Friday, 19 November 2010

Getting back into gouache

I used to paint with gouache. In fact, my first painting box (that I still have) was a wooden box with a set of large Lefranc Bourgeois tubes of gouache that I won in a painting competition when I was eight. I am not sure why I stopped using gouache. I just did.

Here is the definition of “gouache” in the The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms

“Also called bodycolour, is watercolour which is opaque (as opposed to its more common transparent form). This opacity is achieved by the addition of white paint or pigment (such as Chinese white). Gouache was used in manuscript illumination and early watercolours (for example by Albrecht Dürer). It was also employed by miniature painters in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the watercolours of Paul Sandby (1731–1809), generally credited as the founder of the English watercolour school, were in gouache.”

Last summer, I read a good article on gouache in a French painting magazine and decided to buy a set of colours. I bought some Talens Extra Fine Quality gouache. I took a set of the primary colours, plus black and white:

  • White
  • Lemon yellow (primary)
  • Light Blue (Cyan) 
  • Permanent Rose (Magenta)
  • Black intenso
I completed this basic set with a few colours:

  • Naples Yellow
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Carmine
  • Cerulean Blue (Phthalo)
  • Ultramarine deep

I probably need to add a dark green to this selection.

When I started “The crimson cyclamen”, I put too much water in the paint and the paint did not cover properly my dark background. You can use gouache this way, and have washes of transparent colours, but it defeats the purpose to use it like watercolour. Once you get a good consistency, gouache is easy to work and gives a nice mat finish.

I had to get used again to the fact that gouaches dries quickly. You can do some blending on the painting support, but it is easier to mix on the palette.

To answer the question of why gouache is no very popular these days, I have some ideas: when people think gouache, they think school art classes. Designers, who used gouache a lot, have switched to digital media. Watercolour is more prestigious than gouache and, finally, the rise of acrylic painting made gouache redundant.

I still like this neglected medium that allows painting quickly with opaque layers of colours.


Rosalie said...

I have just started back in to gouache after now using it since art school. I used it for travel sketches on a trip away recently. I love the matte finish and the fresh colours. It reminds me of the freshness of tempera. It is difficult to get this with acrylic. Are your tubes big ones? I have only been only been able to buy small tubes whichc limits the size of the work I can paint

Starrpoint said...

Its nice to see other using this medium.

I keep getting asked why I don't use "real" watercolors, but I have always prefered gouache.

Liou said...


Benoit Philippe said...


The tubes I have are 0.7 fl.oz / 20 ml. So they are not that big and I agree with you it limits the size of the works.



freebird said...

I'm just starting to use it. It's better than acrylics in some ways for me because I live in a desert and it is so dry the humidity sometimes gets down to just 10-15%. Acrylics dry on the brush too easily and forget spreading them around on the paper or canvas. Gouache can be rewetted so I like it better so far.

Benoit Philippe said...


This is a very good point and useful if you are in a warm region and even during the summer here in England.