If you’ve ever wondered how to create depth using gouache paint, you’re right where you need to be! Artist An Ho is a pro at this and is especially good at creating great depth in foliage and landscapes.

So if you’re ready, grab your painting tools and join us for this quick yet informative demo!

Step 1: Thin First Layer

An jumps straight into the painting process, but before that, I’ll give a list of what you’ll need: an A6-sized watercolour sketchbook or paper (hot or cold press), a ½” flat brush, an angled brush, a palette, gouache paints, two containers of water, and paper towels. You may also need a clip to hold your sketchbook open while you paint.

If your gouache paint is in its pan or dried form, you’ll want to spray them with water to make them easier to work with.

Next, you can take a quick look at the reference photo, which we’ll follow very loosely. You might be better off just following what An does!

To start the first layer, mix a very light blue using white and light blue paint, and dilute it a lot until it’s almost like working with watercolour paint. Then, use your flat brush to paint the middle area of the page. It’s okay if you make this area bigger than An does, as you can paint over the extra parts later.

Next, mix a bit of primary yellow with your blue and white paint to create a light green. Doing this will be the lawn area. For the dirt ground, mix burnt sienna and a little white, and paint the bottom third of the paper.

While this area is still wet, mix a darker brown using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, and starting from the bottom, gradually blend this into the lighter brown until there’s a gradation in the dirt’s colour.

Tip: An keeps emphasising that things in the distance should be a lighter colour than things in the front. You’ll see that this is the best way to create depth in a painting, so just keep this in the back of your mind while you paint.

Step 2: Layering the Foliage

Gouache dries pretty quickly, which means you should be able to start layering the foliage that’s creating this “tunnelling” effect.

Since you’ll be painting from the background to the foreground, you’ll need to remix a light blue, though it should be darker than the blue used for the sky. With this colour, flick in some foliage that starts from the dirt ground and arches over the lawn area. Use the tip of your flat brush for this, as you can still create fine lines and details with the edge of a flat brush.

Then, mix a pale blue-green colour with more blue and yellow paint. Your paintbrush should still have some white paint leftover from the light blue, so it shouldn’t be too dark. Paint in the same way as before, but leave a little of the light blue foliage from before.

Tip: While you’re painting the foliage, feel free to adjust the mixing ratios of blue to yellow to white. Doing this will create some little variety within your greens and blues, which is good as this will prevent your foliage from looking too flat.

At this point, your paint should still be quite diluted, but not as diluted as before.

Next, add some black and blue paint to your green to get dark green, and again, paint another layer of foliage, leaving a little of the lighter green area. You should still be able to see each layer of foliage clearly, and because of the difference in value (i.e. how light vs how dark something is), it will create the illusion of depth.

Step 3: Stronger Details

Switch to your angled brush, like a flat brush but with a slanted edge. Mix a strong green-blue using primary blue and yellow, and add some leaves among the middle layer of foliage. It doesn’t have to be too much, as you still want to be able to see the light blue layer. Try to paint leaves that are angled in random directions to make them look more natural!

Your paint at this point should be pretty thick, as you’re painting your details. You should also be able to get finer details with the sharper tip of the angled brush, so use that to your advantage!

Next, mix a light blue-green that’s even lighter than the one you mixed previously, and again, add more leafy details among the blue foliage.

Step 4: Adding More Contrast

To emphasise the depth created by the arching foliage, mix a very dark colour using black, blue, and yellow. Then, dab in this paint around the outer edges of the foliage. This area is the closest to the viewer, so it should be the darkest.

Again, you can slightly vary this dark colour by adjusting how much blue or yellow you add to your paint mixture.

Next, you can enhance the middle area of the foliage again by mixing more green paint and bringing out the middle layers of foliage with this. If you’ve accidentally made your darkest areas too large, that’s fine – you can always paint over it with the colour you want, provided that your paint is thick enough and the underlying layer is dry.

Step 5: Final Ground

Lastly, add more depth and texture to the dirt ground by mixing burnt sienna, dark blue, and a touch of red. With this dark reddish-brown, paint the bottom area of the dirt.

Add more burnt sienna and a dot of white to your dark brown mixture, and use this mid-tone to paint the middle area of the ground. You can streak some of this colour to the darker area to create visual texture.

Add a little more white and red to your previous mix, and streak in this earthy pink in the same area. And for the lightest part of the dirt ground (which is also the furthest away), mix white, red, yellow, and a bit of your previous brown, and brush this in lightly, so it gradually blends into the mid-tone colour.

Touch up your foliage if you need it, but otherwise, you’re done! This demo has been shorter, but I hope you learned something regardless. Layering and creating depth in gouache is a valuable skill to learn, so be sure to apply this to your future paintings! And when you’re done, you’re more than welcome to share it with us.

If you enjoyed this, feel free to look at An’s 90-minute art class as well - she paints pretty quick, so good thing there’s a pause button!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. She likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm during her downtime. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy.

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