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What the gouache?! How to paint with it and a review of different brands.

When it comes to art supplies, I always have phases of what my favorite material is. I've been using watercolors for my sketch journals for years now. I have a major crush on colored pencils. I fell in love with alcohol markers last year. Now there's another one in town that stole my heart again. And it's called 'gouache'. So what is gouache? How to use (and pronounce) it and what are the best brands? I'll tell you in this blog - and give you a discount code at the end if you want to get some yourself!

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What the gouache?!

First of all, let's get this tongue twister out of the way. How do you pronounce 'gouache'? It sounds something like "gwash" or "goowash". Why the complicated letter combination? Gouache comes from the Italian word guazzo, which means a puddle or pool (of water for instance).

And that brings us to the question: what is gouache exactly? The simple way to describe it is that it's an opaque watercolor paint. Where watercolor is transparent, gouache is thicker and opaque - especially when you use little water with it. It's often a mixture of pigment, water and a binder (like Arabic gum).

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Gouache can be re-wetted after it has dried, so you can reactivate the paint. Once dried, gouache has a nice matte finish. If you're familiar with acrylic paint: acrylic has a more shiny finish and once it has dried, you can't rework the paint anymore.

Acryla gouache vs gouache?

If you've been looking around for gouache, you might also have come across the term 'Acrylic (or Acryla) gouache', most familiar from the brand Holbein. It's exactly what the name suggests: gouache and acrylic paint had a baby and called her Acryla Gouache. You can mix her with water and she dries up with a matte finish (like gouache), but once this baby is dry, you can't reactivate the paint anymore (like acrylic), making it easier to work in layers.

What paper should you use?

Since gouache is a water based paint, I find that watercolor- or mixed media paper works best with gouache.

How to paint with gouache?

Getting the right consistency might be a tricky thing when you just start using gouache. Although I feel there is no absolute "right or wrong" to this (your art, your preference!), it might be useful to try different things.

Using gouache straight out of the tube with a dry brush can create really interesting textures! Water it down, and it almost behaves like watercolor. And somewhere in the middle there's a really nice creamy consistency for laying down blocks of colors. I found this YouTube video quite helpful when I just started out. It explains the different stages of the consistency from 'tea' to 'butter'. Try all stages and see what works for you!

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Layer by layer

Just like watercolors, it's best to work in layers. Start with thinner layers (so use more water to dilute the paint), and add thicker layers on top.

As mentioned, you can reactivate gouache after it has dried, in your palette as well as on the paper. So if you have lots of gouache left on your palette once you're done painting, don't throw it away! Just go over it with a wet brush the next time you wanna paint and you're good to go again.

Although this characteristic is a plus, it can also be a challenge. When you add new layers to your painting, you might reactivate the layer underneath. Your old layer might start mixing with the new one and cause colors to get muddy in the process. It definitely still happens to me that I keep fiddling and overwork my paintings. But making mistakes really is the best way to get the hang of a new medium!

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Swatching is your bff

Y'all know I love my color swatches, but there's actually a use to this. Gouache colors dry up differently from how they look when you put them down at first. Dark colors tend to dry up lighter, and light colors dry up darker. So you might want to swatch the colors of your gouache set first. It’s also helpful to mix your colors with white and with black, to see what shades you get. And while painting I advise putting your mixed colors on some scrap paper first. Wait a little to see what they do, before you add them to your painting.

Let's compare the brands!

Now you know the basics, you might want to start painting. But which gouache to get? Of course there are lots and lots of brands out there. And since I've only recently started using gouache again, I can't give you an in depth comparison of ALL pros and cons yet. But I'll give you my first impressions of a few popular ones, so hopefully it helps you on your discovery journey!

Talens Gouache Extra Fine

The gouache from Royals Talens was the first one I bought and I'm still happy to use the tubes in my collection. This gouache uses good quality pigment, so most of the colors are light fast (meaning they hold their color over years and years). I think this gouache might get muddy a bit sooner when mixing than artist quality brands. But with € 3,95 per tube of 20 ml, it’s a good starting point if you wanna get into gouache!

I'm not sure why it's called "extra fine" by the way, it might be to differentiate from their hobby brand Talens Art Creation?

The biggest downside I experienced so far are the tubes. After not using them for a while the paint dries up a bit around the caps. It was hard to open them again without twisting the entire tube. It might be a sign for me to better clean the tubes before putting them away ;-).

Winsor & Newton designer gouache

The second gouache I started working with was by Winsor&Newton. I'm a fan of this brand and their designer gouache did not disappoint! It’s also lightfast, smooth to work with and I feel the colors are brighter or more pigmented than the Talens. I feel that this is definitely artist grade quality, where Talens is more student grade. The W&N gouache is great to work with, but also a bit more expensive with € 5,75 per 15 ml tube.

If you wanna get started with gouache, it might be a good idea to start with a starterset. It’s nice to dip your toe / brush in the water first without buying lots of colors. And it’s a great way to learn how to mix paint with just the primary colors!

PS I’ve also tried the student quality gouache of Winsor & Newton, but I honestly didn’t like it. It definitely felt like there was more binder than pigment in there. Which resulted in more transparant consistency, that didn’t cover the page too well.

A new baby in town: HIMI Jelly gouache

You might have seen this gouache already, featuring in numerous YouTube videos and Instagram Reels. The Miya HIMI Gouache. What makes this gouache so special?

Well, it’s mostly the look of the sets it comes in! Colorful boxes filled with cups instead of the tubes. Which apparently look like Jello Cups - hence the nickname Jelly gouache.

And now these candy boxes are finally available in The Netherlands. I was treated to a big (and heavy!) box with 24 colors of 80ml. Check out my satisfying unboxing video here. That’s a whole lot of gouache in one box and it’s not even the biggest set they have! There are also smaller sets available with cubes of 30ml, and sets of 18 colors*.

*I already had a set of 18 by the brand Arrtx. According to some info I read online it's the same manufacturer, just a different brand name.

How good is the HIMI gouache?

I must be honest: I didn’t expect this gouache to be that good, because of the low price. The smallest set is € 23,95, which is about € 1,33 per cup of 30ml. But I was really pleasantly surprised!

I feel this is student quality gouache, so it’s perfect for beginners as well as intermediate creatives. What I really like is that it allows me to play more, I don’t worry about wasting paint! Especially with the sets of 30ml cups which have a mixing palette with it. So all I have to do to get started is open the box and go! The bigger set has a filling in the lid, so no mixing palette, but I think it closes more air tight.

“But Nienke, doesn’t the paint dry out?”

Well, yes it does. But the thing is: it’s okay! Because you can reactivate gouache - even when it’s dry - you’re good to go again. You can find lots of YouTube videos on how to mix the HIMI gouache back into the right consistency with water ( I find this very satisfying to watch/do haha). I also know urban sketchers who make their own gouache palettes for using on the go, so working this way with gouache is not a problem!

Holbein Acryla gouache

Holbein Acryla Gouache is truly artist quality. It’s smooth, it’s vibrant and PACKED with pigment. Just a tiny bit of paint out of the cap was enough to make the swatches. I really love painting with this gouache, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Be aware of one thing. Holbein also has regular gouache, but the acryla gouache can’t be reactivated once it has dried! Therefore I use a so-called ‘stay wet palette’, which keeps the paint moist until even a few days later. You can also use a palette like this for acrylic paint by the way.

The only downside? Because of the price (starting from € 6,55 per 20ml), I’m more precious about the paint. But on the other hand: paint is for using, not for collecting (as Judith from Splendith reminded us recently ;-). So if I wanna make illustrations with the best possible paint, this is definitely my gouache of choice!

Daniel Smith Gouache

A new addition to this blog: Daniel Smith Extra Fine gouache. Just like Holbein this is a professional gouache packed with pigment. Unfortunately this does translate into the price. Ranging from about €10 up to €15 per 15 ml tube, it is the most expensive gouache in this blog. But you definitely need less paint to get a wonderful opaque result full of color, with excellent light fastness ratings to top it off. When mixing skin tones (using their primary mixing set) I only needed a super tiny bit of the colors to already have a full colored result. 

Daniel Smith gouache has a nice thick consistency - the Holbein Acryla Gouache is on the thinner side in comparison. This makes it easy to lay down the colors in one opaque stroke, whereas other cheaper brands sometimes need 2 or even more coats to cover the page.

Another upside is that the left-over gouache doesn’t flake or crumble after it has dried, something that often happens to other brands. So if you want to save your gouache in a palette to use again after a few days (or create a palette for on the go), this is a big plus! 

I hope you found this blog helpful and that it gave you some useful tips. Got any more questions? Let me know in the comments so everyone can read along and I’ll try to answer them for you!

PS. The code and links in this article are affiliate. Which means you really help me if you use these when you are going to purchase products. It won’t cost you anything extra and I earn a small percentage of the sale. Which allows me to write many more of these blogs :-). When you purchase new art supplies at BeCreativeShop, you also get a 5% discount when you use my code ‘NienkeVletter’ at check-out!

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