Abstract gouache painting in pink and purple of Stockholm

What’s so good about gouache?


Abstract gouache painting in pink and purple of Stockholm
Gouache composition sketch for a painting.

You may have noticed that I use quite a lot of gouache to paint with. I discovered it years ago when I was in art school and straight away I loved it because of the brilliance and subtlety of the colour. That’s what’s so good about it!

I’ve been using it continuously for illustrations, paintings, and prelim work  ever since. But it goes back a lot longer. Gouache has been used since the middle ages such as for religious illustrations. It was later popularised in the 18th century by English watercolourists such as Paul Sandby.

Paul Sandby gouache landscapePaul Sandby

It’s basically opaque watercolour (not transparent) and is a type of paint consisting of pigment (the colour) suspended in water with a binding agent called gum arabic.

People tend to use acrylic more now because they are so easy to use (and cheaper than gouache too) but I’d thoroughly recommend using gouache, which is just as easy to use, but is more brilliant in colour and has a soft velvety matt finish unlike the plasticky feel of acrylic.

Though there is one tricky aspect when painting with it- the lighter colours will dry darker and darker colours will dry lighter. This can be quite frustrating as it’s very difficult then to replicate the colour when you’ve run out of paint. Unless it’s a colour straight out of the tube. The solution is making up enough of that particular colour before you start. Don’t let this put you off though. If you paint in impressionist style it’s no big deal.

Here’s a gorgeous image from the Irish Book of Kells which was painted in opaque watercolour (gouache).

medieval painting of Christ seated from the Book of Kells

And Matisse’s famous cut outs were all painted with gouache.

Jazz gouache painting by Matisse

If you want to know more about gouache have a look at the Winsor & Newton site. They were the first commercial makers of gouache. I use them most of the time and they’re excellent. Though the earth colours dry out a bit too soon. They’ve got a good page for most questions and issues to do with gouache.

The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.

Vincent Van Gogh

7 gouache hazards and how to escape them by James Gurney

Protecting a gouache Painting


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