TUTORIAL: How to Paint A Winter’s Night in Gouache

Today I’m here to show you how to do a painting is of a young boy and his dog wandering through trees on a snowy night. These instructions could be used for any night-time winter scene.

We’ll be using a dark-to-light, poster-style technique. All the colors will be added as broad shapes without fussing. Detail and adjustments will be done at the very last.


Abbey Cadence (Sting) by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org/


There are common terms used by artists, but they can be confusing because different industries often use them differently. So this is how I’m using them in this tutorial.

  • Composition – What goes where? Where’s the light coming from? What’s in front, the middle, and background?
  • Hues – the colors in the painting.
    • Usually the pure color — red, blue, yellow — with no black or white. In this case I mean Pyrrol Red, Ultramarine blue, and Hansa Yellow Medium.
  • Tint – the above colors with white added.
  • Shades – the above colors with black added.
  • Values – light to dark, i.e., the range of tints through hues to shades (includes the white of the paper).
  • Shapes – an object or group of objects blocked together by value rather than detail.
  • Edges – Hard Edges, Soft Edges and Lost & Found Edges. We’ll only use hard edges in this painting.
  • Foreground, Mid-ground, Background — You can give the viewers a gauge of distance in a painting by having a front, middle, and back section. The difference in sizes, values, and details in each section tell them how far away objects are.


  • Hahnemühle Cold-Pressed Watercolour Postcards 
  • DANIEL SMITH Gouache
  • Pyrrol Red
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Titanium White
  • Lamp Black
  • DANIEL SMITH Masking Fluid
  • ETCHR Flat Size 12 Gouache Paint Brush
  • ETCHR Round Size 2 & 4 Gouache Paint Brush
  • 2 Rinse Waters, one for cleaning, one for adding clean water to the paint
  • Palette
  • Cleaning rag/paper towel
  • A spray mister or syringe to add water to dried paint
  • Something to stir paint and water together. I use a cocktail knife.

Links to these supplies can be found below. As always, you can substitute and use what you have. Your result may look different, but there’s nothing wrong with that.


In essence, I’ve done these sketches, chart, and value painting for you, but I recommend you do them too. If that just ain’t your thing, look at mine, then mix your colors and skip to the ‘Let’s Start the Painting’.

The first sketch is to work out overall composition, and detail.

The second sketch is to establish the shapes (which I copied from my first sketch) and where the foreground, mid-ground and background will be.

I’ve added initials to make it easier for you to tell. F for Foreground, M for mid-ground and B for Background.

The third drawing is to establish the light path, and how it affects the objects in the painting. I’m not worrying about getting the values correct until I’ve established what they are.

Mixing the Paint for Gray Values

Create Your Shades

It isn’t always easy to see how value and color relate to each other, so making a chart can be helpful. We’ll start by deciding what our hue, shade and tint values will be.

You’ll have three shades. Black, dark gray, and middle gray.

  1. Black: Paint a swatch of pure black onto your value to color chart.
  2. Dark Gray: Add white to the black to mix a dark gray shade. Paint a swatch of it beneath the black swatch on the chart.
  3. Mid Gray: Separate some of the dark gray, and add more white until you have a middle gray shade. Paint a swatch of it beneath the dark gray on the chart.
  4. Create Your  Tint: Mix a tiny amount of the middle gray to white to create an off-white color, which will be your tint. Paint a swatch of it underneath the middle gray shade.

The white of the paper and Titanium White will be your lightest values.

The Value Painting

Now, do a value painting.

With a night scene, you have muted hues, and a low range of values. That sharp contrast between the lightest light and darkest dark sets the tone of the painting. It isn’t easy to see the boy and his dog because the values are very close to the values in the mid-ground. Hues, tints and shades will be very important for creating clarity in the finished painting.

Follow the steps for the actual painting. Substitute your value mixes for the appropriate color. In other words, if it calls for dark color, use dark gray, etc.

Following the same instructions now will help you know what to expect and where you might have trouble.

The value painting can also be your reference for the actual painting.

Create Your Color Shades & Tints

  • Be sparing with the black when mixing. It can quickly overtake the color.
  • Paint swatches on scratch paper and let it dry, so you’ll see the true color.
  • You’ll want full, opaque coverage but won’t want to see the brush strokes. Add water to paint as it dries and stir together as needed.
  1. Black/Color Shades: Mix black with your colors until you have red/black, yellow/black and blue/black. Paint a swatch of each to the right of your black swatch on the chart. Note: When you mix the yellow with black you get green, so from now on, I’ll refer to it as green/black, dark green, middle green, and green tint.
  2. Dark Shades: Separate some of each color/black shade into another mixing space. Mix white with each until you have a dark shade of all three colors. Paint swatches of each next to the dark gray swatch.
  3. Middle Shades: Separate some of the three dark shades into another mixing space. Mix white with each until you have a middle shade of all three colors. Paint a swatch of each next to the middle gray swatch.
  4. Create Your Tint Colors. Separate some of the three middle shades into another mixing space. Mix white with each until you have a tint of all three colors. Paint a swatch of each next to the tint swatch.
  5. For white, we’ll use both the white of the paper, and added Titanium White where needed.

Now you’ve mixed shades and tints of all the colors you need, plus you have a chart that will show you how your colors relate to the values.

Let’s Start the Painting

Masking Fluid

  1. Lightly sketch the outline of the boy, the dog, the moon, a patch of snow in the mid-ground, and small bits of snow on the trees. Don’t add detail, it will just get covered up.
  2. Apply masking fluid to all of the sketched areas.
  3. If you’re using the DANIEL SMITH masking fluid, switch to one of the applicator tips. Add tiny dots of masking fluid to create falling snow over most of the painting.
  4. Let the masking fluid dry, at least 5-15 minutes. It may be tacky to the touch, but shouldn’t come off.

Trees, Ground & Sky

You’ll be using the flat brush for the entire background.

  1. Cover the entire postcard with the blue/black shade. It will be easier to see what’s happening if you leave the masking fluid areas clear on the boy and dog.
  2. Let the paint dry completely.
  3. Lightly pencil in the tree shapes. You’ll be painting right over the blue/black.
  4. Paint the middle and background trees with dark green. Add a few small areas of dark green to the inside edges of the front trees.
  5. Let it dry completely.
  6. Paint middle green on the middle trees where they face the light.
  7. Paint a small amount of middle green next to the dark green on the front trees.
  8. Use the dark blue to paint some snow behind the middle ground, and for the shadows of the boy and dog.
  9. Immediately, paint some middle blue beside the areas of dark blue, letting the colors bleed together a bit. Repeat this with the blue tint.
  10. Let it all dry completely.
  11. Add green tint to sides of the trees that face the light but leave some middle green and dark green showing.
  12. Add some areas of blue tint to the snow behind the boy and dog. Leave some areas of the darker colors showing.
  13. Let it dry completely. Be certain it’s dry.

The Boy & Dog

Switch to the size 4 round brush. You’ll use this brush except for the details of the boy’s face. You’ll soften the masked areas later.

  1. Remove the masking fluid. Resist the urge to soften or adjust the painting until the boy and dog are done.
  2. Paint the entire boy with dark red — face and all.
  3. Let it dry completely.


  1. Referring to one of your drawings, pencil in the hat, scarf, and wrinkles of the coat and pants.
  2. Use middle red to paint the mid-value areas. Leave the dark red in the darkest areas. Just paint over the face for now. Don’t worry if your boy looks like a monster. Will fix that later.
  3. Let it dry to the touch.
  4. Use the red tint to add a glow to both sides of the boy so he is backlit.
  5. Paint red tint on the boy’s nose and cheeks to imply his face is lifted and catching the light.

While the boy is drying,  work on the dog.

  1. Paint the dog completely in dark red.
  2. Let it dry.
  3. The dog is brown and white, with some black on the muzzle, so use middle blue on the head, ear, along the right side, the back and tail. Leave the dark red showing for both shadows and areas where the dog is brown. Don’t sweat this. You can adjust later as needed.
  4. Let it dry.
  5. Highlight the dog with blue tint.
  6. Let it dry.

Now that we have everything painted in, let’s soften the areas where the masking fluid was removed.

  1. Take a wet tissue and dab it around the outside of the moon. A damp rag or brush could also be used.
  2. Let the wet area sit for a few seconds, then daub it with a dry portion of the tissue to pick up some color.  This creates a soft halo.
  3. While still wet, add blue tint at the edge of the white to blend the halo a little.
  4. Let this dry, and paint some green tint to the underside of the white blobs.
  5. Let it all dry.

Now we’ll tie the composition together by adding red and blue throughout the painting.

  1. Add mid-green to the front trees.
  2. While that dries, add some middle blue to areas in the mid-ground trees.
  3. Add some middle blue to boy.
  4. Add some middle red to the trees and on the snow. It will stand out too much, but we’ll soften it later.
  5. When the blue has dried on the boy, use dark red to add shadow between boy’s head and the hat. Add a few more shadows along the scarf if needed.
  6. Add dark red to the boy’s and dog’s shadow.
  7. Let it all dry completely.

Look over your painting, and look for areas that might need more blending, or an adjustment of color or value.

Note: This is scan of the final painting. It shows truer color than my camera does.

Your painting will differ, so you may not want to do all the same adjustments that I did, or you may have similar but different things you want to do.

The changes I made. I:

  1. darkened the background trees.
  2. added white to soften and blend the colors in the snow
  3. thinned the boy’s face by painting the white snow over the excess parts
    • refined the boy’s face by 
    • adding more red tint to highlight the face, letting it dry
  4. using a light application of dark red to paint the eyes, nose and mouth
  5. adding more dark red to the dog, letting it dry
  6. adding spots of blue tint.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial.

Links of Interest



Hahnmeühle_USA sent me a tin of cold-pressed postcards and DANIEL SMITH sent me a bottle of Masking Fluid to use as I wished, and I used them both in this tutorial. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

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