Why is gouache unpopular?


Gouache is a medium known from ancient Egypt and used through ages, but it’s not as popular as it should. Gouache is unpopular as it was considered an art supply rather than a painting medium for a long time. Designers used it for flat surfaces, animation used it for backgrounds, painters used it for plein air studies, and kids used it in school. Very few artists used it as their main medium.

Gouache for illuminated manuscripts

Gouache is used for decorative and pictorial embellishments to medieval illuminated manuscripts. Pages are heavily painted, with accents of gold leaf. As the paint may fade when exposed to direct light, using gouache in books was a way to protect it from light.

Gouache for designers

Bernard Villemot, gouache on paper, 1968

Before the digital era, designers used gouache for its ability to make flat matte surfaces and its ease to mix colors. It was crucial for painting projects that would be photographed and scanned to be printed. Lots of designers worked for advertising and illustration. Advertising was not considered as a form of art, and so was gouache. Gouache became unpopular when the digital revolution took place in the 1990s. Photoshop made it easier than ever before to manipulate images without having to use traditional mediums like gouache. Even today, some gouache range are called ‘designer gouache’ as a recall of this period.

Gouache for animation

gouache background Art by Kazuo Oga for Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli and other animation studios used poster gouache for backgrounds. They were called background artists, as it became a form of art. The studio has since moved away from gouache in favor of digital backgrounds. Kazuo Olga certainly did a lot for the Ghibli aesthetic. But gouache was only for backgrounds, not for the main characters. So again, gouache was not considered as the main subject.

Gouache for studies

gouache MatisseCut out gouache by Matisse
Gouache was used by a lot of artists like Matisse, Picasso and Kandinsky because it was easy to use and didn’t require much preparation. The thick consistency allowed them to work quickly, so they could concentrate on the design rather than mixing colors or waiting for paint to dry. Matisse used it for flat colors painted on paper that he cut for large and bold shapes. Old masters used gouache for studies, before painting with oil paint on canvas. Just considering gouache as a test, a try, before using the real medium: oil paint. Now gouache is getting back on trend, even if it’s still not as popular as it should. It’s easy to use, dries fast, enables blending and mixing colors.

Cecile Yadro

I believe that art can help you express yourself, find your voice, and discover who you are. And I want to help you do that. I've seen how powerful my classes can be for more than 20,000 students. In my classes, I focus on giving you the tools you need to express yourself and make your creativity take flight!

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