What the heck is Gouache?

Despite having been around for hundreds of years, just lately gouache is having a bit of a revival. But what is gouache? And why does everyone love it so much? Most importantly, should you try it?

What is it made of?

At its very core, gouache is opaque watercolor.

Like watercolor, it is made up of a pigment and a binder. The pigment gives the paint its color and the binder holds the pigment in suspension and allows it to adhere to the paper. The binder is permanently water-soluble, even once dry, and the paint dries to a smooth, velvety-matte finish. Gouache is intended to be used opaquely and so has a much higher percentage of pigment than watercolors.

High quality gouache uses heavy pigment loads to achieve its opacity. More inexpensive gouache will have opacifiers added to help give the paint its opacity. Some pigments are naturally more transparent than others, so an added opacifier is not always an indication of a lesser quality paint.

what is gouache? It is made of lots of pigment, a binder and sometimes an opacifier. Gouache is heavily pigmented, water soluble, opaque, fast drying and matte.

So why all the fuss?

If watercolor is the well-mannered girl at the party wearing the headband and frilly ankle socks, then gouache is the girl that arrives by driving her motorcycle through the patio doors and into the middle of the living room.

Gouache is bold and vibrant. Its unique qualities require deliberate and intentional brushstrokes, and with it you have the freedom to paint light colors over dark with ease and completely obscure things you don’t like. Use it to paint striking graphic art or moody landscapes, and everything in between.

On a practical level, gouache requires no special supplies. It is water clean-up, even if you leave it on your brush or palette for days, and its not fussy about paper or brushes. And because it dries to a matte finish, it photographs and scans very well, making it a popular choice for illustrators.

So who is gouache for?

Well, everyone!

Really? Well OK, maybe not everyone. But its definitely easier to say who gouache is probably not for.

If you want to blend wet paint together into beautiful smooth gradients over large areas, gouache is going to give you a headache with its quick drying time. Try acrylics or oils instead.

If you want to layer with impunity, look at an acrylic gouache that wont re-activate when you work over the top.

If you want to paint on canvas or panel and leave your work unframed, you will want to research the extra steps needed to protect your work.

For everyone else, go get some gouache!