Gouache Paint: Why You Should Try It For Your Next Project

Hello and Happy Sunday everyone,

I just finished a painting for a friend of mine this weekend and I am inspired today to talk (write) about gouache paint, why it is amazing and why you should try it for your next project (as per the title).

Etymology: For my word lovers out there, gouache originated from the Latin word aquatio “watering, watering-place”, 19th century Italian word guazzo “watercolor”, and from the French painting method we now know as gouache “watercolors, water-color painting”. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

gouache paint 1
Image source: Amazon.com

What is gouache paint?

Gouache paint is a water-based paint that, unlike watercolor, is not transparent so the paper’s surface does not show through (Source: Tate.org). The paint dries to a matte finish and, because it is water-based, can completely dry out and be reactivated with water.

Gouache is different than popular acrylic paint in the way that acrylic paint is latex based paint, forming a plastic like surface when it dries that will not melt or reactivate with water. They are two completely different types of paint and working with one is a highly different experience than working with the other.


Working with gouache versus watercolor paint.


As mentioned above, gouache is opaque whereas watercolor is transparent. When working with gouache paint, any preliminary sketches on the painting surface will be painted over and will not show through once the paint dries. Gouache thickens as it dries and multiple layers can be applied on top of one another to create a 3d effect. When working with watercolor paint, the white of the painting surface as well as any sketches will show through the painting surface no matter how many layers are applied.

gouache vs watercolor 1
Image source: Youtube.com

This difference in transparency makes a finished watercolor painting appear lighter and more luminescent than the matte finish on gouache which gives final paintings a more sturdy rather than airy feel.


Working with gouache paint.

Layers are something that is a unique feature of gouache paint and are one of my favorite features of the paint itself. Not the fact that you can create layers, but rather how they work and interact with one another. When painting with gouache you could paint white over a black surface and, as long as the paint was dry enough to not activate the underlying layer, the white would be unaffected by the black surface below.

This is a feature not seen with acrylic and watercolor due to their transparency both before and after drying. If the paint is highly saturated with water, then the water will sink into the bottom layer of paint and the two layers will mix. In order to properly create a solid line or layer one needs to have the paint as dry as possible (but with enough moisture to spread evenly) and possibly paint over lines several times for them to stand out and be uninfluenced by the lower layer’s color.


Mixing water with the paint is another unique aspect of gouache. Once again, you can obviously do this with other paints, but with gouache the amount of water drastically alters the experience.

gouache paint 2
Image source: Creative Catalyst

With more water, the paint will thin out and very little can be spread over a large surface. Adding water to the painting itself, after everything is painted, can create a drip-like effect, swirls in the paint colors as the top and bottom layers interact with each other, or shift the overall color of the laterally hydrated paint completely. Working with the paint is the only way you can learn these nuances. 

Adding water to dry paint will reactivate it. Meaning that the paint can become completely dried out and, unlike acrylic paint, if you add water back to the paint it will once again become workable and ready to use again. I have found that this is particularly helpful for long projects or even long hours of painting. You do not have to lose specifically mixed colors or waste extra paint. This feature has proven to be both cost and time efficient.


Why I choose to work with gouache paint.

My personal history with this paint is simple. I was very into painting and had started with acrylic paint because it is common and an easy start other than watercolor. When I took my third or fourth art class in college, our teacher introduced us to gouache paint. I was absolutely fascinated by being able to reactivate the paint as well as the other ways it interacted with water.

Energy Tree.jpg
Image source: painting by E. Lexi Abbott titled “Energy Tree”

My style of painting usually involves literal water drips after a painting is done to give it a melting or misty effect. I love to splash water on the canvas and then mop it up with a dry rag to leave behind dots or to simply add water to the canvas and let it drip down. With acrylic the options are very limited due to the nature of the paint but with gouache there are so many more interesting interactions between the paint and water.

I have chosen to use gouache ever since. I love everything about it. The matte finish, the thickness once it is dried, the opacity creating the ability to rework your painting over and over with ease. Gouache paint is a wonderful paint and is something that everyone should try at some point during their painting journey.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more posts!


Additional sources:


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Published by E. Lexi Abbott

A free spirit and a wild soul. I am a writer who is seeking the inspiration found in the crannies and nooks of life. My goal is to combine the world in my head with the world around me one page at a time.

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