By Nicole Tinkham
You’re headed down the watercolor aisle and at the very end you run into something called gouache. The tubes look like your standard watercolor paints but something’s different about them. You would be right. Watercolors and gouache are NOT the same. At this point, you probably have a few questions. What is gouache? How is it used? How does it differ from watercolor paint? Today we’ll uncover the truth about this mystery paint by explaining what it is, its characteristics, a few techniques and how you can use it in your art. Get ready to explore the world of gouache and (hopefully) become inspired!
What it is
Before gouache was an art product, it was a technique (back before the renaissance) in which white was added to water based colors to achieve an opaque look. This look became very popular, so popular in fact that the product gouache was invented as an easy way to create the opaque look. There are two ways in which gouache is manufactured: one that lets the artist add white themselves and another that has white extenders included. Many describe gouache as paint somewhere between acrylic and watercolor.
• Opaque – Unlike watercolors (which are transparent) gouache is opaque. With the addition of water they can be semi-transparent.
• Matte finish – Gouache paintings will always have a matte finish.
• Rich colors – Gouache has more pigment than watercolors therefor producing rich and vibrant colors.
• Water soluble – All you need is water (no mediums or turpentine needed). Don’t add too much water though or your painting will “powder off”.
• Dries quickly – Gouache dries quickly but tends to dry a different shade than when wet.
• Can be layered with acrylics – As you’re probably aware, oil can be layered over acrylic but not the other way around. With gouache and acrylic, you don’t have to worry about the layering order (although acrylics do make a great underpainting).
• Can be corrected – We know you don’t make mistakes often but when it does happen, it can be corrected. Since gouache is water soluble, you can lift off areas of the painting with a damp brush as you would with watercolors.
• Thick application – Apply gouache like you would a heavy body acrylic. If applied too thin, the paint will fall off when it dries. However, you don’t want to go too thick or you may run into cracking.
• Add texture: Get a brush stroke texture by using Aquapasto medium. You can also use acrylic texture gels to get a different effect.
• Making gouache waterproof: Simply mix gouache with acrylic medium. Please note that this may reduce the matte look of plain gouache.
• Mixing paint and water: Something that may take awhile to perfect is the amount of water added to gouache. You don’t want too much water (like with watercolor) but you also don’t want it too thick as this can lead to cracking. The consistency should be like cream and allow the gouache to flow smoothly from the brush.
• Painting layers: When painting layers of gouache, it’s important to make sure the first layer is completely dry. If not, the layers will bleed into one another. You also don’t want to overwork a layer as this could cause the bottom layer to lift off.
How YOU can use gouache
• In conjunction with watercolor and acrylic paint or on its own
• Abstract work
• Fine details
Gouache may have many desirable qualities but it’s not for everyone. As with any media, we suggest giving it a try. Who knows, you may fall in love with it. If you’ve already experimented with gouache, we want to hear about your experience (good or bad). Just leave a comment in the box below with your story! We love hearing from our readers so head on over to our Facebook page and share some photos, inspiration, questions, random thoughts, ANYTHING. We can’t wait to talk to you!