Carolyn Wong makes delightful paintings with Acryla Gouache. If you’ve been following artists online over the past few years, you’ll probably have heard of it. It’s gouache, except you can’t reactivate it, so a more practical description of it would be matte finish acrylic paint.
I followed along on her FREE Live Demo with regular gouache to see if there would be much difference in our results.
Step 1: The First Wash
At this stage, my painting with regular gouache looked very similar to Carolyn’s.
When you dilute any gouache with enough water, it turns transparent like watercolour, and you can lay down a base tone wash just like with watercolour. Because this is a green forest, we’re using a lovely muted green.
Step 2: Beginning the Trees
Carolyn has an excellent dry-brush technique. She spreads the bristles of a damp brush to make multiple tiny strokes that represent several trees in the distance without going through the trouble of painting each one separately.
I tried doing this with my Etchr gouache brushes. It will take some trial and error to get the ratio of water to gouache correct for this method. You’ll want to have a steadier hand than I do, but once you get the hang of it, it’s super rewarding!
I used the same mixture I made for the sky, just a lot of yellows, greens, and browns until you get the right combination for your preferences.
Step 3: The First Foliage
Carolyn uses the dry brush technique again to make the leaves in the distance but with slightly more paint. I used a cooler green and ensured all the leaves were flowing in the same general direction so the wind would be consistent, like in real life.
Step 4: The Ground and Some More Trees
Here is where I struggled a bit. I went a little too heavy with the paint and wrecked the delicate nature of the distant tree trunks because I was still unsure how to wet the brush and dilute the paint.
My brush was a little too dry for the ground, and I didn’t leave enough white. I don’t know how much of my difficulty came from my paint being different from Acryla Gouache.
I haven’t tried Acryla Gouache, so I don’t have a feel for its consistency. If I had planned better, I could have done a better job with my regular gouache.
Step 5: Darker Trees and Foreground Detail
As you can see, this is where my painting got extremely messy. Because regular gouache shifts in value so much when it dries, I miscalculated how muddy the foreground would be.
I also miscalculated how overly dark the tree trunks were about to get. I also ran into a problem that Acryla Gouache would have prevented: smudging.
Regular gouache can reactivate the layer beneath it, so the top layer needs to have considerably less water. Carolyn can work in somewhat more watery layers because her paint won’t reactivate.
My paint did reactivate, so my tree trunks got all smudged. The smudging only got worse as I continued painting.
Step 6: Defining the Highlights and Trees
My painting did improve here! Adding some definition back into the foreground helped a lot. I tried to help my poor trees from the previous step by adding a bit of highlighting, taking them to the sky, and giving them branches.
It did help a little bit! My painting is still a lot muddier than it would have been if the next ones hadn’t reactivated my early layers, but this result is not all bad.
Step 7: Last Details
My painting became a lot nicer when I filled it in with the big trees in the foreground! Sometimes all your painting needs for depth is something large and dark in the foreground to frame it.
When Carolyn added a bush with light leaves in the background, I tried it too. I wish I hadn’t because when I added the leaves, it just reactivated the layers underneath instead of making a nice highlight.
I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been such an issue had I applied the paint more thickly. For the sake of experimentation, I am showing you how it was when I did exactly what Carolyn did with her Acryla Gouache, except with regular gouache.
My conclusion? Both regular gouache and Acryla Gouache are good for the things that they are good for.
Carolyn’s specific techniques work best with Acryla Gouache because they use thinner layers and involve layering light over dark. Regular gouache is better if each layer is progressively thicker and you don’t use very many layers. We have a fantastic Introduction to Gouache series if you want to learn more.
I am sure that a better painter than I could have followed Carolyn’s tutorial with regular gouache and gotten a stunning result. But it would have been more work than necessary because they would have to fight against the paint’s natural properties instead of working with them.
To see more great teachers like Carolyn and stay up to date with our upcoming classes, be sure to subscribe to our Etchr email newsletter!