Gouache 101

Gouache 101

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.

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Why Gouache?

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.