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gouache painting

Gouache Painting: Everything You Need to Know

Gouache painting is a popular medium that uses opaque watercolours to make brilliant colours. Its versatility, ease of use, and compatibility with various surfaces make it a preferred choice among artists. Whether you're a beginner or a professional, learning gouache painting is an essential skill for producing striking artwork.

What is Gouache? 

Gouache painting is created by mixing ground pigment with a binder like gum arabic and water to create a watercolour-like texture. The name "gouache" is derived from the Italian word guazzo," which means mud or watercolour.

Define gouache painting and how it differs from watercolour

One of the main differences between gouache and watercolour is opacity. Gouache is opaque, while watercolour is transparent. This allows gouache to be layered on top of other colours to create a more solid, bold colour, while watercolour is transparent and allows underlying layers to show through.

History of gouache painting

Gouache painting has a rich history that traces back to ancient Egypt and the Middle Ages. However, it gained popularity during the Renaissance period, when renowned artists like Albrecht Dürer and William Hogarth used it for detailed illustrations. In the 18th century, gouache painting was highly favoured among French fashion illustrators. Today, gouache is widely appreciated and utilised by artists of all genres and levels, ranging from hobbyists to fine artists, designers, and illustrators.

Benefits of Gouache Painting

Gouache painting is a unique medium that offers several benefits to artists. Gouache is a water-based paint that is composed of pigment, water, and a binder, typically gum arabic. Here are some of the unique benefits of using gouache in painting:

  1. Gouache provides vibrant and opaque colours: Gouache paints have a high pigment concentration, which makes the colours appear more vibrant and opaque than watercolour paints. This makes it an ideal medium for creating bold and bright artwork.
  2. Gouache is versatile: Gouache can be used on a variety of surfaces, such as paper, cardboard, canvas, and illustration board. 
  3. Gouache allows for layering: gouache is an opaque medium, which means that artists can layer colours without worrying about the colours bleeding through. This allows for greater control and precision when creating artwork.
  4. Gouache is easy to manipulate: Gouache paints can be easily manipulated with water, allowing artists to create a range of effects, from thin washes to thick impasto.
  5. Gouache dries quickly: Unlike oil paints, gouache dries quickly, allowing artists to work faster and make corrections more easily.
  6. Gouache paints are easily cleaned up with soap and water due to their water-soluble nature.

Compared to other types of paint, gouache has some distinct differences:

  1. Gouache is more opaque than watercolour: Watercolor is a transparent medium, while gouache is an opaque medium.
  2. Gouache is less shiny than acrylic: acrylic paint dries to a glossy finish, while gouache dries to a matte finish.
  3. Gouache is less durable than oil paint: Oil paint has a longer drying time and is more durable than gouache.
  4. Gouache is a superior painting medium to oil paint because it has quick drying abilities and can be cleaned up effortlessly using water.

In summary, gouache painting offers unique benefits to artists, including vibrant colours, versatility, layering capabilities, ease of manipulation and clean up, and quick drying time. While it differs from other types of paint in opacity, shininess, durability, and ease of use, it remains a popular choice for artists due to its versatility and vibrant colour range.

Gouache Painting Techniques

painting techniques

Gouache is a versatile and vibrant medium that can be used to create a wide range of effects. Here are some of the most popular gouache painting techniques:

  1. Layering: Layering thin coats of paint on top of each other is a great way to achieve depth and realism, making it an ideal technique for detailed paintings.

Step-by-step instructions: Starting with your lightest colour, apply a thin layer of paint to your paper. Let it dry completely before adding another layer of the same or a different colour. Repeat this process until you have built up the desired level of depth and detail.

Example: Layering is particularly effective for creating realistic landscapes. Start by applying a light wash of blue for the sky, then gradually build up layers of green and brown for trees and foliage.

  1. Glazing: Glazing involves applying a thin layer of paint over an existing layer of paint. This technique creates a translucent effect and can be used to create a range of colours and hues.

Step-by-step instructions: Apply a base layer of paint and let it dry completely. Then, mix a small amount of a contrasting colour with water or medium to create a translucent glaze. Apply this glaze over the base layer of paint, taking care not to overdo it. Let it dry completely before adding additional layers, if desired.

Example: Glazing is particularly useful for creating a glossy effect on objects like fruits and flowers. Start with a base layer of colour, then glaze over it with a slightly darker, translucent hue to create a rich, almost lifelike appearance.

  1. Drybrush: Drybrush is a painting technique that involves using a dry brush to create subtle textures and tonal variations.

Step-by-step instructions: To create a textured effect, load up your brush with paint, remove most of it with a paper towel or cloth, and lightly drag the brush over the paper.

Overall, these techniques can help create some amazing effects with gouache painting. Explore and experiment with each technique to see what works best for your style.

Gouache Painting Materials 

painting materials

When preparing to paint with gouache, it's important to choose the right materials. Here are some things to consider when selecting gouache painting materials:

  1. Types of gouache paints:

  • Artist grade gouache
    This type of gouache is made with high-quality pigments and a higher ratio of gum arabic to pigment. It produces vivid, opaque colours that won't fade over time. Artist grade gouache is also more expensive than student grade gouache.

  • Student grade gouache:
    This type of gouache is made with lower-quality pigments and less gum arabic. It can produce vibrant colours, but they may be less opaque and fade over time.

  1. Brushes:

When it comes to brushes, it's important to select a brush that works well with gouache. Here are some recommendations:

  • Round brushes
    Round brushes are versatile and can create a range of brushstrokes, from fine lines to broad washes. They are great for creating detailed work, such as lettering or small illustrations.

  • Filbert Brushes
    Filbert brushes have a rounded tip and a flat edge, making them ideal for creating soft edges and blending colours.

  • Flat brushes
    Flat brushes are ideal for creating broad washes and laying down large areas of colour.
  1. Paper:

When selecting paper for gouache painting, look for heavyweight paper that can handle the wetness of the paint. Here are some recommendations:

  • Watercolour paper: Watercolour paper is ideal for gouache painting as it is designed to absorb the water in the paint. Choose heavyweight paper to prevent the paper from buckling or warping.
  • Mixed media paper: Mixed media paper is also a good option for gouache painting. It is designed to handle wet media, including gouache, watercolour, and acrylic paints.
  1. Additional materials:

Here are some other materials that you may need for gouache painting:

  • Palette: A palette is necessary for mixing and diluting the paints.
  • Water jar: A jar of water is needed to rinse brushes between colours and to dilute paint.
  • Masking fluid: Masking fluid is helpful for creating areas that resist paint and can be useful in creating detailed work.

Overall, choosing the right materials is essential for successful gouache painting. With the right tools, artists can achieve beautiful results with this versatile medium.

Gouache vs. Watercolour

wtercoloir vs gouache

Gouache and watercolour are both water-based painting mediums, but they have some distinct differences in terms of texture, finish, and overall look. Here is a comparison of gouache vs. watercolour:



  • Dries to a matte finish
  • Can be more opaque than watercolour
  • Colours blend well and can be layered
  • Can be used on various surfaces, including canvas, paper, and board.
  • Good for creating fine details and textures


  • Needs to be applied thickly for good coverage.
  • Can dry out quickly when exposed to air
  • Can crack or peel off when painted on a surface that is too stiff.
  • Can be more expensive than watercolour



  • Dries to a transparent finish.
  • Easy to blend and create smooth gradients
  • Colours can be layered to create depth and dimension
  • Can be used on various surfaces, including paper, canvas, and board.
  • Requires less paint to create vibrant colours.


  • Can be difficult to control and may bleed outside of the desired areas.
  • May require multiple layers to achieve full coverage.
  • May be difficult to create fine details and textures.
  • Can be affected by humidity and water, which can cause colours to appear lighter or darker.

Overall, both gouache and watercolour have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. Artists often choose one over the other depending on the desired effect they want to achieve in their work. For example, gouache is great for creating detailed work and adding strong, opaque colours to a piece, while watercolour is perfect for creating transparent washes and soft transitions between colours.

Tips for Gouache Painting Success 

Gouache painting can be a bit tricky to get started with, but with some tips and tricks, beginners can find success with this unique medium. Here are some tips for gouache painting success:

  1. Work from light to dark: Start with light colours and gradually add darker colours as needed. This allows you to build up depth and detail in your painting without overdoing it.
  2. Keep a wet brush: Keep a jar of water nearby to rinse your brush often. Gouache can dry out quickly, so keeping your brush wet helps the paint flow more smoothly and makes it easier to blend colours.
  3. Use thick layers of paint: Gouache can look flat and dull if applied too thinly. Use thick layers of paint to create texture and depth in your painting.
  4. Experiment with different brushes: Different brushes can create different effects in gouache painting. Experiment with flat, round, and filbert brushes to find the right brush for your painting style.
  5. Mix colours carefully: Gouache colours can be mixed together to create new colours. However, it's important to mix colours carefully, as adding too much of one colour can overpower the others.
  6. Don't be afraid to make mistakes: If you make a mistake while using gouache, don't worry. Allow the paint to dry, then apply a new layer over it to start again.

Now, let's take a look at some common mistakes to avoid when painting with gouache:

  1. Not using enough paint: Gouache needs to be applied in thick layers to achieve the desired opacity and texture. Applying the paint too thinly can result in a flat and uninteresting painting.
  2. Using the wrong paper: Gouache can warp and buckle thin or lightweight paper. It's important to use high-quality, heavy paper designed for wet media.
  3. Not cleaning brushes properly: Gouache can dry out quickly, so it's important to clean your brushes thoroughly and store them properly to avoid damaging them.
  4. Overworking the paint: Gouache can be manipulated when wet, but once it dries, it can become brittle and crack. Overworking the paint can cause the colours to lose their vibrancy and depth.

By following these tips for gouache painting success and avoiding common mistakes, beginners can create beautiful and vibrant works of art with this unique and versatile medium.  


In conclusion, gouache painting is a versatile medium that offers a range of benefits to both beginners and experienced artists. With its vibrant colours, matte finishes, and ability to be layered and manipulated, gouache is perfect for creating detailed and textured works of art. By using the right materials, experimenting with different techniques, and following the tips and tricks outlined above, beginners can create beautiful, professional-looking paintings with gouache. So if you're looking for a new art medium to try, why not give gouache a chance? You might be surprised by what you can create.

Additional Readings
Acrylic Painting for Beginners: Step-by-Step Guide  

Gouache Painting FAQs

Q: What is gouache painting?

A: Gouache painting is a water-based medium that uses opaque pigments to create vibrant colours. It dries to a matte finish and can be layered and blended to create texture and depth in artwork.

Q: What are the differences between gouache and other painting mediums?

A: Gouache differs from other painting mediums such as watercolour and acrylic because of its opacity and ability to layer on top of itself. It's closer in texture to acrylic paint but dries to a matte finish.

Q: How should I prepare my painting surface for gouache?

A: Use a heavyweight paper designed for wet media or prime canvas or board surfaces to give it more teeth. This will give your gouache paint a better surface to adhere to and prevent warping or buckling.

Q: What colours do I need to start a gouache painting?

A: Start with the primary colours (red, yellow, and blue) and add black and white to create a basic colour palette when starting with gouache painting.

Q: What brushes are best for gouache painting?

A: Round, filbert, and flat brushes are all great for gouache painting. Choose a size based on the scale of your painting and the details you want to create.

Q: How should I store and care for my gouache paints?

A: Store your gouache paints in a cool, dry place with the caps tightly screwed on to prevent drying out. Wipe the rim of the tube before capping to prevent paint from drying on the cap.

Q: How do I create a mixed gouache palette?

A: Begin with a neutral colour, like grey or brown, and gradually add small amounts of primary colours to generate a variety of shades.

Q: What are some techniques for using gouache in my artwork?

A: Gouache techniques include layering, glazing, and dry brushing. Experiment with these techniques to create texture and depth in your paintings.

Q: How can I blend colours effectively when painting with gouache?

A: To blend colours in gouache painting, use a damp brush and blend the colours while they are still wet. Alternatively, you can layer the colours on top of each other to create new colours.

Q: How can I use gouache to create texture in my paintings?

A: Gouache can be used to create texture in paintings by using thick layers of paint, dry brushing, or adding texture additives to the paint. Experiment with these techniques to create unique effects in your artwork.

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