushes - they should be a few dollars each. Pick three or four brushes in a variety of sizes.

Paper: I recommend watercolor paper. The best deal I’ve seen is a pad of 30 sheets for about $11. (See bottom of this post for link.)

Palette: you can use a plate if you want, but I recommend getting one of those cheapo white plastic palettes, since the paint and pigment can be tough to remove.

Cup or mug: just like with the palette, I recommend having a dedicated “paint cup.” The paint is cleanable, but in my experience it is easier said than done.

Pencil & eraser: use a sharp pencil that you can sketch lightly with, and preferably one that has a good eraser.


Let’s get started!

With your watercolor paper and sharp pencil, sketch your subject. Keep the sketch simple - an outline is sufficient, or an outline of each different color area (like paint by numbers) is a good idea, too.

Select your first paint, and squeeze a pea-sized amount into your palette. Use your paintbrush to drop in just a bit of water, and mix it up. The consistency should be like melted ice cream.

Paint! Try to use one color at a time, and if you’re painting two colors right next to each other, give the first a few minutes to dry before you move on to the second.

Gently rinse off your brush in the mug of water by swishing it around - don’t flatten or press the bristles hard against the bottom of the cup.

When all of your “base” colors are on (and dry!), it’s time to think about adding some detail. This is the fun part! Most of the time, before I add the little details, my paintings are not cute, and I get really uncomfortable when people want to see what I’m working on before this stage. If you are currently unsatisfied with your work, take heart! This is why I love gouache - it’s opaque and you can layer it. And layer it. And layer and layer and layer. Paint over things, embellish it - keep chipping away until you’re happy with it.  

As you can see in this little flamingo pool floatie I was working on, I did a lot of layering - everything from changing the color (a few times!) to trying various details, deciding I didn't like them, and trying again. (As you can probably tell, I struggled with that little middle section of the floatie quite a bit.)



If you’re feeling stuck when it comes to details:

Are there areas that you can add touches of slightly darker or lighter paint to show shadows or highlights?

Are there simple patterns that you can overlay? (Adding little dots or stripes on a simple item / illustration can transform it!)

Can you create a texture that will add visual interest? (For example: wood grain lines, several colors of dots for sand, etc.)

Are there any enhancements you can make to the subject that make it cuter? (For example: adding a bow to a teddy bear)

**Remember: if you’re not feeling particularly inspired on the details-front, it’s okay to leave it for a while, (whether it’s an hour or a week!) Chances are, when you revisit it, you’ll be seeing it with fresh eyes and have new inspiration.**

Don't be afraid to try out a few styles! You’re probably drawn to some styles more than others, and there are going to be techniques and styles that are easier to practice with than others. I do believe that everyone can paint, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all going to learn to paint like Rembrandt.

My own style is mostly simple with a few intentional details thrown in that add charm and character. For my cards and my style, I don’t need to paint masterpieces - I just need to paint cute things, or make simple things cute. (It’s all about the subtle details!)  Find examples of artwork you like, practice imitating a little bit at first, then move on to experimenting rather than imitating so that you can find your own style.

Happy painting! I want to see your artwork - show me on Instagram (@slightlystationery) or send me an e-mail! Are there other things you want to know, or any particular tutorials that you want to see? Let me know!


products I recommend to get started

Disclaimer: these are affiliate links, but that doesn't change my recommendation - I use these myself!