What is Gouache and How Does it Work?

Gouache painting by August Wren

In preparation for our live gouache workshop on April 4, Koosje shares her knowledge on the medium, how to use it, and why artists love it.

What is gouache?Gouache (pronounced goo-ash) is a French word that originates from the Italian “guazzo,” which literally means “water color.”It is a type of watercolor paint, to which a gum or an opaque white pigment is added, for the paint to become opaque. Most gouaches also have chalk added, to increase the opacity even more. (Remember using tempera or poster paint as a kid in art class? It has a similar consistency.)

How does it work? You can buy gouache in tubes and pans, just like watercolor. Like watercolor, you can water down gouache paint—but it still remains opaque and dries slightly matte. Paper doesn’t absorb gouache paint, like it does with watercolor. Gouache sits on the paper’s surface, in a thick and opaque layer. The finish of the paint looks like acrylic or oil. But you can’t use thick layers like you can with oil paint; the gouache will crack when it dries. 

When and how do you use it? Gouache paint is very popular with illustrators because of the brilliant and vibrant colors you can achieve; they’re lightfast, too. The opacity of gouache allows you to edit mistakes more easily. Dark areas can be painted over with lighter colors. And it’s quick-drying, like watercolor paint is. However, for location work, most artists prefer watercolor paint, as it’s easier to travel with.

Tubes or pans? Most gouache comes in tubes. My own experience is that gouache pan boxes don’t have great quality paint in them. But it’s hard work to activate the dry paint from the pan, as opposed to the ready-to-go thick paint from a tube. 

So… what should I buy?If you’re curious about gouache, don’t buy a big set. Just order a few tubes of primary colors online, and make sure you have some round brushes (2, 6, 8). Experiment with it! You can combine it with your watercolors too. Winsor & NewtonReevesRoyal Talens and Holbein are popular brands for gouache.If you need guidance, and want to hang out with other people from the community while you’re experimenting with your new paints, make sure to enroll in the Live Gouache Workshop, April 4, with August Wren—she’ll be able to answer all of your questions, live!

We have a limited amount of seats so don’t wait too long. They’re selling fast!