What Is Gouache?

What Is Gouache?

Gouache is one my favorite paints and one that I’ve been using almost exclusively over the past 5 or so years. Let’s get into what it is, why I love it so much, some of its challenges and how you can get started using it too.

Gouache is an opaque, smooth, paint perfect for illustration. Traditional gouache, like I use, can be reactivated with the addition of water, so you can let your palette dry and go back to it again. This also allows for revisiting certain areas of your painting, if you need. Acryla gouache is in its own category. It is more similar to acrylic paint (only a lot thinner out of the tube), which allows for the building up of texture and once it’s dry, it’s completely dry so no reworking anything. You can paint over with new layers without activating the ones underneath.

Gouache can be somewhat challenging to learn, especially if you have any experience with painting in oils or other types of paint. It just doesn’t work the same way. You need to mix it to the right consistency and get used to the way it blends, similar to oils, but in its own way. If you lay it on too thick, it can get gummy or bubbly, and it can crack and flake. Little flakes of paint will get everywhere, if not from your painting, then from your palettes.

However, once you do get over the learning curve, it can be a joy to work with and very versatile. It can be thinned out and used almost like watercolor, or mixed to the consistency of ice cream and laid down in flat washes of color. It can be blended together to get the softest color transitions or used a bit dry to get a more textured and streaky effect. You can paint over the tops of layers to add illustrative detail and it is my absolute favorite to use for making pattern designs. It is easy to travel and work with as it dries quickly and is practically effortless to clean up.

Two of the most well-known and loved brands are Holbein and Windsor & Newton. These are the two I keep on hand but I definitely prefer the Holbein. The colors are vivid and consistent, and the texture is perfection. I find that Windsor and Newton colors are different to Holbein’s, which is sometimes an advantage, but other times not. I have also found the W&N to sometimes be very oily, which is not helpful for painting with and increases drying time. It’s as if the paint separates from the binder inside the tube and then when you open it, oil squeezes out with just a bit of paint, and doesn’t mix or dry nicely.

In my next post, I talk all about how to get started painting with gouache.

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