Experience the Joys of Gouache
"And what is gouache?" you might ask...>
Gouache is a water based paint similar to watercolor except it is opaque and matt in appearance. The difference is that gouache has a base of white pigment to create its opaque nature, and it is thick making it similar to oil paint in consistency. It can be mixed with water to make it like watercolor, or mixed to create very flat surfaces used in design and some types of paintings.
If you are interested in learning more - check out my Tuesday morning online class - Learn to Draw with Caroline where we are covering this subject and more.
History of Gouache
Gouache has a rich history dating back to the illuminated manuscripts of the 16th century where it was the perfect paint to create intricate patterns and flat areas. It came into its own as a medium for painters with Willam Turner in the early 19th century, then Impressionist painters such as Camille Pissarro. At the end of the 19th century it was popular with post impressionists such as Toulouse Lautrec who used it in his live night club drawings as well as Pierre Bonnard and his friend and Edouard Vuillard, both of whom often worked from photographs.
It continued to be used in the 20th century by by Picasso during his blue and cubist periods. Henri Matisse used the bright colors of gouache to paint large pieces of paper which he then used in his amazing cut-out paintings in the mid 20th century. Other painters using gouache were Egon Schiele and Marc Chagall.
Above from left, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse Laucrec
From the left, Egon Schiele, Henri Matisse and Camille Pissarro.
Gouache was also used in some of the paintings for the wonderful National Parks posters due to its ability to create flat surfaces as well as textured.
Artist Quality Gouache paint brands
The brand I am most familiar with and have used a lot is Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, not to be confused with the much less expensive Winsor & Newton Gouache . I am joined in believing it is the best professional brand by a 2023 reviewer Sarah Bush who did extensive testing of all the major brands and published her findings in her newsletter called The Fearless Brush.
After Winsor & Newton, M. Graham come 2nd followed by Shinhan Professional Designer Gouache, Holbein and Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache in that order.
Student Quality Gouache Brands
For years I used and recommended Reeves, a UK based art supplies company. But their line of excellent gouache paints are no longer available through Amazon in the US . However you can order in the UK and order from them directly. Go to www.MyReeves.com
The above reviewer recommended Meeden (24 color) and Arteza in that order but others came in much lower such as HIMI and Caran d"Ache. You can purchase Meeden and Arteza on Amazon but I recommend Meeden as it's a great deal at under $20 for 24 colors.
I have and do currently use HIMI which is Chinese, very inexpensive and I find covers quite well. It comes in plastic cups and it is easy to use once you know how. You have to remove the top of each cup which cannot be reused. So spray with a water spray before you close the box to keep the paint moist. I am using it myself as it does work and is under $20.
Once you know how to use it, I do find this is a decent beginners brand although not a patch on designer/professional brands.
I recommend that you use a good stiff brush and I purchase acrylic brushes as watercolor brushes are far too soft. I like using flat brushes and large flat for my large flat areas.
Palettes and Paper
This gouache painting was done in January 2024 on white bristol paper (11x14).
This was the first gouache I did after a long absence (last was 2-18 before I began painting with acrylic and then oils)l
But I always loved gouache and so I came back to it and to do so had to pick up my old paints and open my old palette.
I use a very inexpensive folding white plastic palette with small pans down the side and at the bottom where you can squeeze the paint and then mix it on the white palette surfaces. Works great. I found that, after all that time, I could still reconstitute the paint with bright colors. Here is a link to Blick who still in this
You do not need to clean out the pans before closing, but you may want to clean off the palette surface. Use a light water spray before closing your palette - just a little bit - and then when you open you can easily reconstitute the gouache with a little more water. If you are using this method, I do recommend you have a small knife to remove paint from the small buckets and then clean it off. That way the color remains "clean".
'You need a smooth surface, so Bristol is a clear winner or any illustration board. I used Bristol in the above painting and with many other gouache paintings. But there are other choices to explore.
Hot Press watercolor paper is smooth and works well but super expensive.
A heavy grade mixed media paper also works well, but make sure it is at least 90 lb or heavier.
You can also purchase excellent bound painting books made of thick mixed media paper that lays flat when you open the book. These are great for painting smaller paintings.
I personally love using black heavy duty paper that is at least 100 lb, Best is back illustration board or bristol paper.
This particular recent gouache painting was done on black mixed media paper, 180 lb from Strathmore - 11x14 from Amazon, I was very happy with the result.
I also like painting on the grey and sand tinted mixed media paper, again selecting a heavy grade.
You can also find other colors in your local art store and try them out, but make sure they are heavy enough and check with the store personnel before spending lots of money.
I love painting with gouache on canvas board. NOT stretched canvas as it will crack. But board works just great.
I used board for this gouache painting called Tobogganing - 12x15.
Heavy duty cardboard
I love using the back of old drawing pads for gouache painting. This small painting was done on this substrate from a drawing of two people meeting at the cafe at SF MOMA. I called it SF MOMA Body Language. It was painted back in 2017 or 18 and is still a favorite of mine.
So don't throw away your cardboard backers as you may want to use them!
If you would like to learn more, we recommend looking at our online classes and workshops. Currently we are offering classes in painting with gouache on Tuesdays online, and will continue using this material through February 2024 but check our website calendar for more options.
Start with very simple shapes and forms and master mixing and using the medium before investing in high quality paper or materials,.
We also do recommend you look through the many gouache tutorials on YouTube. One that is excellent by British artist Paul Clark. It covers three different ways you can use gouache - as watercolor, as oil paint or as designer flat surfaces. Check it out!
And be sure to post any comments or tips of your own!!!
Happy gouache drawing and painting!