When most people in the United States refer to watercolor they typically are referring to Aquarelle watercolors that are naturally transparent. Gouache is a water based paint that differs from Aquarelle watercolors in that gouache contains fine chalk dust. The chalk dust makes the gouache capable of painting opaque passages in addition to transparent. I grew up in Europe and my primary medium was oil on canvas. There is a strong tradition of gouache painting in Europe, especially among painters who are primarily oil painters, and generally there is little distinction made between Aquarelle and gouache. In fact many of the painters that are listed under watercolor in the history books freely added gouache to their paintings. When I returned to the United States and tried to enter a watercolor society I was vilified for adulterating Aquarelle watercolors with gouache. I found this baffling as many of the artists that the people attacking me held up as the best watercolor painters in history freely used gouache. This was evident to me from having observed their original paintings, seen their paint boxes and supply lists in museums and in some cases from their writings about painting. Later I was privileged to be the subject of an article by Michael Woodward in American Artist’s Annual edition Watercolor ’88 in which Michael described my use of gouache. Fast forward to the present and some of the same artists who attacked my use of gouache in the 1970s are teaching workshops on how to use gouache. I am greatly relieved to see the acceptance of gouache as it really expands the palette and allows for a freer more painterly approach. Do not misunderstand though the use of Aquarelle paints only is not to be looked down on. It can produce incredibly artistic and beautiful paintings and I have used that for some subjects myself. Among the paintings I admire the most are several that were painted in transparent Aquarelle colors exclusively and to great effect. To me they are a great tool in the paint box and like glazing techniques in oil are capable of creating masterpieces without relying on any other technique or medium. I simply generally paint subjects I feel are best rendered with a mixture of transparent and opaque or translucent passages. i personally often start with Aquarellle watercolors and add gouache as needed for opacity. I use the same brushes and watercolor paper for either technique. Watercolor and gouache are both capable of incredible detail and rendering of subtle strokes. You are doing yourself a disservice to use cheap brushes. Buy Winsor and Newton series 7 brushes and buy fewer brushes if you have to economize. Consider starting with a water color block where the paper is glued down. Eventually you will want to switch to stretching your own paper on a drawing board.

Winsor and Newton gouache starter set

A cheaper but still excellent starter set

Winsor and Newton series 7 brushes set

Fabriano Watercolor block

 

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