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You must have heard me say countless times that gouache is perfect for beginners. If you have never painted before, gouache allows you to get spectacular results right from the start. It is easier than watercolors, acrylics, or oil paints; it is very forgiving and allows you to correct mistakes. Gouache is easy to revitalize with water if it dries in your palette. My Beginner's Guide To Gouache answers the most frequently asked questions about this medium.

If you go online or to your local art supplies store, you will be overwhelmed by all the choices: dozens of brands, hundreds of shades, and different sizes. How do you choose? How many colors is enough? The short answer is the fewer, the better. Read on for a more detailed explanation and practical advice!

* Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission when you buy something.
Winsor&Newton favorite gouache colors for urban sketching by Julia Henze

I recommend starting with just six colors. Yes, you heard me right. Six colors is all you need to get started!

The six basic colors are:

  • yellow

  • blue

  • red

  • zinc white

  • permanent white

  • black

I know that sounds incredible, but it’s true! Here’s why I recommend that beginners start with this limited set:

First, you can create any color you want from this basic set. If you learn the principles of mixing colors, your palette becomes unlimited.

Second, you have a lot of control over the shades of color that you get. As a result, your painting looks harmonious; colors work nicely together as they come from the same basic pigments. If you run out of color while painting, you can mix it again from the basic six.

Lastly, buying high-quality gouache is not cheap, so you save a lot of money by mixing the colors yourself rather than trying to have a separate tube of paint for the colors you might or might not need.

The Alchemy of Color Mixing

When you mix yellow and red, you get orange. By changing the red-to-yellow ratio, you can change the shade of the resulting color. If you add more yellow, your orange becomes lighter; with more red added, you get a darker orange.

How to mix primary colors

The same goes for mixing yellow and blue. The more yellow you have, the lighter the resulting green color is. Conversely, the more blue you use, the darker the resulting green. Just look at how amazing the transition looks when you mix colors yourself instead of using ready-made colors from the tube!

mixing yellow and blue

If you mix red and blue in various proportions, you will get a beautiful range of purple.

Yellow, red and blue are called primary colors. The colors that you get when mixing them are secondary colors. The two whites and the black allow you to create even more colors.

Zinc white is transparent. If you paint it over black paper or another color, it does not look very white, and it is see-through. If you add a little zinc white to the dark blue, the color becomes lighter. By adding a little more, you get an even lighter blue. You can create numerous shades of blue by varying the amount of white paint.

mixing blue with zinc white

You can get the opposite effect by adding black to the blue, the color becoming darker if you add more black.

mixing blue with black

Permanent white can be used for drawing lines on a dark background. It can be mixed with transparent colors that have very low coverage, like this yellow, to make them less transparent.

permanent white. basics of color mixing

Mixing colors from this basic set is an essential skill for both amateurs and professionals. If you understand how it works, your palette is virtually limitless! I always tell my students to learn color mixing before buying any other colors.

Boxed Sets vs. Separate Tubes

It is very tempting to buy a boxed set when buying your first gouache paints. Go for it if it means that you will start painting right away and not get stuck trying to choose the ‘right’ supplies! Just make sure you buy high-quality paints and a limited range of colors, including the six basic ones described above. High-quality sets, like this Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache 10 tubes set, usually include the cool and the warm version of each primary color. This is what you need to comprehend and experience color mixing to the fullest. However, sometimes you need to buy one of the whites separately because it's not in the set, while there are one or two colors you don't really need.

Winsor&Newton Designers Gouache set

Buy this set here: Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith (Dutch)

However, if you are a beginner and don't want to spend too much money because you're not sure if drawing is something for you at all, a student-grade set is sufficient for your first experiments.

Winsor&Newton student-grade  gouache set for beginners

Do not buy cheap sets with multiple colors if you really want to learn to paint with gouache! The colors in these sets are mostly primary colors mixed with different amounts of black or white. You are perfectly capable of doing that yourself! As a result, there is not much quality pigment in these tubes, which is why they are so cheap. Because of the cheaper pigment, the colors do not look as good and vibrant. With pre-mixed colors, it might be difficult for you to find the shade that is exactly right for your painting, so you will have to mix colors anyway.

Another downside of boxed sets is that you end up with some colors that you never use. You will notice that you run out of some colors faster than others, and you will have to buy them in separate tubes. My advice is to keep it simple and go for the six basic colors in separate tubes.

You will notice that I am not giving you any tips on which particular shades of primary colors to buy: choose the ones you like.

Beyond The Basic Six: My Favorite Colors

In my extensive collection of gouache tubes, I do not have any paints to which black or white has been added to create color. They are high-quality, expensive pigments.

When I do buy tubes of paint, they are unusual and very beautiful colors. You can get them by mixing primary colors, but it takes time. Using some ready-made colors speeds up your painting process. Also, some colors, like turquoise, are tough to create by mixing, to get the proportions right. I love turquoise and I use it a lot, mixing it with ultramarine to get different shades.

favourite Winsor&Newton gouache colors for urban sketching

Cadmium-Free Yellow Pale Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

A very soft and delicate yellow. Great for mixing greens and oranges.

Orange Lake Light Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

Of course, I can mix the most amazing oranges with yellow and red, but when I work fast, it’s nice to have a beautiful ready-to-use color on my palette.

Bengal Rose Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

This is just a lovely color I use instead of traditional reds. Mixtures with this color look awesome. I often mix it roughly with yellow or orange for a more interesting look.

Linden Green Amazon | Jackson's Art

This is the only kind of green on my palette. However, I rarely use it on its own. I mostly mix it with Ultramarine blue for painting engaging greenery, for instance. It is a very light, vibrant, and quite a transparent color that makes my greenery look so lively.

Cobalt Turquoise Light Jackson's Art | Splendith

As I said before, it is pretty difficult to get by mixing but it is my absolute favorite for painting the sky and I use it all the time, especially mixed with Ultramarine Blue.

Cobalt Blue Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

A very beautiful neutral blue that adds some serenity and elegance to my sketches.

Ultramarine Blue Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

This is the color every artist should have on their palette. It’s not only a very pretty color but it also works very well in mixes, especially if you want to mix bright vivid greens.

Brilliant Purple Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

Purple is great for mixing cool shadows. We can use black for darkening colors but mixing with blues or purples produces richer shades.

Burnt Sienna Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

It takes some time to create a beautiful brown. This color saves my time and can also be easily combined with other colors.

Honestly, I don’t even know why I have this particular black. You might use a normal black instead. I do not usually use black in my sketches and for me, it doesn’t really matter what kind of black I have on my palette.

And, of course, the two other essential colors on any palette are Zinc White, and Permanent white.

Buy Zinc White here: Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

Buy Permanent White here: Amazon | Jackson's Art | Splendith

If I've inspired you with my beautiful colors, keep them in mind but play around with the primary colors first! Set aside some time just to experiment and mix. It might take you some time (months?) to get the hang of it, but it will make you a better artist. When you have gained confidence in color mixing, you can start exploring some other colors.

If you are interested in gouache, here are some resources:

My Classes

(available separately, on Skillshare and in Brave Brushes Studio)

Skillshare class on gouache and colored pencils by Julia Henze

Working with Gouache & Colored Pencils: Let's Draw Some Homes!: This class will teach you how to sketch three beautiful Amsterdam canal houses. You will learn the basics of gouache and colored pencils. It's perfect for beginners and fun for experienced artists who love to draw architecture and want to learn new techniques.

Expressive sketching with gouache and colored pencils. Skillshare class by Julia Henze

Draw with Me: Expressive Sketching with Gouache & Colored Pencils: In this class, you will learn how to create a whimsical sketch in 3 easy steps. I will take you through the tools and materials and give you some useful tips. Then, we will mix some colors, put a color palette together. And finally, we will create a finished artwork - a beautiful window sketch.

My Color Theory Course in Brave Brushes Studio:

color harmonies and how to apply them, contrast in sketching, mixing colors

Brave Brushes Studio is a membership for amateur artists and urban sketchers. The art studio will help you to master the necessary sketching skills by providing you with guided lessons, feedback and support of a friendly community, so that you can sketch regularly and improve your technique consistently. And, most importantly, enjoy your art practice!

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Hello, I'm Julia Henze.



Art is my passion. Urban Sketching is my love.

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