Watercolor and gouache are friends

Selene and Hecate

Watercolor and gouache are friends. They play nicely together.

Actually, gouache is a type of watercolor. You’ll hear some people refer to gouache as “opaque watercolor.” That’s because, that’s exactly what it is.

You’ll also hear purists who believe you should never use gouache. Or, use one or the other and not combine them.

I think purists are nuts. That comes down to pretty much everything. I don’t believe in rules, only suggestions.

Watercolor vs gouache

Yes, gouache is actually a type of watercolor. But to make it easier for me to explain, I’ll differentiate them and call them two separate things.

Regular watercolors are transparent. What does that mean? It means you can see through them. They do a terrible job at covering up whatever you painted over.

That’s actually a good thing if you want to layer. That’s how I get such lovely skin tones. I layer wet on wet seven times.

On the other hand, gouache is opaque. What does that mean? It means it covers up whatever you painted on. It does a terrible job of layering.

Which is better?

It totally depends on the application. Most of my paintings are 99% watercolor with 1% gouache. This painting however has more gouache than I generally use.

The fish, the white sparkles in Allie’s eyes, and the bubbles are gouache. Everything else is watercolor.

You see how I get them to play nicely together? The gouache also looks like it’s on top of the watercolor.

Whereas I use Daniel Smith and Windsor and Newton watercolors, I use the cheap ass gouache. That’s because I don’t use gouache enough to notice the difference between brands. The cheap ass stuff works fine for what I do.

When somewhere down the road I’ll start using more gouache, I’ll more than likely start buying the more highly recommended brands.

If you’re going to layer a lot, use more watercolor. For an application where you want to just paint it once and you want the color to behave exactly as you painted the first time, use more gouache.

Watercolor and Gouache both use the same surfaces

Both watercolor and gouache default to watercolor paper. A lot of folks swear by Arches paper. Myself included, but to be honest, most of the top papers are quite good. It’s just like Jimi Hendrix would still play a mean guitar as long as the guitar isn’t junk. Of course he’ll have his preferences.

The same goes for paper. I’ve combined watercolor and gouache on a lot of different papers and they play nicely together. I’ve even painted them both on wood.

For wood, gouache is even better than watercolor. One of these days, I’ll buy some high end gouache paints and do a straight up gouache painting on wood.

Until then, I can assure you that watercolor and gouache are friends. Use them each for their respective purposes, which generally comes down to how transparent vs how opaque you want to paint a particular part of your painting.

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