I Spent the Week Learning is a new series that follows individuals as they explore something brand-new. This week, Freelance writer and Skillshare student Jen Karetnick sees what it’s like to paint with Gouache.
Like many freelance creatives, I’ve been blessed with a number of passions -- and have managed to monetize just about all of them. Now it seems like everything I’ve ever enjoyed doing has become a form of employment, and I’m bereft of actual hobbies. Somehow, in the past year or so, Netflix has become my chief pastime.
Because I’m not exactly comfortable with that – and because there are only so many Law & Order reruns to watch – I agreed to learn gouache painting when my editor asked me to take on a new project to see what it would be like to fast-track a learning experience as a Skillshare student. Maybe I suspected somewhere that I’d paint terribly enough that I wouldn’t be able to turn it into a side hustle. Actually, I had more than a secret suspicion: art has never been my forte. When I was 10, my elementary school arts teacher scolded me for my lack of depth perception.
But! Onward I went. I was a little nervous about jumping into painting (and not just because that educator gave me a complex). I’m averse to odors, and I detest cleaning paint brushes, but fortunately, gouache doesn’t have an aroma, and cleanup is as easy as washing with soap and water. You can even let the paints dry in the palette and stay that way, because all you have to do to reuse them is add a little dab of water! I was on my way.
I took four Skillshare classes in a single week in an effort to get great at gouache (although “great,” as you might guess, was ultimately an overstatement). Here are a few other lessons I picked up along the way:
1. You can take gouache on the go
In Beyond Watercolor: Learn to Paint with Gouache, instructor Leah Goren surprised me with how portable gouache is – packing a cold-pressed or hot-pressed watercolor book of paper, a half-dozen tubes of paint, and a brush is as simple as carrying a laptop. She’ll trash-pick a palette and a cup for water if inspiration strikes en plein air, which led me to re-use a Diet Coke bottle for my water that I then cap for the next time. This is a shape with which my cats are familiar, and don’t knock over the way they do the occasional vase of flowers.
2. Not great at drawing? That’s not a problem when you use gouache
As an avid non-drawer, I was delighted to learn that you don’t have to draw well to paint with gouache. Although Vanessa Gillings demonstrates in her class, Gouache Illustration: Paint a Whimsical, Colorful Character, how to thumbnail sketches in order to create a certain pose or “gesture,” she also uses some computer assistance in her process. This told me that it’s okay to rely on technology, especially if I need to transfer simple graphic shapes or want to test colors before committing them to the page.
3. Breaking the rules is no big deal
Even though Dylan Mierzwinski’s Getting to Know Your Paint: Watercolor, Gouache, and Acryla Gouache sounds technically complex, I found her “break the rules; it’s all about you” attitude reassuring. Plus, she had some practical advice on how to generate color charts, a mixing paint exercise that results in permanent reference guides – your own Home Depot Paint Color Center right at your fingertips. That means less wasted paint, although I was startled how little gouache it takes to start painting in the first place.
4. When in doubt, paint what you know...again and again
Finally, I was relieved to see that you don’t have to feature a wide range of subjects in Alanna Cartier’s Painting Teacups in Gouache: Exploring Shape, Colour and Pattern. Because I stall at coming up with visual ideas, I’m fine with obsessing over, say, the mangoes that grow in my backyard the same way Cartier is with teacups.
Was I a successful Skillshare student? Can I say that I’ve improved after a week? Skill-wise, a little, although I remain pretty happily lousy at this point. Knowledge-wise, I’ve gone from being a novice to being a rock-solid…beginner. But! I can report that my husband was so intrigued by my gouache experiment that he started to paint with me. And you know what they say about the couple who learns gouache together...okay, yeah, there’s no idiom for that. But maybe we’ll think of one, and paint it as our signature.
Cover image: Jen Karetnick with her gouache painting (image courtesy of the author)