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.
Table of Contents
- Gouache for illuminated manuscripts
- Gouache for designers
- Gouache for animation
- Gouache for studies
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 of mixing colors. Painting projects needed to be photographed and scanned to be printed. Lots of designers worked in advertising and illustration. Advertising was not considered a form of art, and neither 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 ranges are called ‘designer gouache’ as a recall of this period.
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Gouache for animation
Art by Kazuo Oga for Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli and other animation studios used poster gouache for backgrounds. They were called background artists, as they 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 the main subject.
Gouache for studies
Cut out gouache by Matisse
Gouache was used by many 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 the 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 consider gouache as a test, a try, before using the real medium: oil paint.
Now gouache is returning on trend, even if it’s still not as popular as it should be. It’s easy to use, dries fast, and enables blending and mixing colors.