Following on from his introduction to painting gouache, Robert Brindley says, 'Gouache has a great, velvety texture that results in a very smooth, solid appearance, yet by working on a slightly more textured paper, or board, the results can be very different'.

Winter Morning, Norfolk, gouache, (23x27cm)

Very stiff card, primed both sides to prevent warping before texture paste was applied, resulted in a lovely sensitive surface to work on. The board was tinted with a very watery wash of burnt sienna acrylic. I used a limited palette of primary yellow, primary red, permanent alizarin, ultramarine blue and white. A very loose block-in was then over painted with quite a few layers of broken colour. The tree, bushes and fine grasses were added last, taking care not to disturb the underlying paint. As always, I took special care to let each successive application of paint dry before adding another.

Choosing your paper

'The most obvious way to achieve more texture is to use one of the many watercolour papers available. For example, a Hot Pressed paper will result in a very smooth finish and pleasing effect. However, I find that without any texture the paint can slip around too much and any layering of paint can easily disturb the underlying layer. It's also worth bearing in mind that dry brushing and scumbling become less effective or non-existent on a smooth surface.

'A Not paper has a slightly textured finish that is very easy to work on and aids the execution of dry brushwork and scumbling. Rough paper will provide interesting textures, although it is a little more difficult to work as the brush seems to drag more and it's easy to lose any sensitivity and 'feel' through the brush. You may find that more colour is used on a rougher surface and also you may need to use more layers to achieve what you are after.'

Texturing your own surface

When painting with gouache I now tend to work on paper or board that I have textured myself.

For certain subjects I prefer a more random texture and less drag on the brush. I use any fairly thick, good-quality paper or board, to which I apply one coat of acrylic primer. When dry I apply texture paste using a 12- or 25mm flat brush, criss-crossing the brushstrokes to give a random texture. By varying the quantity of texture paste used –spreading it thinner, or thicker – I can achieve many different painting surfaces. Finally, I add another coat of acrylic primer.

Light on The Fells, Seatoller, Cumbria, gouache, (25x30cm)

Here I painted on tinted pasted mount board with quite a heavy application of texture paste. The painting was developed by layering on top of a loose block-in. The colours used were primary yellow, yellow ochre, primary red, permanent alizarin, cerulean, ultramarine blue and white. The darks in the trees were mixed with a combination of ultramarine blue, permanent alizarin and yellow ochre. A very small touch of white was used for the slightly lighter areas in the foliage.

Evaluating your work

When I reach the final stage of painting I always take time for evaluation by asking myself some of the following questions:

  • Does the composition work? A successful painting should have a visual path through the painting, leading to the focal point.
  • Does the tonal sequence work? Tone is all important, therefore it is prudent to carry out a few small, tonal studies before starting to paint.
  • Does the colour harmony work? After tone it is important to ensure that the colour harmony works. Never have too many strident colours opposing each other in your paintings.
  • Do the edges work? Too many hard edges scattered around the painting will destroy the balance and lead-in. In general, eliminate most of the harder edges around the outer areas of your painting. It may help to squint your eyes to identify the worst offenders. By softening a few edges and retaining some of the harder ones, you will be able to move the emphasis and strengthen the focal point.

Pony in The Snow, Scotby, Cumbria, gouache, (19x16cm)

This was painted on a block of Arches cold-pressed watercolour paper. I decided not to tint the paper, instead I used the white of the paper for most of the lightest areas of snow. My limited palette was yellow ochre, primary yellow, burnt sienna, primary red, cerulean, ultramarine blue and white.

Robert’s top tips for newcomers to gouache:

  • Never paint too thickly in the early stages.
  • Try to develop the painting from dark to light; however, leave the extremes till later.
  • Be aware of creating dirty colour. Apply the colour lightly initially and experiment on a scrap of paper first if you are not sure .
  • Try to resist adding detail too early.
  • Be patient and wait until the paint is completely dry before layering the next colour.
  • Don't work too small or your painting will become too fiddly/busy.

Demonstration:  Back Gardens, Scotby, Cumbria