What You Need to Know About Acrylic Gouache Before You Try It

 The pandemic era has given many of us a chance to play around with things we’ve been interested in doing but never had time to before. For many people, this may have meant delving into the world of art or perhaps even renewing your professional artistic endeavors. 

When you dipped your toes into your preferred medium or explored it more profoundly, you undoubtedly came across a type of paint called acrylic gouache. Similar to traditional gouache, this paint is, as you may guess, acrylic-based, not water-based. 

So what’s the big deal with that? Well, we happen to think that acrylic gouache is worth the time and attention of hobbyists and fine artists alike. It offers rich pigmentation and ultra-smooth texture, among many other benefits.

We’ll get to all those ahead! This guide will teach you everything you need to know about acrylic gouache so you can get started on your next masterpiece using this superb paint medium.

What is Traditional Gouache?

Gouache is a non-permanent, water-based paint that contains large pigment particles. Once dry, this paint is easy to reactivate if you want to make touch ups and changes. Similar to its watercolor paint counterpart, you must mix traditional gouache with water before spreading it across a surface or canvas. 

You’ve probably seen traditional gouache as the art technique of choice on children’s posters, book covers, and other professional illustrations. It has a higher opacity than conventional watercolors, so it makes deeper shades that allow illustrators to grab a reader’s attention.

A Little History Behind Gouache Art

The term “gouache” only goes back as far as the 18th century, but the medium itself has been around much longer than that. 

Artists like Hans Holbein the Younger, who was one of the greatest portraitists of his time, was a true gouache enthusiast. Holbein created some of his best Renaissance masterpieces using gouache paints. 

His artistic style is known for having a matte finish and vivid colors. You’ve probably seen a lot of Renaissance paintings with dark backgrounds and vibrant subjects. That is the classic Renaissance-era painting look that gouache helped achieve.

The Impressionist school revived gouache paintings, intrigued by the fact that though the Renaissance artworks were more than 1,000 years old, each piece was still vivid. And though gouache has different material components today, it still creates paintings that are intense and animated.

Making Gouache

Making Gouache

Gouache is a mix of simple and complicated. Its binder is a middle-ground between the oil-based and water-based binders. 

Traditional gouache is a perfect mix of the best of both oil and water-based paints. It dries quickly, like watercolors, but it’s opaque like oil because of its chalk component. It can be reactivated with more water if you want to make changes after it’s dry. And its oil content means that colors will come across with more depth.

Traditional gouache consists of pigment, water, and gum arabic or yellow dextrin. The drawback to this medium is that it tends to become brittle when dry, something that is not an issue with acrylic gouache.

Artists who want something similar to watercolor with a heavier and denser look often rely on traditional gouache. It lets the painter create different layering effects and build up colors; hence, its popularity with children’s posters and books. 

Can Acrylic Gouache Replace Your Gouache?

If you typically use traditional gouache but are starting to become more and more curious about acrylic gouache, we absolutely recommend you try it.

Many artists use traditional gouache and love how it is like a thicker, more pronounced watercolor paint. But acrylic gouache has a lot going for it, too.

This does not mean you have to replace your trad gouache with a complete set of acrylic gouache. In fact, as we will see, they can wonderfully complement one another. 

What is Acrylic Gouache?

Acrylic gouache is a unique form of traditional gouache. Also called acryla gouache, the paint is opaque to provide more coverage. But the addition of an acrylic binder turns it from water-soluble to waterproof. This is the feature that attracts artists who love to layer and use vivid colors in their artwork.

This matte acrylic paint comprises an acrylic polymer emulsion instead of gum arabic. The result is a hybrid between watercolor and acrylic, which gives you the best of both worlds!

Unlike traditional gouache, you don’t need to add water. Artists can use the paint straight from the tube or bottle. However, you can add water as a way to make it slightly more translucent if that’s your goal.

Acrylic gouache offers more flexibility than its traditional counterpart. You can overpaint in layers without worrying about smearing. As long as the layer is dry, you are free to add more paint. While it’s still wet, though, it has the traits of watercolors. You can adjust, fix, remove, and reapply as needed.

Another bonus is that acrylic gouache adheres to almost any surface. The final, dried look is almost velvety but still brilliant and bright. 

Acrylic Gouache Drying Time

Artists can use watercolors and traditional gouache over and over, even after they’ve dried up in your palette. This is not the case with acrylic gouache. And if you are entirely new to this painting medium, it will naturally take time to learn exactly how much paint to use without wasting it.

Acrylic gouache paints have intense pigmentation, so it doesn’t take a lot to get a vibrant finished look. As you paint, use small dabs on your palette to avoid having any dry up too fast.

Typically, this type of paint dries in 20-30 minutes no matter what surface you use. This is especially beneficial when you’re trying to layer, and you need the paint to dry on your canvas quickly. It’s not so great when you’re trying to use paint on your palette that has already solidified.

Regular gouache dries in 10-30 minutes as soon as the water evaporates. But since it’s water-soluble, you can reactivate it. You don’t have the layering effect, the more profound color variations, or the ability to use the paint on multiple surfaces, though.

Many artists use both traditional and acrylic gouache in one project, starting with acrylic gouache as the base and layering with traditional gouache on top. Since acrylic gouache is permanent and traditional is not, the drying time is not so intense when you layer the two types.

What Surfaces Are Best for Acrylic Gouache?

Surfaces for Gouache

When you use acrylic gouache, your surface options open up to a much broader range than with traditional water media.

Because it has an acrylic binding agent, it acts like traditional gouache but becomes water-resistant when it’s dry. Depending on the way you’re mixing your mediums or the final look, different surfaces work best.

Many artists mix their acrylic gouache paint with mediums like light or flexible modeling paste or string gel. It’s also quite common to see acrylic gouache used with a pouring medium to create pour art or other fluid pieces.

Typical canvas, watercolor paper, and acrylic paper surfaces work fine for your acrylic painting. But you can also enhance your creativity by using wood, fabric, or glass as your surface. Try more than one for a beautiful mixed media project!

These materials are often considered unusable for most art projects. But because the colors are so pigmented, and the paint dries fast, they are perfect for acrylic gouache projects.

Acrylic Gouache Techniques

Certain projects are perfect for acrylic gouache paint. Artists prize it for its lightfastness or permeance. It also boasts a permanent, matte finish and resistance to showing brush strokes, so is a favorite especially for professional artists and designers.

Some of our favorites acrylic gouache project ideas include:

  • Collage/mixed media
  • Solid color blocking
  • Layering
  • Illustration
  • Fine art painting
  • Design

Acrylic gouache is a superb paint choice if you’re planning on any of the above activities. It is easy to build out a painting using acrylic gouache, developing a uniform, fluid, lightfast, superbly pigmented, non-cracking, and lasting image. And what artist doesn’t want that type of finish?

Things to Remember When Using Acrylic Gouache

Although acrylic gouache is simple to use and versatile, we have some warnings for you to keep in mind while you’re experimenting. These are especially important to read if you traditionally use watercolors. Those old habits could make a mess of your project!

Here are some acrylic gouache tips for all artists to keep in mind:

Don’t Choose a Color When it is Wet

All gouache changes its value when dry. Darks will lighten somewhat, while lights will darken slightly. When you add a layer, it will reactivate any prior layers that aren’t completely dry. It’s not like traditional gouache, but, as with any paint, if it’s not fully dry, you may not be able to build on it until it is.

Speaking of colors, many of the most popular paint brands, from Turner to Liquitex, carry a full spectrum of gouache paint hues. Stock your artist’s work kit with mixing whites, pastels, metallics, pearlescents, and classic colors so you are ready for any project that catches your fancy.

Think About Primer

Use a primer that has a sealed surface to reduce the paint’s absorbency. Acrylic gouache doesn’t dry as quickly as traditional gouache, but it does dry fast. To slow down this drying time, try dabbing your palette with a damp paper towel.

Not All Acrylic Gouache Paints are the Same

If you’re mixing brands, you’re not going to get the same look. Consistency is key with acrylic gouache, so stick to your preferred brand and it will pay off in your finished work.

And remember: cheaper brands often use fillers instead of true pigments. When you purchase your art supplies, before you checkout, make sure they’re quality products. Cheaper is rarely better when it comes to fine art materials!

Stick With Simple Palettes

Acrylic gouache boosts your choices and gives you a much more vibrant painting than other water mediums. And you don’t need a lot of colors to make an impact, as the result is always a solid color, like ultramarine or burnt sienna. With this type of paint, go with the “less is more” theory.

With these common mistakes out of the way, your first experiments with acrylic gouache should go much more smoothly! 

Of course, there is always a trial-and-error component when learning any new art technique. But most artists quickly fell in love with acrylic gouache because of its ease of use and finished look.

Conclusion

As you begin your new experience learning how to paint with acrylic gouache, remember that you're going to make mistakes. It's okay! Every masterpiece artist started somewhere.

Your finished project could end up on display more than 1,000 years from now as a reminder of how well acrylic gouache paint keeps its brilliance! When you use high-quality products, your overall piece looks even better.

Practice and play around, but don’t give up. These tips will help you as you learn the right balance to perfect your gouache technique. 

When you’re ready to give gouache a go, checkout Rileystreet’s gouache paint selection. We carry Designers’ Gouache by Holbein and Winsor & Newton, and so much more. Don’t forget to grab Liquitex Ultra Matte Fluid Medium to help your gouache flow.