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What is Gouache Paint and How to Use it?

Many people haven’t heard of gouache paint before, even though this type of medium has been used for centuries. Originally used to illuminate manuscripts around 800 years ago, gouache is a type of opaque watercolour similar to acrylic paint. Tricky to pronounce (“gwosh” in case you’re wondering!) but wonderful to use, gouache is highly pigmented with a heavy, velvety texture. It’s perfect for opaque painting techniques, as it doesn’t reflect light.

What makes gouache paint different?

Gouache paint is made up of colour pigment and a solid white pigment such as chalk, along with a gum arabic acting as a binding agent. Like watercolour, gouache is commonly diluted with water before applying to a canvas. The difference is that it’s opaque and has a matte finish, whereas watercolour is translucent with a slightly washy finish. With gouache, it is also possible to paint over paint that has already dried without activating the colours underneath.

This makes gouache great for fine detail painting as well as painting over broad surfaces. Gouache paint can also be reactivated when dry, even years later. Because of this, it’s important to varnish your artwork once it’s completed or seal it with glass to prevent damage. In the past, gouache was most commonly used for poster art, comic illustrations, and advertising posters.

Gouache paint is perfect for beginners because it’s an all-purpose paint with several benefits:

  • It applies like watercolour but dries opaque
  • It has the water solubility of acrylic paint but doesn’t dry and cake on paintbrushes
  • It can be used in several ways including as a wash, blended, or dry brushed
  • It’s easier to clean up
  • It’s easier to photograph finished artworks (since there’s no light reflection or glare)

How to paint with gouache

Gouache paints are very versatile and can be applied in many different ways. Because they dry fast, gouache makes a perfect medium for quick sketches or drawings. Painting with gouache is simple, but do keep in mind that colours appear darker when wet and will dry lighter. Typically, you don’t apply gouache straight from the tube. It’s common to first dilute with a little water if you’re looking for a more detailed application, similar to using watercolour. However, gouache is also perfect as a dry brush and can be applied without wetting. This is typically used if you are wanting to layer colours or work on a larger canvas.

Canvas for gouache paint

You can apply gouache paint on any canvas or surface. The most common surfaces include stretched canvas or a canvas board, as well as watercolour paper. To begin, always apply a good covering of paint to prime the surface and to give the subsequent paint something to grip to. For the perfect texture to work with, aim to get your gouache paint mimicking a mayonnaise or yoghurt-like consistency.

Brushes for gouache paint

There are no rules when it comes to finding the perfect brushes for gouache paint. Because of the consistency of gouache and the ease of its application, it doesn’t matter too much what type of brush it is. Unlike acrylic or watercolour paints, gouache paint can be pushed around on paper much more easily, and therefore any paintbrush is workable with this type of medium.

However, because it’s similar to watercolour, brushes primarily made for watercolour painting are best. These brushes can be made of either synthetic or natural fibres and come in a range of sizes and brush-head shapes.

Gouache painting techniques

Because you can paint over gouache once it has dried, it opens you up to endless possibilities and painting techniques. Here are a few ways you can paint with gouache:

1. Layering
You can layer opaque painted lines over opaque or transparent backgrounds using gouache paint; just remember to let the previous layer dry first to avoid discolouration. This gives you several ways to experiment with and create detailed drawings and illustrations.

A good exercise to do if you’re new to gouache paint is to draw a row of circles using different colours and go from transparent to opaque. Try overlapping the circles with different levels of transparency. You can make your gouache paint more transparent by adding more water.

2. Scumbling or dry brushing
If you want to create a rougher texture, then scumbling is the perfect technique. Scumbling (or ‘dry brushing’) is simply the brushing of a thin layer of opaque paint, leaving little gaps to create some texture and a rough appearance. Use a large, flat paint brush and without using water apply the paint, then drag your paintbrush over your canvas.

3. Applying as a wash
If you want to create a similar application to watercolour paint, then try diluting your gouache with water and apply it as a wash. Another way to experiment with gouache is by applying a thicker layer of paint and waiting for it to dry before splashing the paint or spritzing it with water then use your brush to blur and soften the edges. This will give a nice feathery texture that can be utilized in many different painting styles.

Discover the fun and versatility of gouache paint today

Discount Art N Craft supply a range of gouache paint and accessories, for beginners all the way through to professional artists. For those starting out, the Winsor & Newton Primary Set provides the perfect introductory to gouache paint; including six primary colours, a visual diary, and paintbrush.