Getting to Know Gouache

What is Gouache? How do you pronounce it? Can you make your own?

Gouache painting of a sunset with red and orange sky purple clouds over a dark landscape
Red Sky Sunset, 5"x7" gouache on cold-press watercolor paper. This was one of several gouache sunsets I paintied recently.

Gouache is opaque watercolor, meaning it's watercolor paint that you can layer as you would oil or acrylic. Like other water-based media, you only need water to thin your paint or clean your brushes. Like oil and acrylics you can paint dark to light and add highlights with lighter shades of paint rather than relying on the white of the paper for your lightest lights As you would with watercolor. It dries very quickly, which can take getting used to if you’re an oil painter, but, unlike acrylics, it can be rewetted to soften edges or rework a section which maybe one of the reaasons more and more oil painters are turning to gouache for studies. I can create a looser look just by going in with a damp (not soaking) brush and softening and moving the paint around.

As for pronouncing it go here for the American pronunciation, and,for spelling it, all I can say is, it just takes practice. It's probably taken me two years to type it without checking Google.

If you’ve been eyeing gouache at the art store or online may find that gouache paint brands don't include the range of colors that you find with tubed watercolor, though. This was disappointing to me at first, but then I started researching if I could turn some of my unusual DS watercoIors into gouache, and I have discovered a simple solution! Go here to learn how to cheaply turn some of your watercolor paints into gouache With a cheap and easy recipe.

Gouahe painting studio set up with a wet palette, sealed palette. Sunset painting underpainting.
Use what you have. I used watercolor paper I already owned, a make-shift wet palette, and made some of my own paints. I also used cheap craft store brushes. As I practice and learn, I'll start to add supplies to my studio.

A new medium or technique always makes me feel like a kindergartner, and I’ve quit in frustration several times over the last two year, but last week I decided to get serious about learning to paint in gouache. After I did a few master studies of French Impressionist paintings, I set down to create some original work. I decided on sunsets. Sunsets are a favorite subject of mine and one I practiced many times, so I felt more confident using a new medium. If you're also new to gouache, I suggest an easy subject so you can focus on learning the properties of this medium rather than struggling with subject and materials. I was happy with the results and with each one I felt freer and more confident. I loved that it both dried quickly and I could go back and soften. Kinda the best of water based and oil based mediums. I did blow through a lot of paint, perhaps because I'm used to using a lot of paint in oils, but my tube of white was gone in a week! Ha!

Cloud filled sky at sunset gouache painting. Landscape painting
Cloud-Strewn Sky, 5"x 7", gouache on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

Painterly clouds in a sunset landscape using gouache paint
At Day's End, 5"x 7", gouache on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

These sunsets as well as several more will be available, signed,and matted in my shop Friday, July 2 at 5:00 pm EST, so please check back or follow me on social media for updates.

Sunset Over Virginia Fields, 5"x7", gouache on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

After a week or so of practice, I'm convinced that gouache is a paint medium worth continuing to explore. I'm definitely hooked! I'll continue to share how I'm learning to paint with it and any tips you might find useful. Comment below if you paint in gouache and share your experience, or let us know if you're planning to get strated.