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.

Mike Hernandez, The Trail to the Minarets”(8×10 in., gouache on illustration board)
Of “The Trail to the Minarets,” Mike says, “I painted this one using only a 1-inch flat brush. I like how this forces me to be more economical with my marks and helps me find more iconic shapes.”

Below find more of Mike’s gouache plein air work and with insights from the artist’s commentary on his process.

Mike Hernandez, “Celestial Pleins” (6×7 in., gouache on illustration board)


“This was the first in the beginning of a series of nocturnal paintings inspired by one of my favorite painters, Frank Tenney Johnson.”
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Mike Hernandez, “Sierra Serenity” (14×18 in., gouache on illustration board)


“I’ve painted this location many times; it is a personal favorite. The lighting was inspired by Albert Bierstadt.”



“Desert Sleepwalker” (6×16 in., gouache on watercolor block)


“This is another from the nocturne series painted on watercolor paper. This was my first time embracing the full benefits of a water-based medium on watercolor paper using the wet-on-wet technique.”


Mike Hernandez, “Sleeping Shadows in the Eastern Sierra” (5×8 in., gouache on bristol paper)’
“This was painted on bristol paper provided by Cottonwood Arts. I was very surprised by how well the paper held up with heavy paint.”


Mike Hernandez, “Towsley Canyon” (5×8 in., gouache on bristol paper)
“Another one painted on bristol paper using a limited palette of Primary White, Katsuya Blue, Cad Yellow, Burnt Umber, and Alizarine Crimson.”


Mike Hernandez, “Iceberg Lake” (16×20 in., gouache on illustration board)
“One of the largest paintings that I have done using gouache. Because of the size, I stuck with a 3-inch and 1-inch flat brush.”


One of the great realists’ art blogs out there, Gurney Journey, has a terrific little roundup of some astonishing work in gouache, from the illustration and commercial art world the 20th century to American tonalism and 19th century European realism. Check it out!

Study with Mike Hernandez – save years of struggle and frustration by discovering techniques revealed by the world’s top watercolor artists in just three days at Watercolor Live, the world’s largest online art training event January 26-28, 2023 with Beginner’s Day on January 25. Learn more and register here!

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.