Watercolor vs. Gouache
Gouache & Watercolor 101
Gouache seems to generate a good helping of confusion. There's the name, pronounced "gwash," with its unfriendly spelling. And then there's the eternal question "What really is the difference between watercolor and gouache?" I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard it come up.
Let's get started with the demystification.
By far the easiest and fastest way to answer the question (but not nearly the most comprehensive) is that gouache is just an opaque form of watercolor.
Most people know from tinkering with watercolor in kindergarten that it is a transparent and thin paint. Watercolor allows the artist to apply thin washes, or layers of color, building a surface of color one layer at a time. Gouache, on the other hand, can come in a small tube or as a pan (like watercolor), can be thinned (like watercolor) but even when it is thinned has a different characteristic to it. The opacity of gouache grants you certain things that watercolor won't, and vise versa.
Watercolor vs. Gouache
What is your painting preference?
Components of Paint
Before we get any further into distinguishing properties of watercolor and gouache, let's look a little bit at what they both actually consist of.
Watercolor consists of three main ingredients:
Pigment: These can be synthetic or organic
Binder: Gum arabic is used to suspend the pigment and to affix it to the paper
Other additives: Can be honey or other preservatives to achieve optimum flow and durability
Ingredients in gouache:
Pigment: Can be natural or synthetic
Binder: Gum arabic
Other additives: Honey, often has chalk added
You may be surprised to learn that when you get right down to it, the ingredients in watercolor and gouache are almost identical. What really differentiates them is that the particles of pigment in gouache are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and chalk is often added to increase opacity. Higher quality gouache (Winsor & Newton, Holbein, M. Graham) do not include added chalk.
Combining the Mediums
Using Either/Or, or Both
But what does this mean when you are actually using them?!
...Your creative mind might be wondering.
The possibilities of watercolor and gouache are extensive. Let's look at some reasons why you would choose one over the other. Keep in mind that although gouache can be watered down to appear more transparent, it will not granulate (appear mottled or speckled) like watercolor and will dry to a more matte finish.
With watercolor you can:
- Achieve luminous areas of color with many transparent washes
- Keep a pencil or (waterproof) pen drawing underneath the paint
- Play with color by layering and glazing
- Do quick field sketches
Gouache, on the other hand, allows:
- Greater ability to cover up mistakes, due to the opacity of the paint
- Effective covering of large spaces if you trying to get a flat area of color
- Great outlining and lettering
- Painting on toned paper
- An almost dusty, matte finish
Try using both similar projects to find out which you prefer. They can often be used interchangeably, together and layered on top of each other to achieve truly unique effects.
Final Words & Fun Tips
Both mediums can take extensive practice to master.
Some fun ways practice with gouache include using toned paper, making a color wheel, adjusting the amount of water you thin with to find optimum consistency (some find the consistency difficult to adjust to), and painting light over dark. It is also great for highlighting watercolor paintings.
Start out experimenting with gouache and watercolor separately to see how they behave and then move to combining them. You might be surprised with what you can do!