TUTORIAL: How to Paint a Tulip in Gouache

Gouache is a watercolor medium that can be used like watercolor, or acrylic, or like something all its own. The colors are opaque, and can be rewet, but can also be painted over completely without other colors showing through.

As with any medium, there are some tricks to making it all work.

What We’ll Be Doing

Gouache can be used in many ways. In this tutorial, I’m going for some traditional gouache techniques— the sort of thing that makes gouache unique.

We’ll be creating a ‘bokeh’ effect with unfocused globes of light in the background.

I’m not a planner — my style of painting is pretty chaotic. Tutorials are easier to follow with a cut and dry, do-this, then do-that approach. I’ve tried to do a little of both.

In the text, I’ve explained things as briefly as possible, and the explanations are done in a step-by-step manner.  In the video, I explain what I’m doing as I do it. You’ll see that I’m making decisions as I go, and building on what I’ve done in prior steps. Like much of life, it’s a little messier and harder to follow than the written steps. But it’s really the way I paint.

Since gouache is opaque, any drawing is quickly covered up. I did one anyway, to help me get started and as a guide for you. Don’t feel you have to follow it exactly.  I certainly didn’t.

The Tools

Don’t worry if you don’t have the exact same tools that I do. I’ve listed some possible alternatives, but go ahead and try using what you have. You’ll still have fun and you’ll still learn something even if the result is different.

  • Arteza Gouache Paint – Lemon Yellow, Vermilion, Sap Green, Sky Blue, Noir, Titanium White
    • Alternative Gouache colors – any light yellow, any red that leans toward orange, any mid green, any light blue, any black, any white.
  • Etchrlab Gouache Brushes Round, Size 11
    • Alternative brush – any moderately stiff brush, size 6 to size 12
  • Hahnemuhle The Collection Hot Press watercolor paper 140lb
    • Alternative paper – any 140 lb Watercolor Paper
  • Kit’s Inventive Artist Smart Paint Palette
    • Alternative Palette – any palette, plate or dish with room for mixing six paints
  • Art Toolkit Syringe
    • Alternative – any syringe or water brush that allows you to squeeze out water by the drop
  • Cocktail knife
    • Alternative – any palette knife, or plastic or metal knife (wood not recommended)
  • Two Water Containers for Cleaning brush
  • Towel or rag for wiping brush

Tips & Tricks

I mentioned earlier that there are some tricks to working with any medium.  I thought I’d explain some that I’m using here.  Hopefully, these will help you avoid some common mistakes, and to understand what it is that I’m doing.

  • 1 – When gouache dries, it tends to flake. When opening tubes, hold a towel underneath or wrap it around the cap, to catch any flakes that fall.
  • 2 – Try to squeeze out just enough paint for the current use.  Gouache that dries can be reused but like traditional watercolor, it isn’t the same as fresh out of the tube.  We’ll be using fresh from the tube in this painting.
  • 3 – In this tutorial, I’m mixing so that I get a variation of color with each stroke, mostly blended on the paper, rather than mixing up a solid uniform color.
  • 4 – I’m adding just a little water to my gouache to make it easier to spread. I do this by dipping my mixing knife in water and mixing each color as I’m ready to use it. The amount of water you need will vary by the brand, color and the humidity.
  • 5 – Dry brushing is a technique where you paint with very little color on your brush. It creates a scumbly, pebbly look. If you don’t want the dry brushing effect, look at your brush — you may need to turn it to a side with more paint, or pick up more paint. If you just can’t get the effect to stop, add more water to the paint so it will spread more easily.
  • 6 – When dry brushing, your brush will often splay — the bristles separating. You can take advantage of this to get cool brush marks.
  • 7 – Even though a painting feels dry to the touch, it might not be dry all the way through. Use your fingernails to see if the painting feels cool. If it does, let it dry longer.
  • 8 – Sometimes, you’ll have a color that is really streaky and you’ll see a clearish, yellow oil separating from the paint. This is the binder. Usually, if you mix the paint with your knife you can blend it together. You can also gently massage the tube to help blend it before squeezing. Squeeze top down so you aren’t pushing all the paint up where it will shoot out when you open the tube.


Under Painting

To start, we’ll lay down the main colors. Some of this will be painted over, but you’ll establish where the colors go, and enough will be left to give the painting its overall color.

As you use each color, add a little water to the paint so it spreads evenly. Use the side of your brush with each stroke.

  • 9 – Paint all the areas that will be yellow.
  • 10 – Paint the remaining tulip with red.
  • 11- Paint the rest of the background with green. Dry brush some around the edge of yellow globe areas.
  • 12 – Mix a darker orange and a light orange, adding both to the tulip.  Add some of the lighter orange around the light globes, leaving yellow in the center.

Let the painting dry until it no longer feels cool when you touch it with the back of your fingernails. This will probably be at least 10 minutes.

Adding the Details

  • 13 – Add white to the green background, leaving some of the dark green showing. Paint streaks around the light globes as shown in the photo.
  • 14 – Mix your black paint with a little more water than the other colors so it will reactivate some of the green and become a greenish black when dry. Do some negative painting to create leaf shapes along the left side.
  • 15 – Now you want to create a gradient of light to dark until the light globes gradually blend into the dark green. Pay attention to the amount of water used. You don’t want puddles, but you want glazes of color that have some transparency. Use glazes of yellow and white around the globes. If needed, add glazes of green. Continue this until you have a gradient that seems natural to you. See below about knowing when to stop.
  • 16 – Add sky blue to create shadow areas on the tulip.  Use thick paint with little to no water — the paint should sit on top of the previous color. Use a more watery mix to glaze a very little of the sky blue into the light globes.

Fussing to the Finish

If you’re like me, you’ll wonder when you should stop adjusting the light globes.  If you find yourself adding lighter colors, then darker colors, then lighter colors … Well, after two or three times, stop doing that.

Put it where you can’t see it for at least a few hours.  After that, look at it ever so often. I usually give it a day or two. If something still nags at you, add another layer or two of light or dark. After that, call it done.

Even though I’ve been painting a while, this has been the hardest lesson for me, and I still get caught up in the fussing. One of the reasons, I’ve been playing with the bokeh effect is in the hopes I can train myself out of this. We’ll see. 

It’s a lovely effect, but it does require some back and forth  of color until you get what you want.

Last thoughts

I thought I’d show you a comparison of my initial pre-planning painting and the tutorial painting. Each has something I like and don’t like.

In my initial painting, I like the contrast created by the darker black and the more muted globes. I feel the gradient is better. But in the second, I like the contrast created by the shadow color, and the overall brightness.

My hubby was consulted, and he unhesitatingly chose the painting I did in this tutorial. Which do you prefer and why?

Where to Find the Tools

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials

8 thoughts on “TUTORIAL: How to Paint a Tulip in Gouache

  1. I like the one with the blue in the tulip very much! The background is lighter and w/the blue, makes everything more lively I think. Thanks for this tutorial! Looks like fun to do.

  2. I’m not an artist, but I like the second, brighter one. The first looks, to me, like it’s making a meataphorical statement about life out of darkness… which would be good to illustrate a book cover with that story or something… but as a pretty picture, not so much.

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