Ink on Canvas Technique: Gouache Resist

Gouache resist is a painting technique in fine art where washable gouache is used as a resist to be painted over with another medium, such as India ink, which I’ll use for this demonstration.

With this technique, gouache is painted first on areas of the painting that you want to keep light, and then ink is painted over the whole painting but will be in contact with the canvas only in places where there’s no gouache.

finished painting, using Gouache Resist technique

Follow this short step-by-step demonstration of the ink on canvas technique with gouache resist, then try it for yourself!

drawing on canvas

Step 1:

Start with a rough drawing of pencil on canvas. This technique works better with simple designs since it might not be precise enough for a very detailed painting. I decided to try it with yellow ginkgo biloba leaves.

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painting with gouache - supplies needed

Step 2:

Choose the colors of gouache you would like to use.

In this demonstration, I used two colors: blue and yellow. You could also use white gouache as a resist and it would leave the canvas white once the gouache has been washed off. Here, I am taking advantage of the staining properties of the gouache pigments to get a bit of color in my resist.

painting yellow leaves - start of Gouache resist

Step 3:

Begin painting the gouache on your canvas or paper.

I start by painting the yellow leaves with gouache, trying to paint a layer thick enough so that it will prevent the ink to be in contact with the canvas later on.

painting the sky

Next, I paint some parts of the sky with the blue gouache. I am painting from a reference picture that I am using as a loose guideline for this painting.

pouring ink - gouche resist art technique

Step 4:

Once everything has dried, pour your chosen ink on the canvas. (India ink is used here.) Be sure to protect the working area with a big plastic sheet.


spreading the ink - gouche resist

Step 5:

Spread the ink on the canvas with a very soft brush, being very careful not to disrupt the gouache layer underneath.

ink drying overnight for gouache technique

Step 6:

Leave the ink dry overnight.

washing off ink in the sink

Step 7:

The next day, wash off the ink that was painted over the gouache areas in the sink.

This is the tricky part because even though I used waterproof India ink, all the ink would still wash away from the canvas after a while, so I am being careful not to remove too much of it. Part of the charm of this technique is that you will get a bit of a ragged look — some places where the gouache was painted as a resist might still show a bit of ink, and some places without the resist might have some of the ink lifted off.

leaving the painting to dry

This is how the painting looks after the resist has been washed away, some of the ink did wash away from the canvas, but that is to be expected.

I leave it to dry before adding a bit more color and complexity by adding a few more layers of acrylic.

green acrylic

I intensified the yellow of the leaves with acrylic and did paint some areas with green so they can suggest trees in the distance.
adding colors to palette

I am also painting with liquid acrylic since I am looking for transparent layers that will show some of the texture underneath.

blue layer - added to painting

Here, I added a layer of blue liquid acrylic and am waiting for it to dry.

red acrylic paint

I am also adding a bit of red liquid acrylic to the leaves.

finished painting - gouache resist technique

Here is the finished painting: Ginkgo Leaves, mixed media on canvas — 12 x 12 inches, by Sandrine Pelissier.

There are many variations of this technique to try. Here are a few:

  • You could use white gouache for a transparent resist or colored gouache to keep a bit of the staining color on the canvas.
  • You could paint with liquid acrylic or even acrylic instead of using India Ink. Then you could also use other media to finish the painting, like pastels or markers. In this demonstration, I used acrylic and liquid acrylic.
  • This technique works also very well on paper.

Learn more about gouache painting with these resources!

What Every Painter Should Know About Canvases

art on canvas guide

Set all your paintings up for success! Learn how to choose, stretch, prime and paint your canvas. Get my FREE guide »

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