What is Gouache? A tutorial by Roz Stendahl




At Sketchbook Skool, you’ll hear a lot about gouache (pronounced gwash), but what exactly is it? Gouche is opaque watercolor paint. It’s a wonderful medium, but it can be a little tricky, so we asked Roz Stendahl, this week’s teacher in our Beginning klass, to give you some pro tips on working with gouache. Above, watch her conversation with Sketchbook Skool co-founder Danny Gregory, and below, you’ll find a gouche cheat sheet. To learn even more ways to get creative, check out our klasses here.

Here are Roz’s notes for you.

To recap: gouache is an opaque watercolor. It uses the same medium as watercolor: Gum Arabic. Traditional gouache always remains water-soluble.

There are some acrylic products now labeled “acrylagouache.” These paints use acrylic polymers as medium to suspend the pigments and they mimic the “flat” look of gouache. They’re usually water resistant.

Different manufacturers make gouche in various formulations. Some use a lot of additives to give the paint opacity. That also imparts a chalkiness to the paint and can create a muddiness to your color mixes. Some use inferior, fugitive pigments that fade quickly or seep and migrate to different layers of your painting. Works with these paints were made to be shot quickly for reproduction, and then tossed.

I use Schmincke Horadam Gouache and M. Graham Gouache because they rely only on grinding the pigment more coarsely than their watercolors to get opacity; they don’t add opacifiers. This has the wonderful side effect of allowing them to rewet really well, so I can put them in pans and easily take them into the field.

Additionally, I can use them in a diluted fashion like watercolors. They create translucent passages that are a little more beefy than watercolor, and often more visible pigment.

I recommend people stay away from DaVinci gouache. I used them in 2013 for my 2014 fake journal for International Fake Journal Month and they never really dried fully, and were always tacky. There’s even worse news: it created problems for journaling I’ve never experienced with my favorite gouache brands in the same conditions. You can read about it all in my review on my International Fake Journal Blog.

It’s fun to work with gouache over prepainted backgrounds. Note that for backgrounds I’m going to paint over, I use a waterproof or resistant medium. If you are going to sketch in dry media or pen, you can lay in a background of gouache and it makes an excellent surface to work on. It’s particularly fun to work with color pencils on a background of gouache. In these examples, however, waterproof paints went down before I added the gouache.

I like that you can use gouache as watercolor or more opaquely, so it’s like two paints in one.If you already have watercolor brushes, there’s no reason you can’t start working with gouache today to see if it speaks to you and takes your art in a direction you would like to go. Start with just the three primaries and a tube of white gouache, and you’ll get a sense of what works or doesn’t.

If you’re confused about the white paints and not sure which to use, check out my blog post “Which White Gouache?”

Commit to using gouache exclusively for a week. Give it a solid chance to work its way into your affections. You can do so many techniques with this paint that its versatility will increase your own versatility. It’s going to be fun!

Check out the great work of Thomas Paquette.

Watch James Gurney do a plein air Gouache painting.

3 mins

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