Using gouache paint with kids.

I love the versatility and mystery of gouache paint, and since I couldn’t find an online resource for sharing gouache with kids, I decided, of course, to be the source of my own desires.

What’s so great about gouache?

Gouache paint is a watercolor paint with chalk added, which allows you to create bolder colors than watercolor and achieve near-complete coverage by painting one color over the other. The difference between gouache and watercolor is that gouache is opaque (as opposed to transparent, like watercolor). You can’t lighten the shade by using more water. Instead, gouache comes with a white paint that must be mixed to achieve lighter shades.

Gouache behaves very similarly to watercolor paint, including the fact that it “re-wets,” meaning that paints can be mixed directly on the paper even after the first layer has dried. You can also mix gouache colors in a palette, then apply the mixed colors to the paper. These attributes give gouache paints a versatility that other paints, such as acrylics, lack. Because gouache will continue to re-wet for years after application to a palette, artists can mix color combinations on palettes that they can use for years to come.

You can fix mistakes made with gouache by adding water to the area and then blotting with a paper towel. Repeat until you are satisfied.

Gouache paints work best on light-colored papers or materials, including:

  • Cardstock
  • Construction paper
  • Watercolor paper
  • Cardboard (without a waxy surface)
  • Untreated wood
  • Clayboard
  • Prepared canvas

How can you use gouache with kids?

1. Use gouache to fill in a pencil sketch or a coloring page. After sketching a picture lightly with pencil, fill in blocks of gouache for the undertones for chalk or oil pastels. Or just print a coloring page or favorite illustration and use gouache to fill in the undertones. Then have your little ones blend the pastel colors into the gouache.

2. Mix gouache with minimal amounts of water to use like a thick impasto. A small amount of water still needs to be used to allow the gouache to move, but a certain amount of texture may be achieved by using it thickly. This is a great way to layer colors in a wall collage or on pieces of wood.

3. Learn about complimentary colors and color properties by mixing a palette together. To mix a palette, squeeze out a dollop of color on one side of a plastic palette, and squeeze out the complimentary color on the other. Complimentary colors are red and green, yellow and purple and blue and orange. Then pull each color to the center of the palette, using a palette knife, and mix them in the middle. At the very center of the palette, the color should appear very dark, with increasingly lighter shades as you move toward the colors at either end. Finally, add dollops of white paint at the edges to lighten the intensity of the colors in the palette. Add dollops of other colors to add tints to the two complementary colors you’ve chosen.

4. Stain some wood in nontoxic fun colors. Apply gouache to dampened timber to create single or multicoloured wood stains. The type of timber used will alter the final colour, with light coloured timber giving the brightest results. Apply diluted gouache as a wash or add a small amount of colour to damp timber and paint out with a wet brush or sponge. Allow the gouache to absorb for a minute or two before rubbing or wiping back with a damp cloth to the desired finish. To lighten further rub back using more water or add more gouache colour to darken. The stain can be altered even when dry by rubbing with a damp cloth. It will lighten to a matte finish upon drying. Apply a final permanent finish, like a matte wax varnish or a shiny varnish.

5. Use black waterproof ink to make a gouache resist drawing.

6. Or use black waterproof ink to create a gouache relief drawing.

Max and I experimented with mer mag’s color theory painting so we could figure out exactly how gouache paints mix and interact. We used white paint to mix a plethora of colors. Max’s final experiment (pictured below) was much cooler than mine, especially since he messed around with patterns.

Meanwhile, Micah used a dark colored paper to see how gouache paints show up on darker paper. She painted a “C is for caterpillar”. We noticed that the blues came out violet, even though gouache is supposedly fairly opaque. I guess if you wanted a blue on red paper, you would have to wait for it to dry and then add another layer.

How to mix and use gouache paints.

  1. Moisten your brush and load it with paint. Paint directly on top of a dried section of gouache to mix the two colors directly onto the paper.
  2. Spray a section of your painting with a light mist to re-wet the colors. You can now add paint directly to the painting to mix the colors you’ve already applied with new colors.
  3. Wipe sections of the painting with a damp paper towel to blend the colors, soften the edges and reveal the lower layers of color that you’ve applied. Wiping too hard will cause the colors to appear smudged rather than blending or mixing. A moistened cotton swab accomplishes the same goal when working in smaller areas.
  4. Pure gouache white can be applied as highlights or details to a transparent painting, for example to draw the filaments of a spider web over a shadowed background, or to tip in the white of a gull’s wings against a stormy sky. Colored gouache can be used in the same way, to accent forms or clarify details.

A gouache gallery to inspire and excite:

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