Most of us have stumbled upon some free time, given the shelter in place orders around the world due to COVID-19. Many of you have decided to dip your toes into the art world, and are wondering where to start.
So let's talk about paint. When I started, there were only a handful of gouache brands, but you lucky ducks these days have sooo many options.
Important: I am talking about regular gouache (opaque watercolor), and not acrylic gouache, aka acrylagouache, acrylgouache. I personally do not like acrylic gouache, and basically consider it to be a matte acrylic paint instead of gouache because it will not reactivate.
When reviewing gouache, I look for a variety of things. Is it a quality paint? What are the lightfast ratings? How much does it cost? Is it easy to find? Do they have a lot of colors to choose from? What is the consistency like? Read on to see my thoughts on some of the more popular gouache brands.
- ARTEZA Arteza is a great gouache for beginners or people new to the medium, and is very affordable. A set of 24 12ml tubes will set you back $27.99, and if you're really color hungry they have a 60 color set too for about $50. When I tried the 60 set, I was overwhelmed by all the color choices, but was impressed by the creamy consistency and bright colors. The downsides: it feels a little plasticky once it starts to dry. The lightfast ratings are sort of vague (lightfast means how well the paint will stand up over time when exposed to light), and the paint doesn't sell in individual tubes. You WILL run out of white, probably within the first 5 paintings, even though they do include a couple. I also found the colors on the tube to be inaccurate to what the paint color is, and had to keep opening them to check. Personally, I wouldn't use this paint for professional use, but it is great if you are learning or not sure if you like gouache or not. They do have a great refund policy, so there isn't much risk to try them.
- Turner Design Gouache Okay, I am biased. I've been working with Jerry's Artarama on building a custom palette with colors I selected personally with Turner Design Gouache and have gone through MANY tubes. But I genuinely really like the paint, and have used it exclusively for a while and have been able to paint a wide assortment of subjects from sunlit flowers, to moody ocean scenes, to kitchen still-lifes. The consistency is great overall, and it's more affordable than most (at times you might be able to find a 25ml tube for sale under $5). As much as I'm not a fan of plastic, I do appreciate how easy the tubes are to open, and that they have not had any leaking issues. No pliers needed, and they are very kind on your hands. The tubes are also slightly larger than most brands (25ml vs 15ml) which is great. The downside is that it is a little more fluid than a lot of the higher end brands, and you really need to check the lightfast ratings of the paints if you want to be sure it lasts. Several of the pink/purple pigments have 0-1 stars (which is actually very common across all brands), which makes me think that they will fade very quickly. I did plenty of research to ensure that my kit is mostly 3 stars (excellent), with only a handful being 2 (good).
- M. Graham - Maybe you can tell from the well used tubes, but I love this paint! M. Graham has a solid reputation amongst the artist community, and it's well deserved. Their gouache has a honey based binder which makes for a silky smooth consistency. This paint also "reactivates" the best of any brands I've worked with, meaning that if it dries, you can add water and it will become workable again. Unfortunately, they do not have as many colors as other brands (35 colors), which feels very limiting and has me wanting more. Also, you may attract some bee friends while out painting outdoors (not necessarily a downside to some!).
- Winsor & Newton Winsor and Newton Gouache is a high quality paint, with some of the most saturated and bright colors out there. It's a personal favorite, and one I keep going back to. Professionals have used and recommended this brand, as it's been around for quite some time. They have a huge assortment of colors (88), and all are very pigment heavy. This means that despite the small 14ml tube, they last a while. They also have several cadmium-free colors, which are pricey but beautiful. The downside is the paint consistency is kind of all over the board. Some of them are very runny, and others are thicker and dry quickly into tiny annoying pebbly bits. Pay attention to lightfast ratings for the brighter pigments like Opera Pink which were meant for illustration/design and reproduction, and not really for lasting fine art.
- HolbeinHolbein is another very high quality gouache, this brand boasts 89 colors, and they too are loaded with pigment. It feels very close in competition with Winsor & Newton. Consistency issues are also a problem with Holbein, but I am less familiar with them all. I've also found that several of my old tubes of Holbein have dried completely, not sure if it is their tube design but it is the only brand that I've had this happen with. Check the lightfast ratings too on those brighter pigments. One note: Their white is my favorite of all! Very opaque, but is also one of the pricier ones.
- Royal Talens I bought a little 8 color set of these, and was pleasantly surprised! You can also find a 5 color set. There are 60 colors available, and the binder is dextrin, a potato starch. This gives it a slightly different feel, in a good way. It's very smooth, and very opaque. This brand is more expensive and can be harder to find in the US. I have read that the smell is strong, but it didn't bother me personally.
- Da Vinci This is a brand that I tried, but am hesitant to recommend because it feels like a different medium altogether. However, it's one of the few brands that actually come in a decent size tube. (37ml compared to 15ml of most brands). They also have white and black available in 150 ml which is practically unheard of. The downside is that there are not many colors to choose from. They also have a sheen to them, and the paint is much thicker and stickier than I'm used to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the darks do end up richer and the paint feels more like oils. To oil painters, this is probably a benefit! But I just don't feel like it's a good gouache representation.
- Caran D'Ache (dried cakes) I have only tried the dried gouache cakes, but do want to recommend this one to beginner painters. There is another version with tube paints. This little kit genuinely surprised me, as I'm used to only using fresh paint. However with a little spray of water, the paint reactivated and was easy to work with. The paint is very opaque and smooth. I have the 8 color kit, which has been great and is really all you need, but they have a 15 color kit if you're itching for more. It included a small tube of white (which I promptly lost), and a versatile round brush (also lost). It's perfect to travel with since you can just toss the whole thing in a backpack, and seems to last a while. Since the cakes are dry, I wouldn't use your nicest brushes. They take quite a beating when scrubbed on the pigment. I am not sure about the lightfast ratings, so wouldn't use these for professional use.
So there we have it! A very long-winded review of some of the more popular gouache brands. To be honest...it's really hard to go wrong, as almost all of the brands I have tried have been just fine. Just try to weigh out what your priorities are right now to find the paint that is best for you.
Is there a brand you would like me to test out? Leave a note in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and happy painting!