Gouache and Watercolour Bird Painting Tutorial

Hello there!

It’s Dee from PRINTSPIRING, and I’m popping in here today to give you a closer look at the way I like to use gouache (gwash), and watercolours together. If you don’t know what gouache is, make sure you check out this blog post. 

Gouache is much more opaque than watercolours. It has a much higher pigment to water ratio and it can be used so many different ways. I enjoy experimenting with it and I’ve discovered that gouache plays very nicely with watercolour paint.  I’ve recently finished a series of bird paintings using gouache and watercolours. I painted a bird, and some flowers for every letter of the alphabet. You can view the entire series and the work in progress videos here! Now I’m going to show you the process behind one of these birds, so gather your supplies and get ready to paint along with me!

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Gouache. I’m using Winsor & Newton gouache.
  • Watercolour paint. I’m using Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors.
  • Spray bottle of water
  • Paper towels
  • Clean water
  • A palette (or any waterproof surface to mix paints on)
  • Brushes. I’m using Raphael Kolinsky Pointed Sable brushes in various sizes.
  • Paper. I’d recommend using at least 300gsm watercolour paper.

Ok let’s do this! The first thing I like to do when I’m painting a bird is to lightly sketch an outline. You can’t erase pencil lines after you’ve painted over them, so make sure they’re really, really light, especially in any sections of the painting that will be white or yellow.

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Sketch

Now  it’s time to get some ‘pallette magic’ happening!  Squeeze a tiny bit of gouache onto your palette, making sure you leave enouch space between colours for this magic to happen! Spray the whole palette with a light spray of water. Here’s where I like to introduce some watercolour paint, to really get that gouache flowing! Take a larger sized brush and dip it in the clean water, then into your watercolour paint. Use similar colours to the gouache. Start mixing the watercolours and gouache together, adding more water until the colours all start playing together on your palette! Have fun with this! If you find your colours are starting to merge together too much, just dab the excess with a paper towel.

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Palette Magic

Next, I’ll show you the process of bringing a little bird to life with this palette! A little trick I’ve learned with gouache is that you need to place down wettest layer first. Then you use drier layers as you work, using a little less water with every layer. So this first layer of paint happens very quickly, using a lot of water. Gouache dries fairly quickly, so you don’t worry too much about the colours bleeding into each other. Just go for it! Take your paint and start with a darker, shadowy area first (like the back of the bird’s head). Then, rather than dipping your brush back into the paint, use the water to make lighter, more transparent shades. 

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: First Layer

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: First Layer

Leave your wet layer to dry briefly. I always enjoy working on the next layer! This is when a bird starts to come to life! Take a smaller brush, and start working with a little less water, and a little more gouache. Use the gouache to add depth and detail around the head and eye.

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Adding gouache

Before you lose sight of your pencil marks, take a really tiny brush and outline all of those little feathers with some dark coloured paint.

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Adding gouache

Now that you have some feather outlines, start building up layers of colour on the feathers. Use less water with each layer, and don’t be afraid to play around with different colours. One of the things I love the most about gouache is that it’s so opaque. If you paint something you don’t like, you can easily paint over the top of it once it’s dry! When your big feathers are done, use a really tiny brush to make little fluffy feathers. Layer colours from dark to light, finishing with tiny fluffy light coloured feathers.

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Adding details

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Adding details

There really are no mistakes when it comes to goucahe! It is a really flexible and forgiving medium, and even after it’s completely dry you can take a wet brush, rewet it and start blending the colours again. You can even let it dry on your pallette and go back to it later with a light spray of water. As long as your paper is thick enough you can apply layer after layer!

Gouache and Watercolor Bird Painting Tutorial: Adding details

You can see a time-lapse video of this bird painting here.  I hope you enjoy experimenting with gouache and watercolours! I am working on making more lessons and tutorials just like this, and I’m hoping to offer some classes that go into even more depth in the future.  If you liked this tutorial, make sure you sign up to the PRINTSPIRING mailing list to be the first to know about new lessons! You’ll also gain access to a secret library of free printable wall art, greeting cards and hand painted clip art elements to inspire you, and get those creative juices flowing!

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 To see more work in progress, you can find PRINTSPIRING on Facebook or Instagram, and I’m always pinning inspiring things over on Pinterest! Come and join me!