Gouache Vs Watercolor: Which Should You Consider Working In?
Gouache vs watercolor? Are these mediums the same or just close cousins?
Now I’ll be honest; I’ve got more experience with the latter than the former but whenever I was poring over an “art book” naturally I wanted to find out more about gouache…The trickiest part has been spelling it correctly LOL 🙂
The word gouache is French in origin and pronounced very much like it sounds (“gwash”) It also comes from the Italian word “gouazzo” which translates into “mud” – but don’t worry; it’s not like you may be picturing!
The effects can be great! But let’s look at the different qualities of both these mediums first.
Gouache versus watercolor: What are the similarities?
The supplies you’ll need for watercolors are pretty similar to what you’ll need for gouaches. First off, they are both water-based paints, and as such used on similar substrates, like cotton fiber paper. The paints of both these mediums can merge with the substrate as well.
They can be re-moistened in the middle of a project as well, and both gouaches and watercolors dry with a matte finish.
The paints’ makeup is pretty closely matched in composition too, with that of pigments, binders, and glycerin. Not surprisingly, watercolors and gouaches can sometimes be mixed together since their composition is so alike in ways.
Last of all these two mediums share a pretty long history dating back quite awhile. Not surprisingly, many of my favorite artists whose specialized in watercolor also had a good gouache lineup as well.
The packaging in aluminum tubes is another particular. You can buy both of them this way in a set or color-by-color.
Biggest difference between gouache and watercolor paints?
Well, it a nutshell, the main difference in gouache and watercolor is that the former is of an opaque appearance and application. Watercolors are known for their translucence allowing the artist a wide range of application styles involving sponges, “dry brush”, wet-on-wet, among many others.
There are less fillers present which gives the paint its translucent quality. In fact, the term “opaque watercolors” is one given to gouache paints.
One thing I remembered learning to do is using masking fluid – a technique by watercolorists to create these pure white spaces within their projects. It’s difficult to hide or change a brushstroke error as the paper grabs it quickly by its highly absorbent nature. You’d peel off the dry masking fluid areas to reveal a pristine white area upon completion.
Application of Gouache versus Watercolor
Both mediums are water soluble, but the results can vary. Watercolors will spread out on a dime which is good to create luminous effects and fine details– one reason it is a great medium for subjects that require delicacy like floral art. (e.g Chinese floral painting) You can create transparent washes with gouache, but they will not spread out as much. They will dry quickly.
Light to dark, or dark to light transitions are more easily done in gouache. This makes it good for building up layers, as you can with professional acrylics. Also, I want to point out that if you’re ever seen a set of both mediums up close, white is unheard of with watercolors.
The way they flow when in use, it is important to use masking fluid over areas that need to remain white indefinitely. With a set of gouaches you will find white and you can apply it when working with layers.
Do not use glazes over watercolor paintings. Most watercolor art I’ve seen is framed and preserved under glass.
Watercolors sometimes come in “cake” form too; very similar to those little box thingys you may have grown up with, but the “professional grade” type have more square shaped cakes.
The binding formula differs a little…watercolors contain gum arabic and gouaches contain titanium dioxide which produces its opacity.
In some ways watercolors present more challenges than acrylics and oils, so it’s a whole different ball game, learning the techniques. I strongly urge you to consider both of these mediums. I kind of think that gouache is under-represented at times but you might just surprise yourself!
Middle Photo Attribution: Image Courtesy of Awayukin