Gouache Paint Information
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Gouache (pronounced gwash) is both a technique and a product. The technique, dating back to before the renaissance, refers to the use of white to achieve opacity in water based colours. Originally used for illuminating manuscripts, it was Paul Sandby in the 18th century who first used the painting technique extensively and later the Pre-Raphaelites. Opaque techniques were further popularised by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, in their use of pastel, lithography and wood cuts.
Gouache, the product, was a result of this interest in both opaque and water based products. Poster colour appeared after the first world war and this was significantly improved upon with the introduction of Designers Opaque Water Colour in the 1930s.
The best gouache is not manufactured by adding white but by using an extremely high level of pigmentation. This leaves the artist free to add white themselves or colour mix as they’d expect in other media. Cheaper gouache colours are made opaque by the addition of white extenders and this will affect your colour mixing too.
Other types of gouache: as a result of this long history, gouache has in some cases become a general term, used for any product which is opaque and matt. This can be anything from children’s paints to acrylic ranges.
Traditional gouache is made from gum arabic. Gum arabic produces a flow which handles better than acrylic but it is not water resistant. Acrylic gouache is water resistant but does not having the expected handling properties.
Artists entering competitions should be aware that many organizers now restrict the use of gouache/watercolour mixes in entries.