• How to Use Gouache for Calligraphy

    Gouache is an ideal medium for writing calligraphy because it’s endlessly customizable. You can mix colors, tweak the consistency, and write on all sorts of different papers! In today’s article, you’ll learn all about how to use gouache to make stunning pointed pen calligraphy.

    How to Use Gouache for Calligraphy
    Many calligraphers love using gouache because it gives you the freedom to create any color you want. You can match wedding envelope calligraphy to colors in an invitation, for example, by mixing different tones of gouache. If you love the look of colored inks on dark papers, that’s achievable with gouache, which is always opaque. Today, we’ll talk about what gouache is, what to look for in a good gouache, and how to use gouache for calligraphy.

    What is Gouache?

    First things first: the word “gouache” rhymes with “squash” … so it’s pronounced “gwash”. Gouache is, essentially, a super-opaque watercolor. It’s manufactured the same way as watercolor, but it has a higher pigment concentration as well as inert white pigment added to it. This makes for a smooth and opaque paint that dries quickly.

    Green gouache

    Why is Gouache Good for Calligraphy?

    Gouache is a favorite among painters, but it’s also amazing for calligraphy! That’s mainly because gouache makes for a vibrant and opaque ink. I especially love it for writing on dark paper in any light hue! Calligraphers appreciate the fact that you can blend different gouache tones to come up with unique hues and new colors, which is something you can’t easily do with a lot of calligraphy inks.

    Calligraphy envelope with gouache
    I love using gouache to create envelope art. This floral lace motif looks great in yellow gouache on a brown envelope!

    Why Quality Gouache Matters

    I first became interested in learning how to use gouache to create calligraphy when I received the envelope pictured below from Albrecht Clauss in 2014. 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,” Albrecht 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?

    Albrecht Clauss' envelope art with gouache

    Wrong. The Daler Rowney set I had purchased for $5.00 at Walmart resulted in dull calligraphy that looked nothing like the brilliant colors on Albrecht’s mail art. I blamed myself, not the paints, and I put writing with gouache on the back burner for a few years. One fateful day, though, I treated myself to a couple of tubes of Schmincke calligraphy gouache. 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.

    Can you believe the difference between these two gouaches?! Schmincke's Cadmium Yellow Tone Light gouache absolutely sings when compared to the Daler Rowney gouache.
    Can you believe the difference between these two gouaches?! Schmincke’s Cadmium Yellow Tone Light gouache absolutely sings when compared to the Daler Rowney yellow gouache.

    How to Use Gouache for Calligraphy

    So: how do you get thick paint from a tube to transform into silky ink that’s suitable for calligraphy? Watch the 45 second tutorial 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. Use a blunt syringe to add a few drops of water to the gouache. Then, mix the water and gouache together with a paintbrush. Add more water and/or gouache if needed in order to achieve a mixture that is the consistency of heavy (whipping) cream.

    How to Use Gouache for Calligraphy

    If you plan on storing your gouache “ink” to use in the future, mix everything together in an airtight jar. Keep the lid on tight, and the mixture should last for a few weeks or more!

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    If you want to, you can mix up a large quantity of gouache in an airtight container to make a dippable ink that will last for a few months in storage. (I generally only work with small quantities of gouache at a time, though, so I mix gouache on a palette.)

    Gouache Notes

    I have two notes before I wrap this article 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 Schmincke gouaches since they were formulated especially for creating calligraphy.) 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. It’s never a bad idea to make a color chart!

    Gouache color chart
    This is my gouache “color chart”. Keeping these samples at hand helps me to decide which colors are right for my project.

    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.

    How to Waterproof Paper | The Postman's Knock
    A bit of Microglaze will work wonders when it comes to making your calligraphy waterproof! You can learn how to apply Microglaze in this tutorial.

    If you have any questions about how to use gouache for calligraphy, please feel free to comment. Thanks so much for reading; and have a fun and creative week!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock

    This article was first posted in September of 2015. It has been updated to include new photos, clearer information, and a new tutorial video.