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What is Gouache?

Gouache (gwash – rhymes with squash), also called opaque watercolor, is paint that is heavier than traditional transparent watercolors.  Its use is centuries old.  From the Italian “guazzo”, meaning “water paint”, it appears to go back some 800 years, used originally to illuminate manuscripts.  Early European painters used it as an outdoor sketching medium, and it was used extensively during the golden age of magazine illustration because of its fast-drying characteristics.  It continues to be used today by artists and designers in the film industry.  It was used only rarely for finished paintings, and declined in popularity for many years, but in recent years there has been a resurgence in interest.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. shine arora permalink
    June 27, 2011 3:26 am

    hey ralph…. i loved ur wrk… its totally amazin… im seriously in luv wid ol ov em!…. hi m shine a young artist 4m india… jus wntd to knw sumthin…. i hvnt tried gouache painting before, so i hv no clue about what material to be used… i wntd to knw wot paper do u use for it? is it a handmade sheet or cartridge? and cn it be done with the normal artist camel water colours? plz kindly help me…. waiting fo a rply! :)

    • June 27, 2011 10:19 am

      Shine, any watercolor paper would work. Cartridge paper would buckle too much, I think. And yes, you could start out using watercolor brushes.

  2. shine arora permalink
    June 28, 2011 2:36 am

    thnx alot… would get back to u soon… thumbs up!

  3. March 21, 2013 5:39 pm

    I love painting in Gouache and have done a number of paintings of boats, landscape, flowers, and buildings over the years. I like the way that I can paint light on top of dark, and achieve different textural effects. The only drawback perhaps is the way that the paint within the tubes dries up, if not used regularly.

    • April 7, 2013 8:15 am

      Sylvia, you must go a long time between uses. I’ve had caps dry on the tubes, but never had the paint dry in the tubes.

  4. Lolo permalink
    August 6, 2013 7:33 am

    Hi ralph very happy to found ur website i bought this type of color as trainee before start to paint witb iil paintaing the question is can use my oil &acrilic brushes for those type ..thanx alot

    • August 9, 2013 9:42 pm

      Lolo, yes you can, but I wouldn’t. Gouache has a tendency to wear brushes down. Buy some cheap student brushes and experiment with it before using more expensive brushes.

      • Lolo permalink
        August 10, 2013 5:01 am

        Thank u cery much for ur replying ..yes thats wthat i did …special thanx ralph

  5. August 20, 2013 7:30 pm

    hey Ralph, wandered in here looking at Ohio barns..i started painting with just straight watercolor paint, no water..would that be like gouache?..do you thin down gouache at all?…

    • August 21, 2013 6:49 pm

      Tim, read my Painting With Gouache section. I use gouache in all kinds of consistencies, but I do use water, even if it’s just a tiny bit at times.

  6. August 24, 2013 9:20 pm

    what a great read…seems almost how i have been using watercolor..just a tad of water and make a paste..but i dab it on. mostly..and i get to the “dont screw it up ” stage… enjoyed the setup,seems to afford to getting at the painting quick…i like the sof6 edges you get..

  7. September 28, 2014 3:37 pm

    According to the French Wikipedia, “guazzo” means mud or muddy water in old italian.

  8. September 28, 2014 3:40 pm

    I have searched right now “gouache” in italian and it seems that they use the word “guazzo” for “gouache”

  9. September 28, 2014 3:49 pm

    Me again: according to German Wiki they call the gouache “Leimfarbe”. But in my opinion, the Italian Wiki and the German Wiki make a certain mistake: the use of some whitish addition to the mixture of pigment and gum arabic. Winsor & Newton website says that there is no need for the use of any addition of other elements except a little glicerine to avoid too fast drying in the tube -Bruce McEvoy, Handprint.com.

  10. September 28, 2014 3:55 pm

    Correction: “Leimfarbe” means any paint made with glue, but in Germany it seems they use “gouache” also. Beg you to forgive me.

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