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What is Gouache? Use it and fall in love!

Gouache is a type of paint that’s similar in nature to both watercolor and tempera paint.It’s sometimes called opaque watercolor because of its opacity.

The composition of Gouache consists of color pigment, gum arabic that is used as a binding agent and a solid white pigment such as chalk or potatoes starch.

It has a heavy texture that absorbs light rather than reflecting it, giving the paint a smooth appearance when dry.

What is gouache in terms of its likeness with watercolor? They are made of similar materials, call for similar application and they are cleaned up the same way. Watercolor is transparent and a favorite medium for its fluid washes.

This type of paint has a much higher pigment content than watercolors and the pigment has larger particles. This is what makes gouache opaque and prevents it from granulating,

There is acrylic based gouache that once dry, does not reactivate with water, but while it is worth mentioning, it is also an idea for another day.

How to use Gouche – It may be a surprise to find out.

Gouache is great for flat, colorful shapes and shading as well. The learning curve is not as steep as it is for watercolor, making it a great alternative.

tubes of gouache
tubes of gouache

Use it for washes and  for solid color areas with wonderful, highly pigmented hues. However, gouache has a tendency to powder when too thin, so be sure to apply a fixative to your work if this is the case for you.

Gouache almost always dries to a different value than it appears when it is wet. The lighter tones usually dry darker, and the darker tones tend to dry lighter, which can make it a little difficult to match colors over multiple painting sessions.

But this is generally true of large areas. I personally like the differences that gouache gives when you use the same color at different times. It gives a unique characteristic to the work that is pleasing to the eye.

Gouache and acrylic are often used together. There is no concern about layering order with gouache and acrylic. Just do it, as Nike says.

Characteristics of Gouache –

Water makes gouache semi-transparent, but it is an opaque medium. Paintings have a matte finish that does not reflect light.It has more pigment than watercolors, producing rich and vibrant colors, and it dries quickly. Make sure to allow each layer time to dry completely before continuing.

can  Using a damp cloth or brush will lift areas off just as it does with watercolor.amazon

Apply it like you would a heavy bodied acrylic paint. Paint applied too thinly will fall off (powder) when it dries. On the other hand, you don’t want to go too thick or you may run into cracking which is problematic to correct. In that case it is sometimes just as well to let a viewer think it was an intentional design element.

If you are using gouache in pans (or blobs) it would be a good idea to revive them use a spray bottle with water and let the water soak in the pigment before using a brush to move the wet paint.

Because thin layers of transparent gouache tend to powder off,  spray fixative over them. You can’t change anything after you do, but if you love what you’ve produced it is best to save it. Try it first on pieces that aren’t going to make that show you’re in first to see how to do it.

Does technique matter? – Let’s find out

Generally, you don’t want to use this medium right out of the tube. Water gives a more workable consistency. Heavy cream is a good consistency for the paint that comes to mind.

Painting over the background layer will bring up pigment from previous layers. Be aware that this creates a possibility of creating a muddy color. Choose colors carefully to avoid this happening. But it can also give a nearly endless opportunity to create a detailed composition.


Keep in mind that contrast is key for really letting any line work show on a background layer. So remember to think about light and dark, cool and warm or complementary colors before starting your masterpiece.

Gouache is typically smooth,

but if you’re going for a rougher texture, scumbling can be a great choice. By using a large dry brush loaded with paint and dragged over the surface there will be gaps in the color and allows the background color to show through, which creates texture.

A wet paint, so don’t use a surface that buckles or ripples as you work. Stretched canvas or canvas boards, or even wood is a good idea, but prime the surface before using it. In addition, the added pigment gives it a texture when working on a primed surface.

The paint can be made waterproof by mixing it with acrylic medium. Use a matte acrylic medium to obtain a flat appearance that best mimics the paint alone.

https://artsupplysolutions.comIt may take a while to perfect is the amount of water you add to gouache. You don’t want too much water but at the same time you also don’t want it too thick as this can lead to cracking. Remember, heavy cream consistency.

When painting layers, it’s important to make sure the first layer is completely dry. If not, the layers will bleed into one another, unless of course that is what you want to have happen, in which case, go for it.

Gouache is a twofer

Gouache is a paint that has been used for centuries, and yet not many people know how to use it today. It’s a medium with characteristics of both acrylic and watercolor. It creates works that are both luminous and vibrant.

Referred to as opaque watercolor, gouache and watercolor do have some other similarities. They are both have color pigment and a binding agent. But the pigment ratio in gouache, especially the professional grade, is much greater than in professional grade watercolor.

This paint is a much heavier texture paint

and has a higher opacity than watercolor. When working with gouache, it becomes a rare medium. While it has characteristics of both watercolor and acrylic, it is neither.

Dilute the paint with water before using. Otherwise they are to thick to be spreadable. Although it is far less translucent than watercolor it is absolutely doable .

Poster paint is somewhat similar in consistency to gouache, however the materials that make it up are far more inexpensive and no matter how thrifty you may be, don’t be thinking that it is a substitute for gouache. It’s not.

And so…

You can layer light to dark or dark to light with gouache and unlike watercolor, you can paint in whites instead of masking them off. It can be fairly inexpensive and you don’t need a lot of stuff to be effective with it. It’s probably one of the most underrated mediums out there.

So, get started with a small set purchased here. I’d love to hear how you like it, so leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.



Girl on beach - Gouache painting
Girl on beach – Gouache painting







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