Gouache – use with watercolour

Gouache is an opaque form of watercolour. It is made from a pigment, binder and an inert filler. It dries to a flat matte finish and used to be loved by designers in the days before Photoshop and digital illustration.

watercolourists use white gouache to recapture small areas of white if they’ve been lost in the painting process, however there are many other uses which will really help add a new dimension to your paintings.


In this Venetian door sketch, gouache was used in three ways. The obvious use is for small highlights such as the door knob or the window bars. It was also used to add the chalky texture of the peeling plaster, by dry brushing. The play of transparent watercolour against opaque gouache is very interesting. This interplay seems to work particularly well in architectural and floral subjects.

The final use is to ‘veil’ the painting in places. By gently brushing a diluted wash of white gouache in places, it mists certain areas of the painting (here top left and bottom right). This refocuses the eye on the centre of interest. You need a light touch otherwise the under layers will be disturbed.  You might not be able to see where I’ve put it, we are talking one or two percent, but the unconscious impact is big!

Here’s a student piece. The ceiling added real atmosphere:


Take a look at the work of Australian artist, John Lovett, who is a master of this type of veil washing. He also uses gesso in the same way.


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