Gouache, or opaque watercolor, is a water-medium paint, like watercolor, that dries opaque, like acrylic or oil. It uses similar natural and inert pigment material, but its binder isn’t a natural oil like linseed, safflower, or walnut, but rather, traditionally, a thin resin called gum Arabic, though most use a synthetic chemical binder today.
Modern gouache dates to at least the 16th century, whenartists applied oil paint over tempera to achieve a matte finish. It was also used in the 18th century for adding details to pastel paintings.
JS Sargent, detail of Bedouins, 1905, watercolor and gouache
Some oil painters, following Monet, Turner, and John Singer Sargent, paint studies in gouache, because a small pad of paper and a tray of water-based paints are far more portable than a whole plein air set-up. There are, however, numerous contemporary artists who make it their primary medium.
One such artist is plein-air landscapist Mike Hernandez. Here, he shares seven of his gouache paintings along with inside info on his process.
Mike will be joining the faculty of Watercolor Live, a virtual art conference taking place January 26-28, 2023, with a Beginner’s Day on January 25.
Make Your Own Gouache!
DIY gouache – acquiring pure, powdered pigments and making your own paint – is not nearly as difficult as you might imagine. Traditional pigment manufacturer Natural Pigments has a comprehensive and free tutorial that covers all you need to know. Check it out here.