What is gouache?
“Gou-whatttt?” I hear you ask..
Gouache (pronounced “gwaaash”) is a really misunderstood painting medium. It’s very underrated in the art world and often gets labeled as ‘weird’. Gouache is a medium that’s really worth exploring though, because it’s such a versatile and ‘forgiving’ medium which makes it a winner for beginners! Gouache is a water-based paint so it’s a lot like watercolour paint, however it’s thicker, heavier and much more opaque than watercolour. This means that gouache be also be used similarly to acrylic or oil paint as well – in bold, matte layers. It’s the best of both worlds – gouache has the portability and convenience of watercolours, as well as the vibrant, opaque layering capabilities of acrylic paint!
A brief history lesson
Gouache has a long history of use! The earliest gouache-like paints were called tempura, and were used in ancient Greece and Egypt. Egg yolk, glue or honey was used to bind the pigments. In the Middle Ages, gouache was used to illuminate manuscripts before early European painters began to use it as a painting medium. Gouache is one of the oldest mediums known to the Western art word, but it’s always been a somewhat undiscovered medium and hasn’t always been widely regarded as an ideal medium for fine artists.
In the 19th Century, the portability of gouache made it a great choice for Impressionist painters, painting outside ‘plein air’ and it started to gain popularity. In the 20th century gouache was commonly used by commercial designers and animators requiring a quick drying, solid colour with matte finish.
Today, modern gouache is gaining more popularity, as illustrators and fine artists share their work online. As the medium reaches a wider audience, it’s starting to get the recognition it deserves!
Follow @good_gouache on Instagram, for inspiring examples of how you can use gouache paint!
Just like watercolour paint, gouache paint is made up of pigment and a water soluble binder like gum arabic. Gouache has a much higher pigment-to-binder ratio though, which means that the gouache is really vibrant and little bit goes a long way. In addition to pigment and binder, many brands of gouache also contains an opaque white pigment or chalk which makes it thicker and more opaque.
Gouache paint sits on the surface of the paper instead of soaking in, and it dries quickly with a flawless, matte finish. This flat finish makes gouache easy to scan/photograph and reproduce. The opaque nature of gouache means that you can paint in layers from dark to light. It’s not necessary to work from light to dark as with watercolours, and you don’t need to worry about preserving the white. Each new layer of gouache can completely cover the layer below it, just like acrylic paint.
One of the best things about gouache is that it’s re-wettable. This means you can let your paint dry completely on your palette, but a quick spray of water will bring it all back to life. You can also come back to a painting that’s been sitting dry for a while and blend new, wet paint in with the dry. This makes gouache a very forgiving painting medium, because it’s so easy to make changes!
What is gouache used for?
Gouache dries very quickly and gives a lovely matte finish, making it a popular choice for designers, and illustrators for use in commercial art, as well as book illustration. Gouache is also great for using in a sketchbook, and it’s portability makes it’s a great option for travel journals or landscapes. Gouache flows nicely which makes it ideal for hand lettering or calligraphy and it’s also great for outlining, and for adding detail with fine lines to give your work a nice sharp finish.
Gouache is really unique in that it possesses the most desirable qualities of both watercolours and acrylic/oil paint. It can be diluted with water and used much like watercolour paint, or you can use it straight from the tube and work in opaque layers like acrylics or oils. It dries quickly but can also be reactivated once it’s dry, which makes gouache incredibly flexible and forgiving. The high levels of pigmentation means it has incredible covering power which makes it perfect for layering. The colours are vibrant, it has a lovely consistency, and it’s really easy to learn to paint with.
How to Use Gouache
Gouache is such a versatile painting medium, and can be used in many different ways. While it’s one of the easiest painting mediums to work with, it’s also quite challenging to master! The techniques used vary depending on the style of painting you’d like to achieve, and it takes a bit of experimenting to get the hang of it!
Most people try gouache once, and give up because it can be bit tricky to work with, especially if you’ve been painting with other mediums. I thought it was a bit weird at first too, but I’ve grown to love everything about gouache and it’s now my preferred medium. It’s so versatile, very forgiving and it’s definitely a winner for beginners!
If you’re curious about gouache and want to give it a go, I’ve put together a FREE mini-course that covers all of the gouache painting basics, and answers all of the questions I’m commonly asked in one, easy-to-navigate place! In Get Started With Gouache, you will find out exactly what brand of paint will work best for you, which type of brushes and what kind paper to use with gouache. The course even covers basic brush techniques so that you can gain control of that paintbrush, and your creativity will be unleashed as your paint starts to flow. You’ll learn how easy it is to mix a beautiful rainbow of colours just from 3 primary colours, which will save you loads of money when you’re just getting started.
So whether this is your first time painting, or if you paint regularly with other mediums but gouache is something you’re yet to try – this class is jam packed with all the information, tips and techniques you need to know. It includes bonus cheat sheets on brush care, brush technique, and colour mixing as well as a Materials List to guide you through the art shop! Join thousands of other creative adventurers in the virtual classroom, and you’ll be creating colourful, vibrant artwork in no time!