Can’t decide between painting with watercolor or acrylic? Instead of flipping a coin, consider another medium entirely: gouache!
This unique paint offers the best of both worlds: It can be applied thicker for a matte acrylic-like effect, or thinner for a more opaque version of watercolor. It’s easy to get started with, and gouache supplies are fairly minimal and easy to find.
Lemon study in gouache via Craftsy member Kolbjorn
If you’re interested in getting started with gouache, this post will guide you through the basic supplies you’ll need to get painting.
Must-have supplies for gouache painting
Painting with gouache doesn’t require a lot of expensive or specialized supplies or materials. However, because gouache is a unique type of paint, your supplies may be slightly different than if you were painting with acrylic or watercolor. Here’s a list of some supplies you may find helpful to have around, including an explanation why.
In case you’re confused about what gouache actually is, let’s take a moment to explore. Gouache is actually sometimes referred to as “opaque watercolor.” Like watercolor, gouache starts with a color pigment that’s combined with a binding agent like gum arabic.
But in gouache, the color pigment is added in a greater quantity, along with a solid white pigment. These key differences give gouache a heavier texture and higher level of opacity than translucent watercolor paint.
You can read more about the characteristics and benefits of using gouache in our post What is Gouache Paint? How to Use It.
Buying gouache paint
If you want to start simply or keep it cheap, just invest in tubes of the primary colors plus black and white.
For a slightly more abundant palette, start is with a six-, eight- or twelve-color beginner’s kit, which will have a good selection of basic colors that you’ll use frequently and might not want to re-mix over and over.
Personally, I use synthetic watercolor brushes for painting with gouache. The softer texture allows fluidity with the paint and the ability to create delicate detail. But feel free to experiment with different brush types. Winsor & Newton suggests natural hair brushes because they are more flexible.
Shape and size
I suggest beginning with round brushes — one smaller/finer and one larger — as well as a broad brush for painting larger areas or washes. That should be quite sufficient to start!
Caring for gouache brushes
Always carefully wash your brushes after painting with gouache, as the “ingredient” used to make it opaque (which can vary depending on the manufacturer) can damage brushes if it dries and sets.
A painting surface
Gouache is a versatile paint when it comes to painting surfaces. Watercolor paper, illustration board, thick drawing paper and bristol board are all ideal surfaces. As for canvas? Gouache doesn’t work quite as well as acrylic, but it can be done.
Like watercolor or acrylic, gouache is water-soluble. Water can be used to dilute and alter the fluidity of your gouache paint. You can add just a touch of water for a more highly opaque paint, or add more water for a more watercolor-like effect.
Small, airtight containers
Like acrylic paint, if you leave gouache paint on your palette, it will “set.” If you mix a color that you don’t want to have to re-mix later, be sure to store it in a small, airtight container.
Rags or paper towels are an invaluable part of any artist’s setup when painting with gouache. They can be used to dab excess paint from a surface, to dry your brush between dips in water, or to remove excess paint from your brush. Be sure to have plenty of clean rags or paper towels on hand for the myriad of small tasks they can help you complete without getting your clothes dirty.
A palette surface is vital for mixing gouache paint. Either disposable palettes, a palette purchased from an art supply store, or even a ceramic dinner plate will all work.
Since gouache is thicker than watercolor, which can be mixed directly on your palette, you might consider employing a small palette knife to mix colors. Mixing colors together with a palette knife preserves the texture of your brushes and makes mixing more efficient.
Other supplies to consider
While these aren’t strictly the basics, you may find these items handy to have around while painting with gouache.
Another type of paint
Since gouache works well with acrylic or watercolor, you might consider having one or both on hand. For instance, acrylic could be used on top of gouache to accent or make more opaque important details. Watercolor could be employed to add subtle translucent shadows and add dimension to your piece.
Pencil and eraser
Since gouache is more opaque than watercolor, it’s better able to cover up pencil marks if you do an under-sketch. A pencil and eraser might be helpful in laying out your composition before you paint in gouache
Pen and ink
Pen and ink can be used under or over gouache. Depending on the look you’re going for in your finished piece, a waterproof pen may help you add details to your work.
Discover the fundamentals you need to start painting with three water-based mediums that are easy to learn and a joy to paint with!