If watercolor had a cousin, it would be gouache.
Both gouache and watercolor are water-based paints consisting of the same elements. On the other hand, they have distinct features and produce unique aesthetics.
But since watercolor usually steals the spotlight, I have to ask: have you ever painted with gouache? If not, my take is that it definitely deserves a seat at the (craft) table!
I’ll explain why in this sweet and simple gouache vs watercolor guide for beginners and curious crafters. If you’re new to both mediums, check out our guide to watercolor for beginners.
Oh, and before I continue — it’s pronounced “gwaash”!
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Gouache vs watercolor: What to know
As much as I love watercolor, the truth is that it usually gets all the attention. But what about gouache?
This guide outlines what you need to know and why both paints are worth your precious time.
For more deets, scroll down for a side-by-side chart comparing both mediums!
In my opinion, gouache is an underrated medium; it’s kind of the underdog of paints!
But while it isn’t as popular as watercolor and acrylics or doesn’t have the artiste appeal of oil paints, I think it’s a fascinating medium.
Gouache comprises the same gum Arabic binder found in watercolor but contains a higher pigment load, making it opaque and dense.
This translates into bolder colors and flat, chalky finishes.
Gouache can be diluted with water, but it doesn’t present the same flowy consistency of watercolor. In fact, this is why it’s often confused with matte acrylic paint.
You can water down gouache to achieve more translucent outcomes, but one of the main features of gouache vs watercolor is that it doesn’t bleed!
On another note, a big plus in my book is that gouache is more versatile regarding surfaces. Contrary to watercolor, you can paint on a variety of paper, including mixed-media, watercolor, and sketchbook paper.
Fun fact: gouache paper is not a thing (just in case you’ve been looking!).
Colored paper is another fun option to explore with gouache since its opaque pigments remain visible. This isn’t something you can achieve with watercolor.
Gouache can also be used on canvas, although I only recommend this if you’re using this paint in its most opaque form. Canvases aren’t absorbent enough to support water-blended gouache.
Speaking of opacity, gouache is available in various consistencies, from thicker formulas to extra-fine paint. This will impact how you work through projects, so consider this when purchasing products.
There is also a distinct process for mixing and blending with gouache vs watercolor. For instance, instead of creating lighter hues by adding water, as is the case of watercolor, this is done by adding white paint.
You can also layer light colors on dark colors and vice versa with gouache, which isn’t really possible with watercolor due to its transparency.
However, adding too many thick layers of gouache can lead to cracking when dried. So remember this when shifting gears from watercolor to gouache!
Watercolor paint is easy to spot for its delicate, transparent finishes.
Like gouache, this paint is held together by gum Arabic, which enables pigments to disperse when in contact with water.
However, since it’s not as heavily pigmented as gouache, watercolor bleeds and blends more effortlessly (many times in ways you don’t want it to!).
This is why painting with watercolor is often considered more challenging to master. Achieving the ideal water: pigment ratio requires skill and practice!
But despite its challenges, painting with watercolors has many cool advantages. For example, you can revive dry pigment with a wet paintbrush, allowing you to edit your work during different stages!
Gouache, on the other hand, is less forgiving when it comes to making changes. While possible, you’ll need a good understanding of how this opaque paint performs to achieve clean, streak-free finishes.
Remember, the whole premise of watercolor is that it needs to be wet; therefore, paper must be absorbent.
If you’re a watercolor beginner, note that this paint dries quickly, so you’ll need to practice working swiftly when experimenting with blending techniques and effects.
Lastly, note that watercolors aren’t lightfast. If exposed to direct sunlight for long periods, paint will begin to fade. I get that this is a bit of a bummer if you enjoy displaying your work.
Luckily, there are workarounds! A popular solution is to spray watercolor varnish on your art to make it last longer.
Gouache vs watercolor: Top features compared
Review the main features of gouache vs watercolor in this side-by-side comparison chart!
|Binders/formula||Water-based/gum Arabic binder||Water-based/gum Arabic binder|
|Finish||Opaque, chalky, matte||Translucid/transparent|
|Paint variations||Tubes, pans||Watercolor sets, watercolor pans, watercolor markers, tubes, watercolor pencils|
|Drying times||Up to 30 minutes||Under 10-15 minutes|
|Lightfastness||Can be more lightfast vs watercolor if opting for high-quality gouache||Not very UV resistant. Prone to fading over time|
|Surfaces||Watercolor paper, mixed-media paper, canvas, cardstock||Watercolor sketchbooks and watercolor blocks|
|Cleaning/maintenance||Water should be enough, but soap can be used without damaging tools||Easily cleaned with water|
|Skill level||This is a beginner medium but requires specific skills, like incorporating white paint to alter colors/add vibrancy||Suitable for all ages and skill sets, although acquiring technique can be more challenging|
|Cost||Generally more expensive than watercolor||Available for different values. Easy to find generic and pro-grade sets for different prices|
Remember that you don’t have to choose gouache over watercolor or vice versa.
This shouldn’t be a “The Beatles or The Stones” scenario!
(I happen to adore both. OK, maybe The Beatles a little more).
Ultimately, there are plenty of projects you can explore to incorporate both mediums, so get painting and see where your creativity takes you!
That’s it for this beginner’s guide to gouache vs watercolor. Which of these mediums do you prefer? Feel free to drop questions or suggestions in the comments below.