Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sunrise Over the River

Click Here to Bid (5x4in. - GOUACHE - starts at $50)

This is a view of the Clark Fork River, from above, at sunrise. And now, a bit about...

GOUACHE vs. OIL, my experience so far...

Keep in mind that my gouache paintings so far are mostly smaller than my oil paintings, and that I’ve been using gouache now only for a couple of months, vs, oil (20+ years). And of course that I do things my way, so your experience may be different.

Because gouache is new for me, it’s EXCITING! It has renewed my enthusiasm for art in general. I’ve learned things that I can take back to oil and experiment with. It’s made me realize that trying a new medium is a great way to get out of ruts!

The biggest benefit of gouache for me is that it DRIES FAST, so layering is much easier than with oil (alla prima). This works out well for me with landscape, because I don’t always know how I’m going to paint it until I’ve tried a few things. Gouache is a little more forgiving when it comes to “trying things.” With oil I feel like I have to plan a bit more and be more sure of where I'm going before I start.

Because gouache dries fast, the colors tend to be “CLEANER.” There’s no accidental mud making. When I make mud it’s on purpose.

Another benefit of gouache is that I can come back to a painting ANYTIME, and it’s like I was just working on it. With oil, if you come back later, there’s a lot to think about: fat over lean, is it dry enough or is it tacky still, etc.

My experience of gouache has been QUICK and FUN! I’ve easily done as many tossers as keepers. I’m happy to look at the tossers and think not, “Oh crap, look at all the bad paintings I did, and all that time I wasted,” but rather, “I enjoyed those, and I learned so much!”

Working small, combined with all these benefits, has forced me to think a lot about DESIGN and VARIETY. I feel a lot more confident about my landscapes now, and think I may start turning my small gouaches into larger oil paintings. In fact I may always use gouache as a starting point to try out ideas for larger work.

There are LOTS OF WAYS to use gouache. The easiest way to describe it is like an opaque watercolor. But you can thin it with a bunch of water, use it thick, or anything in between. You can paint in big solid areas, little brush strokes, or more of a dry brush with layers. And I’m still discovering more!

The CLEAN UP after gouache is quick and easy. And I don’t have any solvents or oily rags to deal with.

One CHALLENGE of gouache is that as the colors dry they usually end up a little different than when they were wet. This is more true of the lights and darks - lights dry darker and darks dry lighter. It’s very frustrating, until you get used to it. But for some reason this has helped me think about value more simply, which I think has helped my landscapes.

Another challenge of gouache is the EXPENSE of good paint (I use Holbein). BUT, the brushes are cheaper because they don’t wear out as fast as they do with oil. And the illustration board (which I can buy in big sheets and cut up into whatever sizes I want)  is much cheaper than the gessobord I use with oil.

An UNFORTUNATE thing about traditional gouache is that it is water soluble forever. So if I get even a drop of water on the finished piece it will change it. When I sell them I package them safely in a plastic “bag” (, and include a little explanation about being careful and framing behind glass. (I am experimenting with using a wax varnish ... no decision yet)

The one big thing that is much easier for me with oil is if I ever want to BLEND. This can make for some really interesting edges in particular. I’m still learning how to get a variety of edges with gouache.

All that said, I'm not advocating one over the other. I still like gouache mostly for landscape, and oil for my other subjects. I'm quite happy going back and forth between them. : )


Trisha said...

Thank you so very much for sharing your experience with gouache. I have been painting with oils also, but have wanted to try using gouache, but I wasn’t sure where to begin or what to expect. You answered many of my questions and I plan to take a leap of faith and experiment. I do have one question.....can you also paint on watercolor paper and if so, what kind is best?

Trisha said...

Thank you so much for your informative article on painting with gouache. I have also been painting with oils but have wanted to try gouache and was not sure where or how to begin. You did an excellent job of presenting the pros and cons and I’m going to take a leap of faith and try my hand at it. I do have one question though.....can you also paint on watercolor paper and if so, what type would be preferred?

Charles Grow said...

Thanks so much for your insight and inspiration. Semper Fi, Charlie

Steve Kobb said...

Acrylic gouache, casein, and Flash vinyl paint are also fun!

Carol Marine said...

Yes, you can absolutely paint on watercolor paper with gouache! The downside is that it curls, while illustration paper is so thick it stays flat. But if you tape down the watercolor paper it should be fine. I think which type depends on what you like. If you prefer a smooth surface, I recommend cold press. Hot press has more texture. : )