Art Tutorial: Gouache Ghosts

This weekend we had a Halloween bash at the local gallery, where we all gathered for some pumpkin painting, trick or treating, a story of where the Jack ‘o Lantern originates, and I gave a small class on creating gouache ghosts.

I’ve been painting gouache ghosts for over a year now, since I first discovered the wispy, smoky quality of white gouache on a damp black background. In fact, one of my first paintings entered in a show was called The Guide, and was a result of that initial discovery.



Since then, gouache ghosts have been something that apparate right around this time of year. Smaller ones get gifted during October sales, larger ones get added to my Etsy. And this year, I went even further and  gave one of my handmade books a ghostly theme.

They might look tricky, but I was told over the weekend during my class that they are much easier than they appear. And since it’s the week of Halloween, I thought I should share with you my tips on creating gouache ghosts, so that you can create your own.

Materials needed:

  • Paper (cold press watercolor paper works best, but you can also get away with mixed media paper)
  • Black gouache (any brand will do, but I have found my best black opacity with Winsor & Newton)
  • White gouache (again, any brand will do, but I have found my best white opacity with M. Graham)
  • Paintbrushes (preferably a large flat brush and a smaller, detail brush)
  • Water
  • A surface for mixing paint (a palette or even a paper plate)
  • Masking tape or painter’s tape and a hard surface to tape your paper to (we used pieces of cardboard)



How to make them:

  1. Tape your paper down to the hard surface. We used cardboard from the back of painting pads, but you can even tape the paper to the table.
  2. Mix up some black gouache with a bit of water. If you’re using a creamier gouache like acryla or M. Graham, you will need little to no water, but other brands may need some to get a creamy consistency. You want your gouache to be the consistency of melting ice cream. Not thick like peanut butter, and not thin like milk.
  3. Do the same with your white gouache so that you will already have it ready.
  4. Taking your larger flat brush, cover the entire paper with black until you get the desired opacity. Tip: move fast, as you will want your white gouache to go on a wet surface.
  5. Taking your small detail brush, get some white gouache on it and give it an initial “flick” to the paper. Where most of the gouache lands and begins to spread is where you will start forming your ghost. Don’t force the shape. Instead think of your ghost as an actual apparition, one that you are merely helping along.
  6. Add tendrils here and there, even arms and a head if you like.
  7. Let it dry.
  8. Find your best qualities of your ghost and use some white gouache to “highlight” these areas. I use this time to add bones to my arms and buttons to dresses.
  9. Re-wet the center of your ghost, where the “soul” might be strongest, and continue to build up white gouache layers until you get the desired opacity and brightness.
  10. Let dry.
  11. Carefully remove the tape and then leave it as is, or add a black border around it with white details.


  • Don’t worry about getting all of the figure dimensions right. The more imperfect your ghost is, the more “inhuman” it appears. Which is super creepy!
  • Long bony arms are sure to provide a few chills
  • Add a bit of water to your tendrils to get a transparent effect
  • look at old-fashioned frames on Pinterest to get some ideas for creepy, antique-like borders

If you make a gouache ghost (or a hundred) please share them with me! I’d love to see. In the meantime, check out my latest handmade book, The Veil.

Have a Happy Halloween Week!

Let's Chat Art!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s