It’s not difficult to learn how to use gouache to write calligraphy; and as soon as you get yourself a nice tube of gouache, you’ll be calligraphing up a storm in brilliant color! Before I launch in to the full “how to”, though, I want to talk a little bit about what gouache is and, well, how to pronounce it.
Gouache (rhymes with “squash”, you pronounce it “gwash”) is essentially a super-opaque watercolor. It’s manufactured the same way as the watercolors we are used to painting with, but it has a higher pigment concentration as well as inert white pigment added to it. This makes for a smooth, opaque paint that is quick to dry and is a favorite of many painters like Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co.
So, why use it for calligraphy? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, gouache is vibrant and opaque. Its opacity renders it wonderful for writing on dark paper in any light hue (e.g. yellow)! Secondly, you can blend gouache colors to come up with unique hues and new colors, which is something you can’t easily do with a lot of calligraphy inks. Finally, if you have an interest in painting, you can supplement gouache paintings with gouache calligraphy using the exact same colors — which makes for some really neat snail mail! Check out how beautifully the yellow gouache lace complements the Janet Style calligraphy below (or … vice versa!).
I first became interested in learning how to use gouache to create calligraphy when I received the envelope below from Albrecht Clauss. I was just finding my footing in calligraphy, so I had no idea what he had used to make such a vibrant blue and a dazzling white! He advised that it was gouache, and he encouraged me to try it for myself. “But,” he cautioned, “you need to make sure you use high-quality gouache.” Naturally, I did the exact opposite and bought a crummy Walmart set … because gouache is gouache is gouache, right?
Wrong. The Daler Rowney set I had purchased for $5-ish at Walmart rendered very dull calligraphy that looked nothing like the brilliant colors on Albrecht’s mail art. I decided that it was me, not the paints, and put gouache calligraphy on the back burner for a few years.
One fateful day, though, I treated myself to a Paper & Ink Arts shopping spree (this happens more often than I would like to admit), and I saw a few tubes of Schmincke gouache paints. At that point, I recalled Albrecht’s advice to use high-quality gouache, and I clicked “Add to Cart”. I was mainly motivated by curiosity: could quality really make that much of a difference? When I received the paints, I learned that the answer is yes.
You can see in the Kaitlin Style photo above that the yellow Daler Rowney gouache, despite being properly mixed with water, is dull and nearly transparent. However, the yellow Schmincke gouache is bright and opaque. If you want to avoid my cheapie purchase mistake, there are a lot of great brands available at different price ranges, including:
I haven’t tried Winsor & Newton or M. Graham & Co. yet, but I am really enjoying my Schmincke gouache paints, as you can see from the Amy Style calligraphy envelope below.
The million dollar question, though, is how do you get thick paint from a tube to transform into silky ink suitable for calligraphy? Watch the video below to find out! (If you cannot see the video, you may view it on Vimeo by clicking here.)
To recap, you’ll squeeze out an amount of gouache that’s appropriate for your project. For a big project, like calligraphing several envelopes, you should mix up a lot of gouache. If you’re only doing one envelope, a centimeter or less-long squeeze should do the trick.
Add 2-3 drops of water to the gouache. Officially I should advise you to use distilled water because there’s less of a possibility that it will encourage mold growth if you choose to store the gouache; but, to be honest with you, I just use tap water.
Mix the water and gouache together with a paintbrush. Add water and/or gouache if needed in order to achieve a mixture that is the consistency of heavy (whipping) cream.
If you plan on storing your gouache “ink” to use in the future, make sure you mix everything together in an airtight container. Keep the lid on tight, and the mixture should last for a few weeks or more! The containers I use are essentially clear film canisters.
I have two notes before I wrap the blog post up. First of all, if you find that your gouache isn’t flowing smoothly from your nib, you may need to add some gum arabic. You shouldn’t have to do this with the Schmincke gouaches, for sure, since they were formulated especially for creating calligraphy. However, it’s worth noting if you have a different brand that’s just not flowing well. Secondly, it’s good to remember that gouache dries at a different color value than it appears when it’s wet due to the paint composition. Darker colors will dry lighter than they appear wet, and lighter colors will dry darker. Not a big, hugely noticeable deal; just something to consider!
Finally, at its heart, gouache is watercolor. That means that you might be concerned about the paint running if it gets wet, especially if you’re using it for snail mail. To quell any worries, you can always spray a fixative over your calligraphy or rub a little bit of Microglaze over it. I don’t generally put any finish on my non-waterproof envelopes, though; they’ve always arrived to my recipients in mint condition. (That said, the non-waterproof inks running is certainly not unheard of!)
If you have any questions or additional tips about how to use gouache to write calligraphy, please feel free to comment. Thanks so much for reading; and have a fun, creative weekend!