Gouache is essentially an opaque watercolor. It is a water-based paint and is similar to watercolor but with higher levels of pigment. It can be layered and creates bright, vibrant colors. The paint has a very quick dry time and a matte finish. It can be reactivated by adding water which is great for reworking a painting that has dried or using dried paints on your palette.
You can add different amounts of water to gouache as you're painting to achieve different levels of opacity. With a lot of water gouache acts a bit like watercolor. With less water it is somewhat similar to acrylics (in that it is opaque). After a bit of practice, how much water to use with it starts to become second nature.
It's bold, matte colors make it great for illustration and fine art painting. Many calligraphers also enjoy using it for brush lettering. It is a great medium for Urban Sketching. Artists who usually work plein air in Oils might consider using Gouache on days when a lighter pack is necessary.
Tips for Painting with Gouache
1. Gouache dries very quickly on a warm day.
put out the paint on a damp paper towel on the palette
spray the palette with water while you are working
be sure to shade the palette and painting
2. Paint will reactivate as you apply layers.
use wet layers first then use less water and more paint as you build your opaque layers
don't overwork the painting, commit to a brushstroke and leave it alone
3. The paint changes value when it dries.
darks dry lighter
lights dry darker
4. Paintings are fragile.
bending the paper can cause the paint to crack and chip off
accidental exposure to water can reactivate a finished painting
to protect your work, paint in a hardbound watercolor sketchbook
Give it a Try!
Overall Gouache is a "forgiving" medium once you get the hang of it. Give it a try and see what you think. Be sure to check out our Gouache tutorials to shorten the learning curve and visit our social forums with any questions.