How to use gouache in calligraphy ?

The word gouache originates from the Italian word for mud ‘guazzo’, and was translated into French in the 18th Century to the word Gouache; which is pronounced goo ash. Gouache is similar to watercolour, in that it can be re-wetted and re-worked over a period of time; if you are not happy with the end result. The key difference between watercolour and gouache, is that gouache is opaque (meaning not able to be seen through). This opaqueness is created by the addition of chalk or other similar white pigment, along with the required pigment colour and binder which reduces the transparency of the gouache.

Due to the opaque nature of gouache, it creates an excellent contrast between the paper that you are writing on and the actual gouache itself. And the mix-ability of gouache means that you can try different gouache colours to attain a desired colour that you want, which is not easily attainable with calligraphy inks.

When using gouache for calligraphy, it is a good idea to use a small saucer or palette. Using a saucer with its’ lipped edge means you can place a piece of cling film over the saucer or other type of cover, to keep the gouache clean (and may prevent mishaps) and return to using left over gouache at a later time. It is best to use a white saucer, white palette or indeed white surface to squeeze the gouache onto; the reason being is that it is easier to see the true colour of the gouache in question. This contrast can be helpful if you can not decide between two colours, which are close in hue to one another.

How to use gouache, step by step.

  1. Squeeze out a pea sized amount of gouache from the tube onto a small saucer.
  2. Then with a small paintbrush, mix a small amount of water and the gouache together in order to make a creamy consistency. The amount of water to be added is on a drop by drop basis, therefore a pipette is quite useful in this situation. The consistency of the mixed gouache needs to be somewhat creamy, in order to flow from the nib onto the page in question.
  3. Once the desired consistency has been attained, take your paintbrush and apply a small amount to the nib that you are using. It makes sense to use a small paintbrush that is roughly the same size as the nib you are using, in order to avoid wastage and mishaps.

If you are using gouache that contains metallic particles such as gold or silver gouache, it is a good idea to refill your nib on a small and regular basis, as the weight of the metal particles fall to the base of the nib. This means you would end up with an uneven concentration of metallic particles in your lettering, if not your nib is not refilled on a regular and short basis. Schmincke calligraphy gouache gold and silver are two such gouaches’ that contain such metallic particles within there makeup. Schmincke have a helpful guide to using calligraphy gouache, which can be found on their website or by clicking here.

In certain cases you may wish to add ox gall liquid in order to increase the flow of the gouache, through the nib on to the page. Or indeed the addition of gum arabic, which will increase gouache adhesion to the paper. This is helpful in situations where hand rubbing of the gouache may occur.

Hopefully this article helps you and answers some of your questions, regarding the use of gouache in calligraphy. Some colours are more vibrant than others and it is a case of experimentation, to find which colour / brand works for you. As gouache is an opaque medium, it will create vivid vibrant colours and contrast between your lettering and page, which will make your calligraphy really stand out from the page.