Painting the Ocean with White Gouache

Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

As I wrote about in my last post, I began painting the ocean in January. As is customary with watercolor, I was leaving the white of the paper bare for the white areas of my painting or I would remove paint with a damp brush or blot with a towel. This preplanning of what areas should be white at the start of the painting was proving difficult for me. And the white paper seemed too flat for the foam areas of the ocean.

So one day I opened up the white gouache…and everything changed for me. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor. You can paint over other colors even with white.

Compare the foam areas here:

To the foam here:
Watercolor beach landscape by Eileen McKenna

Eureka! I can add an underlying area of dark water, then add the white gouache on top. I can use a wet brush and blend the white with darker areas to soften it. I can add shadows on top of the white gouache and then add more gouache on that. I can “build up the layers” – which is the description of watercolor painting that always runs through my head while I work. It’s probably something my watercolor teacher once said.

A favorite foam painting – Surf Camp #1
 "A Cloudy Day at Surf Camp"

Lots of white gouache work here:
Crashing Wave by Eileen McKenna
See more of my seascape paintings here.

The small box of gouache paints I have contains cyan, magenta, yellow, white, and black. It is considered a “mixing box” – from it you can mix any colors. I think I bought it because I heard about gouache and wanted to try it. But it remained mostly unused until this year. The white is called Primary White. Since I’ve been using the white quite often it is running out. When I went to order a new tube of white – several different whites gouaches came up online – Zinc, Permanent, etc. I wondered, “What was the difference?” The comments on this online page shed a little bit of light, but mostly made me think – stick with what works. Primary white is considered good for mixing, which considering the box it came in makes sense. I don’t mix it much before using it, but I do blend it with other colors on the page as I paint. Let me know if you try painting the ocean with white gouache.

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Painting the ocean with white gouache #painting #gouache #ocean #waves

10 thoughts on “Painting the Ocean with White Gouache

  1. I know John Singer Sargent was VERY fond of using white gouache in HIS watercolor paintings….to excellent effect! and it seems to be working ever so well for you too, Eileen! Lovely work – on the rare occasions when I paint in water color myself, I am often frustrated by the head game that reserving the whites poses 🙂

      1. I think you’ll enjoy his work, Eileen – I had a chance to see quite a few pieces of his, live, at the Philadelphia Art museum, last Spring – that guy knows how to handle light, for sure! 🙂

      2. Mmm, sounds good! Have a look at some Winslow Homer too, if you get the chance, he’s a water colorist who has painted a lot of ocean scenes and I think YOU would really appreciate the way he does his crashing waves! 🙂

  2. Exciting work Eileen. I was surprised to see watercolor paintings by old Masters who used lots of white gouache for highlights. I have a tube of white for occasional use, but might wade in and try gouache more if I find a reasonably priced quality set to try. Thanks for the inspiration.

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