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Is it acrylic or is it gouache?
A while ago at one of my classes, someone asked me “What is acrylic gouache?”. Maybe you’re equally uncertain, or perhaps you’ve never heard of it. So today we’re discovering what it is and what it does.
Firstly, we need to understand what we mean by gouache (pronounced goo-ash, and also known as Designer’s Colour). It’s simply an opaque form of watercolour. Watercolour itself is a transparent medium; gouache is the same watercolour pigments mixed with chalk, or another additive, to obtain an opaque colour.
Gouache lends itself to flat colour. It has a smooth, matt, velvety finish, and is applied in thin layers. Thick applications of paint are liable to crack, which is certainly a disadvantage of the medium.
Like watercolour, it’s water-soluble. It is not waterproof, so when dry it can be reconstituted with water. That’s great if you want to make changes, but less good if the underlying layer is disturbed when you apply a second layer.
So how does a watercolour-type paint fit with acrylic? I think the name is actually quite misleading, as acrylic gouache is not gouache. It’s just a variant of acrylic paint. It’s called gouache simply because it was created to mimic the velvety appearance of traditional gouache, without having the disadvantages.
As with other types of acrylic, there’s a wide range of colours available, and the price point is similar to Heavy or Soft Body colour. Some brands include fluorescent, metallic and pearlescent colours in their ranges, making it suitable for numerous effects and styles of work. Lightfastness is usually classed as Good or Excellent.
You can check out the variety of brands and colours here.
Being acrylic it has all the advantages of acrylic: intense colour, waterproof when dry, and intermixable with other acrylic paints and mediums. The waterproof quality is great, because you can lay one colour over another without fear of the underlying one shifting. That could be one acrylic gouache layer over another, or a matt surface of acrylic gouache with contrasting lustres or textures applied over the top.
The intermixable quality also allows colours to be matched, as long as you’re using the same brand. So you can use the matt acrylic gouache, liquid acrylic ink and a fine acrylic spray all on the same painting, safe in the knowledge that your colours will match.
Left: Heavy Body Acrylic. Right: Acrylic Gouache.
The consistency of Heavy Body acrylic is akin to soft butter. It holds its shape, even when tilted on a steep angle. This paint is great when you want to be able to see texture and brushstrokes.
Acrylic Gouache’s consistency is that of thick cream, as you can see from the drip that’s forming when the support is tilted. Apply the paint in thin, smooth layers and brushstrokes are barely visible.
Another advantage of acrylic gouache is that it doesn’t need to be diluted. The consistency is designed for smooth and easy application, without the need to dilute the colour. I particularly like using paddle brushes to apply the paint.
Like other acrylics, acrylic gouache can be used on numerous surfaces: canvas, paper, wood, metal.
It works very well on a dark surface, as that enhances the brightness of the colours. Even yellow looks bright when covering a dark underlying colour, something that’s a challenge to achieve with other types of acrylic.
Use acrylic gouache:
- for areas of flat colour
- when you don’t want visible brushstrokes
- when you need strongly opaque colour
- when you need matt colour to contrast with other lustres
- to mix with an opaque medium, in order to retain the opacity
There really isn’t much I dislike about my acrylic gouache paint. The main thought that comes to mind is that it’s less of a general purpose paint than either Heavy Body or Soft Body acrylics. Sometimes you want the option of transparent or translucent paint. But if you work in illustration, or a more graphic style where flat colour is desirable, I’d especially recommend it.
So what’s my overall verdict on my acrylic gouache? As I’m increasingly working with texture and lustre it’s not something I use every day. That said, when I need an opaque matt paint it’s absolutely perfect, so I’m very glad I’ve added it to my acrylics arsenal .