Introduction to gouache

Gouache, also known as body colour, tempera, or opaque watercolour, contains opacifiers such as chalk or an abundance of pigment, so that it appears opaque. Some painters will use it alongside watercolour, while others use it as a medium in its own right. Gouache is popular with commercial artists worldwide because it can be overpainted and corrected due to its opacity, yet it still has many qualities of watercolour. It has been used consistently for posters, illustrations, comics, and other design work. Like watercolour, it is bound with gum arabic which is re-soluble in water, and it dries to a matt finish. It is also possible to create transparent washes with some colours of artist gouache just by diluting it with more water. 

Acrylic gouache is the name given to an acrylic paint that looks like traditional gouache because it is very matt and opaque, but because it is acrylic it dries waterproof, whereas traditional gouache is watercolour so doesn't dry waterproof. Acrylic gouache is a creamy paint used in fine arts whenever a totally flat, opaque surface is required, and as a poster paint in graphic design and illustration.

What do I need to start painting with gouache?

With paper, paints, and brushes, you have enough to begin painting in gouache. Simply add a jar of water and away you go! However there are also some other supplies you could invest in:

A selection or set of gouache paints in tubes, pots or solid pans




Jar of water

Useful tools:


Masking fluid


Board and gumstrip (for stretching paper)

An ideal palette to begin with could include Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, French Ultramarine, Raw Umber, Viridian, Yellow Ochre, and Permanent White. These colours can be mixed and thinned with water to create transparent colours, or can be mixed with white to create opaque tints.

What are the main properties of gouache?

Gouache differs from watercolour in that the pigment particles are typically larger, the ratio of pigment to binder is higher, and the paint may contain an additional filler such as chalk. The best quality gouache paints contain a very high proportion of pigment, and the density of the paint creates an opaque effect. This means the colours are pure and intense, and the covering power varies according to the pigment. The less expensive gouache ranges (such as student quality), contain an additional inert white pigment or chalk to impart smoothness and opacity.

What is permanence?
Permanence, or lightfastness, refers to the stability of a pigment when exposed to prolonged periods of ultraviolet light, found in natural sunlight. It is measured using the Blue Wool Scale in the UK, and ASTM in America. Permanence takes into consideration the effects of other elements on the stability and appearance of pigments, including humidity, light, heat, water, acidity, alkali levels etc. The permanence of a paint will be indicated on the label using a rating system determined by the manufacturer and explained in the manufacturer’s colour chart or on their website.

Gouache paints are sometimes labelled as ‘Designers Gouache’, which refers to the medium’s popularity with commercial artists who require bright colours. Although a vast range of colours are available, some brilliant colours are fugitive - which means the pigment is not classified as lightfast and will fade over time. Generally, the work of designers is of a temporary nature because the work will be reproduced for advertising or similar; the permanence is of lesser importance, and this is why some manufacturers such as Winsor & Newton include these fugitive colours in their ranges. If lightfastness is of great importance to you and your work, always read the manufacturer’s colour chart to make sure the pigments you choose are less prone to fading.

What’s the difference between Artists’ and Designers’ gouache?

Gouache colour in tubes tends to be labelled as either Artists’ or Designers’ Gouache. As mentioned above, with designers’ gouache, lightfastness is not of great importance because the work tends to be recreated using commercial printing techniques. This means that designers’ gouache ranges often contain colours based on fugitive pigments or dyes. For example, in the Winsor & Newton designers' gouache range, some of the most vivid pinks and violets are prone to fading when exposed to daylight.

Artists’ gouache ranges provide relatively permanent colours, as the paint has been made with permanent artworks in mind. Even so, it is recommended to read the colour chart before choosing paints so that you can determine the permanence of the colours. For example the permanence of a colour is described by Winsor & Newton using the ratings AA, A, B, and C, where AA means extremely permanent or lightfast, and C means fugitive or prone to fading.

What’s the difference between acrylic, traditional gouache, and acrylic gouache?

Traditional acrylics are quick-drying, water-mixable and vary in opacity depending on pigment (about half of the colours are transparent) and they usually have a satin finish and they dry waterproof.
Traditional gouache is opaque, matt watercolour – so like watercolour it is re-soluble, not water-resistant.
Acrylic Gouache has characteristics of both traditional acrylic and gouache. It is opaque and matt, quick-drying, water-mixable and water-resistant once dry. The opacity means it has excellent coverage, the acrylic binder means it is waterproof when dry, so you can overpaint without smearing and the matte finish gives a velvety surface. Like acrylic, it also sticks to many surfaces with great adhesion. It is called gouache because it has a similar look and coverage to traditional gouache, but it is different because it is waterproof after it is dry and traditional gouache is not.

Turner Acrylic Gouache is a professional quality acrylic gouache with a wide range of 219 colours, making it ideal for illustrative painting and design work. Made in Japan to the highest specifications using ultra-fine pigments, the colours spread out smoothly, allowing wide areas to be covered uniformly with a beautiful opaque matt finish. They are quick drying and water-mixable, yet water-resistant once dry. Multiple layers can be over-painted with no bleeding or streaking, they also offer reliable adhesion to a wide variety of surfaces including metal, glass, plastic, and wood.

Other manufacturers of acrylic gouache include Holbein, Lascaux, Liquitex, and AV.

What mediums can I use with traditional gouache?

It’s possible to use watercolour mediums with gouache if the gouache is used in a similar way to watercolour (i.e. thinned with plenty of water). Just as using watercolour mediums can help you control how watercolour paint behaves, it is possible to use mediums to control gouache in the same way - to add texture, improve flow, make it easier to lift colour, and alter the drying time.

Gum arabic
Gum arabic is used to bind pigment in watercolour and gouache manufacturing processes. It is made of hardened sap extracted from two species of the Acacia tree. Gum arabic dissolves very easily in water and is used as the binder in both watercolour and gouache because it effectively binds the pigment to the paper surface once the water has evaporated. It allows for more precise control over watercolour and gouache washes as it limits the amount of flow and/or bleed of the colour. Gum arabic also slows the evaporation rate of water, which means that it keeps your watercolour and gouache wet for longer, allowing for longer working times. Once water has evaporated from the watercolour or gouache, the colour’s luminosity and transparency, as well as permanence, is enhanced by the gum arabic. 

Gum arabic is sold separately for those who wish to try making their own gouache paints by combining it with dry pigment, and it can also be used as a medium to mix in with pre-made colour, to to increase transparency and gloss.

Sennelier Gouache Binding Medium
Sennelier Gouache Binding Medium provides a matt, opaque paint that can later be reworked with water if desired. This medium is a ready-to-use product made from natural gum, glycerin, water, and a preservative. If the resulting paste is too thick, it can be thinned with small quantities of water without modifying the paint's opacity or matte finish. 

Masking Fluid
Watch our How to Apply Masking Fluid video on YouTube.

Masking fluid is a liquid latex-based product that is very effective at keeping small areas and thin lines white when painting with gouache on watercolour paper. Once dry, applied masking fluid will prevent the paint from reaching the paper and can be peeled off to expose the white paper once the painting is fully dry. The areas where masking is most useful are small white areas or lines within a large even wash of colour, like sailboat rigging against the sky, where you don’t want to paint around areas and interrupt a smooth wash.

The masking fluid can be applied in many ways, almost any tool will work. If you need splattered white dots you can flick the masking fluid from an old toothbrush. You could use a brush, a ruling pen, a dental pick, a Colourshaper applicator or a special Masquepen or Super Nib which is a needle that gives extremely fine lines. The Super Nib comes with an empty squeezy plastic bottle, which you can fill with water, attach the nib to, and then squeeze the water through in order to rinse the nib. The sooner you do this after using the Super Nib, the easier the cleaning process will be.

If you're using a brush for applying masking fluid, it is advisable to allocate an inexpensive brush to this purpose, as it is very easy for masking fluid to dry and become ingrained in the brush hairs. One trick to make it easier to clean your brush is to wet the brush thoroughly and wipe the hairs over a bar of soap or dip it into washing up liquid, making sure that the hairs are thoroughly coated right up to the ferrule before using it to apply the masking fluid. Wash the brush thoroughly immediately after use.

Once dry, applied masking fluid will prevent the paint from reaching the paper and can be peeled off to expose the white paper once the painting is fully dry. Masking fluid is available clear or tinted, so you can see where you have painted it.

Schmincke Aqua Gloss
Schmincke Aqua Gloss remains watersoluble, and can be applied on to dry watercolour or gouache to enhance its gloss, or mixed in with wet watercolour as a medium. It also slows the drying time. It is advised not to mix aqua gloss in a watercolour pan as it may affect the paint for future use.

Winsor & Newton Iridescent Mediums
Aqua Shine and Iridescent Medium are both pearlescent watercolour mediums that add a shimmer effect to your colours. Both Aqua Shine and Iridescent Medium retard drying and stay watersoluble.

Ox Gall
Ox Gall used in watercolour and gouache paint is made of the gall from cows mixed with alcohol. It is a wetting agent that increases the flow of the paint across the paper, by decreasing the surface tension of the water so it doesn’t bead up. It is added to many watercolour and gouache paints. You can also buy it separately and add it to your paint. Some paints do not contain a wetting agent because they want a more controllable paint. Some paints use a synthetic ox gall to avoid animal products. You can purchase it separately to add to your paints.

Winsor & Newton Blending Medium
Winsor & Newton Blending Medium slows the drying time of watercolours/gouache which enables a longer amount of time for blending. Winsor and Newton Blending Medium is therefore particularly useful when painting in a hot climate.

For Experimental Gouache Techniques:

Schmincke Aqua Collage
Schmincke Aqua Collage is formulated for artists who wish to use watercolour or gouache in mixed media works. Aqua Collage dries water-resistant. It is an adhesive that can be applied on its own (in which case it will dry clear and invisible), or it can be tinted with watercolour or gouache. You may wish to use it to glue photos or coloured paper to your watercolour paper, and then work over the top once dry. When dry aqua collage can be painted over without resisting the paint in the way that PVA glue might.

Schmincke Aqua Effect Spray
Schmincke’s Aqua Effect Spray is for the very experimental watercolour/gouache painter! Spray into wet watercolour/gouache work to create what Schmincke refer to as ‘bizarre surface effects’ on your painting – it causes the pigment to gather up into pools, to create effects similar to flocculation or marbling - an undulating surface consisting of passages of both saturated and very dilute colour. It is worth trying it out on a separate piece of paper to fully understand what effect it might have on your work. Because Schmincke Aqua Effect spray is in a pump spray bottle, be sure to mask off any areas that you do not wish to apply the effect to.

Schmincke Aqua Pasto
Schmincke Aqua Pasto is manufactured by both Schmincke and Winsor & Newton. This medium potentially bridges the gap between watercolour/gouache painting and the kinds of impasto techniques you’d be more familiar with in oils or acrylics, and really does add another dimension to the process of watercolour/gouache painting. This transparent thickening medium can be applied pure on to paper, or mixed with colour prior to application, and creates a paste-like texture. You can even start to apply your watercolour/gouache paint with a spatula! Aqua Pasto reduces flow, and increases gloss. It slows the drying time and stays watersoluble, so can be re-worked over time. 

Gouache Surface Preparation
Watercolour primers and grounds can be applied to  an variety of materials including canvas, wood, stone, ceramic and plastic to create a surface that is absorbent enough to hold applications of gouache and optimise the appearance of colours and marks. Three thin, even layers that have been allowed to dry fully in between the application of each layer, will optimise absorbency and allow you to achieve the same watercolour effects possible on regular watercolour paper. Watercolour primers and grounds are made by a number of paint manufacturers including Schmincke, Daniel Smith, and Golden Paints, and are available clear as well as in a number of different shades. There are also coarse and fine tooth varieties available.

What mediums can I use with acrylic gouache?

Turner Retarder slows the drying time of acrylic gouache paints to allow a watercolour-like graduation or smooth surfaces without brush strokes.

Turner Gloss Varnish is a milky-white liquid that can be used as a final gloss coat on an artwork or as a mixer for paints. This gloss varnish dries to a transparent water-resistant film.

Turner Glass Primer, Wood Primer and Metal Primer makes it possible to use Turner Acryl Gouache on flat and contoured glass, wooden and metal surfaces.

Turner Fabric Medium makes it possible to use Turner Acryl Gouache on fabric.

Modelling pastes such as Liquitex Light Modeling Paste and Liquitex Flexible Modeling Paste can be used with acrylic gouache (while Liquitex Modeling Paste can be more prone to cracking due to the paint’s high pigment level). Liquitex String Gel and Pouring Medium can also be used. It is always advisable to test any mediums on a separate surface before using on a final painting.

How easy is it to clean up my workspace after painting with gouache?

As a watersoluble medium, gouache paint is very easy to clean! Paints will wipe away from most surfaces using soap and water, while clothing stained with gouache can also be easily hand or machine washed without any additional treatment.

Just remember that acrylic gouache is acrylic, so unlike watercolour and traditional gouache, it will dry in your brushes if you don’t rinse them right away. 

Brushes for gouache

Brushes for watercolour painting are ideal for painting with gouache; they have shorter handles than oil and acrylic brushes, and are available in a wide range of shapes. Small brushes are useful when painting detail and other intricate marks while large brushes will hold more liquid and work well for broader brush strokes and washes. However, because gouache does not handle in the same way as watercolour, bristle brushes and synthetic acrylic brushes may be useful for making textural marks. It is a good idea to experiment with a range of brushes to discover which type and size of brush suits your technique.

To start with, a brush set with a variety of shapes and sizes is a great way to get started. As you paint more you will begin to discover which brushes are your favourites. You can then build on your collection of brushes with the right shapes and sizes for your way of working. Starting with a set of at least three brushes is ideal. The highest quality natural hair brushes (such as sable or squirrel) are the most expensive, while synthetic brushes offer a hardwearing alternative.

Read our Guide to Watercolour Brushes here.

Care and cleaning of brushes

The lifespan of your brushes will be prolonged if they are kept clean and cared for.

Both natural hair and synthetic hair brushes benefit from being cleaned with brush soap as it contains natural oils which help to moisturise the hairs, so they keep their strength and shape. If the hairs are not sufficiently moisturised with oils, the structure of each filament becomes brittle, and the hair is more susceptible to breaking, or splaying, damaging the shape of the head of the brush. Therefore it is a very good idea to get into the habit of doing the following at the end of each painting session:

Remove the excess paint from your brush. Rinse in a jar of cleaning water or under a running tap and then blot on a clean rag or kitchen towel. 

Gently rub the head of the brush on to your brush soap. Work into a lather with your fingers. 

Rinse under running lukewarm water and repeat until the lather remains white. Remember to work the lather with your fingers right up against the ferrule.

Once the hairs are clean, blot on to another clean rag and shape the brush head with your fingers.

Leave to air dry, ideally by hanging the brush from its handle somewhere reasonably well ventilated. This will allow any water in the ferrule to leave the brush, preventing any rotting of the handle to occur.

Tools for gouache painting

An extra palette will offer more room for colour mixing. If you’re going to want your colour mixes on another day, or if you need to transport your colours, a palette with a lid will protect your mixed paint as well as offer even more palette space. All watercolour palettes have at least some wells – these are for squeezing tubes of colour out into and ensuring that the colours do not run into one another. Palettes are offered in plastic and ceramic.

As an aside, gouache paints diluted with a lot of water do have a tendency to bead up (gather in pools and possess a resistance to the surface) on metal or plastic surfaces. However this effect wears away the more you use the palette for colour mixing. Scrubbing the palette with a brillo pad prior to use, and rinsing thoroughly to remove any traces of soap will stop the beading. Alternatively you can invest in a porcelain palette on which gouache paints do not bead.

Often, a set of artist pencils are worth having with your gouache painting equipment as preparatory sketches can help to develop your ideas before you set brush to paper, allowing you to have more confidence during the painting process. A hard pencil can be useful in lightly drawing your composition on your paper before you apply colour. Graphite or coloured pencils won’t smudge, but it might be best to avoid charcoal pencils for this reason.

An easel is by no means essential. If you work standing up you could tape your paper to a wall, or you could work at a table. However, the right easel could allow you to move your work easily to better lighting conditions, or help you to work with a healthy posture, avoiding unnecessary aches and pains during a long painting session. When choosing an easel you have to ask yourself a set of questions.

Will you be painting at a table? If you will be, then a table easel is a compact device that will hold your paper upright. Many have a drawer in which you can store your paints and brushes. They are easy to store.

Will you need to have a portable easel (perhaps for painting out of doors)? If you will be then a sketching easel is what you’ll need. Sketching easels are usually made from aluminium or wood. An easy to carry sketching easel will be lightweight with telescopic legs allowing it to fold into a compact portable size. However if you are likely to paint in bracing wind conditions it may be at risk from falling over. Some string and tent pegs can be a great way to get around this.

Do you need an easel that will tilt to horizontal? (will you be painting with lots of dilute watercolour which might run?) Some studio and sketching easels will tilt fully to a horizontal working position, which can be really useful if you need to ensure your paint does not run.

Do you need an easel that will hold very large work? The largest studio easels are H-frame and solidly stable for paintings up to 235cm, but they will take up space and be heavy to move around. Crank handle easels make it easier to adjust the height of your painting.

A sponge can be used to lift wet colour from a painting, to either reduce the colour saturation of the brush mark, to lighten its tone, or to remove it completely. Gouache is rewettable, so applying clean water to a passage of painting will allow you to remove some of the paint if you then dab the area with a clean sponge. A sponge is also useful for blotting a loaded brush (to reduce how much paint will be deposited with your brush mark), and also if you get into stretching your own paper, it can be really useful for removing excess water from the gumstripped edges of your paper.

Water Pots
You will need a pot of water in which to rinse brushes when changing colours, or at the end of a session. While a glass jar is perfectly usable at home, you might like to reduce the weight of your load if going elsewhere to paint. There are a number of collapsible water pots available, that fold compactly back into your kit bag at the end of your painting session. A larger, multi-compartment brush washer is useful in the studio because it gives you an area of water to wash your brush in and an area of clean water to mix with paint.

What is the best surface for gouache painting?

Watercolour paper that is 300gsm and heavier is most suitable for gouache paint. Traditional gouache, effectively being opaque watercolour, will only adhere to surfaces that possess a degree of absorbency, such as paper. You could prepare non-absorbent surfaces by priming with a watercolour ground to make them suitable for gouache painting. 

Acrylic gouache is a form of acrylic paint and so like most acrylic paints will adhere to most surfaces including metal, wood, paper and plastic. It is worth exploring the traditional fine art surfaces that we offer for acrylic painting. Canvas Panels and boards are made by glueing primed cotton onto a rigid board, so that you get the texture of a cotton surface, but not the 'spring' you would get from painting on to stretched canvas. Our ready-made stretched canvases take away time consuming stretching and priming processes, and are available in a range of weights, grains and sizes. If you prefer to make your own canvas we also have all the materials you need to make your own, including our very easy to use stretcher bars, available in 6 depths, 2 of which are made of aluminium reinforced wood for maximum durability and strength.

Finally, canvas sheets pads and boards are a mixture of specially prepared acrylic painting papers and primed cotton sheets that are relatively lightweight and excellent for taking outdoors, travelling, or for experimenting with techniques.

Watercolour paper
Watercolour paper is a versatile surface which has a degree of absorbency that allows transparent colour to appear its most luminous. Watercolour paper is not only for use with watercolour paints – it can also be used for acrylics, gouache, pastels, pencils, graphite, charcoal, and it can also be primed for oil. With many 100% cotton papers available,, it can make a durable and archival support for many different mediums. 

Watercolour paper is usually available in three different textures. Completely smooth paper is known as Hot Pressed and allows for the finest lines and crisp details to show. Cold Pressed paper has a slight texture and is also known as NOT surface paper. It is the surface that most artists try to begin with. The texture is made with sheets of felt, so has an irregular, naturally dimpled quality. Rough paper has a more pronounced texture, which acutely changes the quality of brush strokes, often making them appear more broken and expressive than on smooth paper.

Hot pressed paper has the least textured surface, having been pressed between hot metal rollers during production. Hot pressed paper is favoured by those who like to work delicately with a lot of detail, such as botanical artists. Hot pressed paper tends to be the least absorbent of all of the textures, and watery washes can sit on the surface for a long time. Beyond watercolour painting, hot pressed watercolour paper makes an excellent support for detailed pen, ink and graphite drawing.

Cold pressed (NOT) paper is made by pressing the sheet through cold metal rollers, and it has a slight texture to it. It is the most popular watercolour paper surface to work on because it is well adapted to many painting approaches. The paint will sink a little into the dimples on the surface of the paper, but it will also be sympathetic to more detailed work. Cold pressed paper tends to be a little more absorbent than hot pressed paper.

Rough paper is the roughest texture paper available, it is pressed between sheets of textured felt during the drying process and is not pressed between smooth rollers. The heavier texture means that granulating effects are enhanced. This paper surface is suited to bold, expressive painting techniques.

While hot pressed, NOT, and rough are used almost universally by watercolour paper manufacturers to describe the texture of their papers, the actual surface textures vary greatly between manufacturers, or even between batches (particularly with handmade papers).

Watercolour pads and blocks
A watercolour pad is bound on one edge and is ideal for sketches. Watercolour pads are either spiral or glue bound, and would be a good source of paper for a beginner. Another option would be watercolour blocks, which are glued on all four sides, which keeps the paper taut as you paint on it. When your painting is finished and dry, simply slice off the top sheet with a craft knife, and your painting will be on a flat piece of paper, free from natural buckling caused by water saturation. If you want to paint large, then you may wish to work on full sheets of imperial watercolour paper, which measure 22 x 30 inches. If you want to try painting in watercolour on an even bigger scale, then a watercolour paper roll might be what you’re after, most are 10 metres long, which you can cut down to whatever size you need. To read more about the sizes and formats of paper click here.

Watercolour Paper Comparison Table
Our table compares the content, texture, sizing, colour, and surface strength of artist watercolour papers. Click the image below to enlarge, or download our PDF version here to print.

Why Does Paper Buckle When Wet?
Buckling occurs because paper fibres expand when wet. If you use very little water in your technique, then very little buckling will occur, if any. For more watery applications a heavier weight paper (425gsm and above) will buckle less.

Stretching watercolour paper involves deliberately saturating the paper with water in order to expand it prior to fixing it to a board, usually with gumstrip around the edges, then allowing it to dry before painting. Preparing your paper like this ensures a completely flat surface.

How to Stretch Watercolour Paper: A step-by-step guide

What you will need:

A clean, soap-free tray of water, with one dimension slightly longer than the shortest edge of your sheet of paper or, if you don’t have a tray, a clean spray bottle.
A clean, soap-free sponge or paper towel.
A rigid board - plywood or plastic is ideal.
4 strips of gummed tape, to glue each edge of your paper to the board. It helps to pre-cut each length so that it is 3cm longer than each edge.

The most common and inexpensive method of stretching paper is to begin by soaking it in clean water for a few minutes (140lb weight paper will need up to 8 minutes, heavier paper may need more). If your sheet of paper does not fit in the tray you can hold it at opposite edges and feed it through the tray multiple times to ensure the whole sheet is soaked.

Lift the sheet from the tray and allow any excess water to drain from it before placing it flat on your board. If you do not have a tray simply place your paper on to the board you wish to stretch it on to, and spray generously on both sides of the paper with clean water. Try to only touch the paper on its edges as it’s possible to leave visible finger marks. Sponge off the excess water gently with a clean sponge – the outward motion you use to do this will help flatten the paper onto the board. Once you feel that the paper is adequately stretched out, wet your gumstrip using a clean paintbrush or sponge, but do not immerse it in the tray of water for too long as this can wash away too much of the adhesive, and it may not be able to hold the paper in place as it shrinks.

Place the gumstrip tape on the edges of the paper so that half the width is covering the paper’s edge, and half is stuck to the board. When doing this, take care not to let water from the tape drip onto the paper, as this will leave spots on the paper when you start to paint on it. Use a dry paper towel to press the tape down, which will also soak up any excess water. Lay the board flat and allow it to dry (it may need to be left for a few hours, or overnight to be completely dry) before you start your painting.

When your painting is finished, leave it to dry completely before cutting the paper free from the board using a sharp craft knife. You can remove gumstrip from the paper by soaking it with a sponge to rewet it, and then carefully lift it off with a palette knife or craft knife.

How to protect finished work

Glassine – for protecting work in storage
Glassine is a glossy greaseproof paper that is designed to protect artworks from smudging. Loose sheets of glassine can be purchased in packs or singularly and are useful to keep in supply, for interleaving between stored works.

Glass – for protecting and presenting finished works
Arguably the most secure way to protect a gouache painting (and works on paper in general) is by framing it behind glass, although of course this is also likely to be the most space consuming solution as well. As with all work on paper, it is best to have a gap between the work and the glass, to allow any humidity to circulate away from the work, and prevent any shifts in the position of the glass smudging the work. A window mount offers a good solution to this, or alternatively the use of spacers in your frame.


Mass Tone - The appearance of the colour of the paint as it comes from the tube

Undertone - Undertone is the colour when applied across a surface in a thin film, e.g. Ultramarine blue would be said to have a reddish-blue undertone

Colour Strength - Colour strength essentially refers to the ratio of pigment to binder, it is a description of how vibrant/brilliant/clean the colour appears.

Opacity/Transparency - Is the measure of how much light is able to pass through the pigment particles. Opaque colours allow only very small quantities of light through the colour whereas transparent colours allow a lot of light through the colour. The difference is that opaque colours will look flatter and will cover over any marks that may have been made underneath. Transparent colours will show the marks made underneath, and may appear to have more texture.

Traditionally watercolour painting is a transparent painting method and conventionally it is the white of the paper being painted on that acts as the white in your work…however it is now common practice for many watercolour painters to use white gouache or Chinese white watercolour in a watercolour painting, often as finishing highlights and touches. White gouache can be tinted with transparent watercolour and used in watercolour painting; it is often referred to as ‘body colour’ due to its opacity. Blending the fusing of 2 colour planes with one another in such a way that there are no hard edges. In watercolour this is easily done with a wet brush, dipped in either water or gum arabic. If watercolour is allowed to thoroughly dry then blending is made a little more difficult – the edges may be harder to lift. In instances such as this, a blending medium can be mixed with the colour to prolong the amount of time that the colour is wet, and make blending a lot easier.

Dry Brush Technique - When watercolour paint that is relatively dry, and in the least ‘gummy’, is applied with a dry brush to paper. The effect is chalky in appearance, and saturated in colour, and often makes for a dramatic contrast against more delicate, watery, watercolour washes. A very effective and dramatic method for creating textured surfaces within water colour painting.

Watercolour Easels - Watercolour easels often tilt to allow painters to work flat (preventing washes and large amounts of water from running). However some watercolourists may find that working upright works for their preferred technique.

Flat Wash - The use of a single diluted colour to cover the white of the paper in a relatively unsaturated and uniform manner. Washes are usually applied with a broad brush with natural hair that can hold a lot of fluid, such as a squirrel mop. Painters may choose to work over the wash once the wash is dry, or to work into the wet wash. By doing this one is said to be painting ‘wet on wet’ and the result is that the colours bleed into the layers onto which they have been applied. Flat washes can be applied on to dry or damp paper.

Fugitive Colour - Refers to non lightfast paints, such as Opera Rose. They fade, or distort in other ways, when exposed to sunlight. Generally it is advised to stick to colours that have been rated of excellent or very good lightfastness (they may also have the classification of being ‘I’ or ‘II’) if you are intending on exhibiting or displaying work on a wall, as opposed to keeping it in a book or portfolio.

Glazed Wash - A glazed wash is when a dilute colour is applied across the surface of a watercolour painting that has been left to dry completely – the result of doing this is to tint the whole surface with the colour of your wash. Someone who decides to apply a glazed wash over a work would therefore have to consider the influence the chosen glaze hue would have over the colours that have been worked with previously. Once dry the artist has the option to work over the top once more.

Gum Arabic - A gum that is extracted from 2 species of the acacia tree, which is used as a binder in the manufacture of watercolour paint. Can also be purchased separately – it increases transparency and gloss.

Masking Fluid - Masking fluid is sometimes known as liquid frisket and is used to mask off areas of your work. It is painted on like tippex (you can apply it using a brush, a ruling pen, a colour shaper, or anything else!) and once dry you can then work in watercolour over the top. A good example of when masking fluid may come in handy is if you are applying colour on to a painting of a leaf, but you wish to keep the veins white – you would then paint the veins on with the masking fluid, allow it to dry and then apply your colour over the top. Providing the masking fluid is applied in dry paper and is left to dry completely before working over the top, (and the watercolour applied over the top is also left to dry completely!) the masking fluid should peel off with relative ease, just coax off a corner with a colour shaper or the end of your brush and the rest should come off by pulling it with your fingers. If it feels as if it is very stuck, a handy little tip is to roll up a ball of dried masking fluid between your finger and thumb and use this to coax the masking fluid off – the stickiness works wonders!