For the longest time I’ve only painted with gouache in liquid form, fresh from the tube or from my airtight palette (which keeps it in liquid form indefinitely).
When deciding whether to use gouache in liquid or dried form, there are a few important factors to consider. Let’s compare the two.
Brand new to gouache? Start here
Here’s a post showing how I use dried gouache to paint rocks/cliffs.
What’s in this Post
Pros of using Liquid Gouache
The real benefit of painting with liquid gouache vs watercolor is that it’s fully opaque in liquid form (except for a few colors which are just naturally more transparent than others). You can use it straight from the tube and get really nice thick opaque coverage. You can easily spread it and fill in large areas of flat color if desired. The same coverage is not possible using dried gouache.
In it’s fully opaque (liquid) form, it’s incredibly vibrant because it’s packed with wayyyyyy more pigment than any other type of paint (at least the higher quality stuff is).
It has just enough binder to keep it from falling off the paper after it dries. That’s also why it dries so fast. This can be a benefit when painting quickly outside or when you want to use lots of layers.
Cons of using Liquid Gouache
A downside is that liquid gouache can get messy in the stay-wet style palettes. It can even grow mold if left closed long enough. Care must be taken to maintain the freshness. I only recommend using an airtight palette if you paint with it at least once a week. Otherwise leave it in the tubes.
Some people find the fast drying time to be a downside, because they paint slowly and don’t want to worry about losing the opacity by adding more water. I get it! It can be frustrating. I always keep a little spray bottle nearby and give my palette a spray when it starts looking matte.
Compared to dry gouache, liquid gouache is more difficult to travel with. Not only do you have to deal with liquid restrictions on airplanes, but the method you choose to carry it makes a difference in experience. In my experience you have two options:
- You can carry around a bunch of tubes of gouache along with your mixing tray, water dish, easel and brushes. Obviously this is an added weight. But it also means you have to take time to squeeze out paint and then at the end of the session clean up before packing away.
- Or you can use an airtight palette like the one shown above, which is very convenient but requires a lot of care. It can tip over in the sand and ruin a whole lot of paint. It can develop mold if left closed for too long. It can get very messy indeed.
Both options require a constant babysitting of your paint to make sure it isn’t drying out. The more you spread around the paint on your mixing tray and the longer the piles sit there, the more it dries. You can spritz it with water every few minutes but in some climates even that isn’t fast enough. Paint quick!
Pros of using Dried Gouache
Most people who like to use gouache in dried form treat it just like watercolors: pouring the gouache into watercolor pans and letting it air dry. This makes traveling with them much easier and less worrisome.
So far I’m really enjoying using it in my Portable Painter.
Painting with dried gouache is great if you like to paint at a more leisurely pace. You don’t need to worry about your piles of paint drying out on the mixing tray.
It requires much less setup/cleanup. Just open the watercolor palette, spray with water to soften it, and start painting.
You don’t have to worry about mold either (unless you have a mold problem in your environment). I’ve been using my palette for over 2 months without issues. Mold needs moisture to grow, so when the palette dries out, you are safe. Learn about dealing with moldy gouache.
You can also fly with dried paint without worrying about the liquid restrictions on airplanes. There’s also less mess while traveling because the gouache won’t spill out of the palette.
Cons of using Dried Gouache
But there’s a downside to using dried gouache. My greatest concern has been the reduced opacity.
Just like watercolor, dried gouache requires water to reactivate. Once you add any amount of water to gouache, the opacity is reduced. Add too much water and they are basically identical to watercolor. So that defeats the purpose (and gouache is much more expensive than watercolor so it’s also wasteful).
You can practice adding “just the right amount” of water to soften the paint, but it’s not instant and it can vary a lot color-to-color. It takes extra time to allow the paint to soften.
While painting you may ‘use up’ the softened paint then have to spray again and wait for more to soften. Patience required.
Some brands/colors become very dry and crumbly and can fall out of your palette. This requires some research and testing because each brand, color, climate and palette will be different. For instance, my M. Graham Cobalt blue gets very dry and crumbly, but the M. Graham Naphthol red stays moist much longer.
Not all gouache or pigments love being dried out. Some of them don’t reactivate in water the same and never become paint again. Cheaper brands of paint have more fillers which degrade when diluted with water, which results in more transparent color after rewetting. But if you stick with high quality artist grade paint, you should be fine. So far I’ve had good experiences with my choices below.
The binder strength might also get reduced with too much water. I haven’t experimented with this a lot but if you care about archival quality you may want to investigate this. To combat this you can try adding a drop of gum Arabic to each color to increase the binder. Be careful not to add too much as this will dilute the opacity and make it shiny after it dries.
Since most travel watercolor palettes use small pans, the surface area of each color is pretty small. It’s impossible to dig out enough opaque color to fill larger areas of paper with opaque flat color. So I only use dried gouache for small sketches.
Which do I prefer? (Updated)
*Edit: update after 40 days of using it outside in a row* It’s nearly impossible to beat the versatility of gouache and the convenience of dried gouache. It made the plein air process stress free and since I was doing it every day that was needed. I loved taking it with me to a variety of locations and not worrying if it tipped over in my bag or if it was drying out (it was already dry) or if it was moldy.
And it didn’t take long to get used to rewetting it. To make things easy, I sprayed it with water as soon as I found my spot. Then as I finished getting all my gear out and ready to paint, the water had soaked in and I was good to go.
I also LOVE hiking light. I’m always experimenting with ultralight paint gear. Lately I’ve been using my portable painter micro more because it’s so light and compact. I can even keep it in my pocket. The thought of dried gouache in there is exciting so I don’t have to worry about it leaking (they aren’t airtight).
But if I’m using a lot of layers or painting larger, there’s no competition- liquid gouache wins every time. At home I like using my stay-wet palette with large mixing space, and I don’t have to worry about it drying out. But more and more I find myself grabbing my dried palette when I paint anywhere else.
So I guess the answer is: both! They each have a lot of pros for different uses. Definitely worth experimenting to see if you like one more than the other.
Swatching the Dried Gouache at Different Intervals
Below are swatches from my dried palette.
- 01 liquid form (fresh from tube)
- 02 after drying 15 hours
- 03 after drying 40ish hours
- 04 after drying 5 days
As you can see the majority of the colors look exactly the same. 01 is definitely the thickest, most opaque, but I was pleasantly surprised that I could get very strong opacity even after 5 days of drying.
This required a lot of patience though. The longer it dries, the longer it takes to rewet and get it ‘workable.’ By the 5th day I had to spray twice, letting it soak for at least 5 minutes each time. This was especially true for certain colors that were very stiff (like the cobalt, black, and burnt umber). But patience pays off.
My “Dried Gouache Palettes”
I’m using the following gouache colors in the Portable Painter:
- Holbein Lemon Yellow
- Schmincke Horadam Titanium Gold Ochre
- Winsor & Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light
- Schmincke Horadam Helio Turquoise
- Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue
- M. Graham & Co Cobalt Blue
- (Custom Green)
- M. Graham & Co Ivory Black (removed after a few days)
- Winsor & Newton Burnt Umber
- (Custom sand tone)
- Daniel Smith Pyrrol Red (removed after a few days)
- Holbein Primary Magenta
- (Custom purple)
- Winsor & Newton Primary White (titanium)
And I am also using a smaller Portable Painter Micro for quick sessions on the couch, cafe, or short walks. Colors in my Portable Painter Micro:
- M. Graham & Co Hansa Yellow Light
- Winsor & Newton Quinacridone Magenta
- Winsor & Newton Ultramarine Blue
- Schmincke Horadam Helio Turquoise
- Winsor & Newton Lamp Black
- Winsor & Newton Primary White (Titanium)
This page contains affiliate links. I am not sponsored by any companies, this is all gear I’ve tried and trust and use by my own will. If you decide to purchase one, I get a tiny store credit so I can buy art supplies, so thank you for your support! New Jacksons Art customers will receive a 10% discount on their first order if it is made through any of these links.
Brand Comparisons for Dried Gouache (Updated)
*EDIT: updated after 40 days of using the dried palette in a row*
Daniel Smith Extra Fine Gouache
I think this is my favorite in my dried palette. It’s rewets almost instantly and flows beautifully off the brush. I was able to get strong opaque color each time. Just out of curiosity, I let two of the colors dry in a pan on my shelf for 40 days without using it. There were large cracks but it didn’t crumble out of the palette. I was able to rewet it and use it easily.
Holbein Artists’ Gouache
Dries relatively slowly and gets soft fast after adding water. But after continuous drying/rewetting, I noticed the yellow and Magenta in particular became a little grainy, more than the other colors.
M. Graham & Co Artists’ Gouache
Some of their colors like cobalt blue became extremely stiff and almost crumbly but that will be the case with all cobalts. But once I added water and let it sit for about 5 minutes, it was softer and useable.
Their ivory black was more difficult to rewet after a few days. But some of their colors like Naphthol Red and Azo Yellow stayed moist much longer. I only have their ‘primary mixing set’ so my choices were limited.
Schmincke Horadam Gouache
My second favorite. It’s super easy to rewet and gave me creamy opaque color. Some of their colors stay very soft for a long time (but not runny).
Shinhan Designers Gouache
Easily rewets and gives opaque color. Avoid more transparent color for best results.
Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache
Extremely easy to rewet and get creamy opaque color. Probably my third favorite of the bunch. It’s my ‘old reliable’ gouache and very affordable here.
Their burnt umber dries super fast and gets chunky/crumbly if left to dry too long in open air. But since I was using it frequently, it never got too crumbly to fall out of the palette. I could see that happening though..
Adding Winsor & Newton Blending Medium (Updated)
*Edit: Updated after 40 days of using it in a row*
In all cases where I added Winsor & Newton Blending Medium, rewetting and flow were improved. But it also meant the paint took ages to get stiff which is kind of annoying if you want to take your palette outside. If adding too much the paint stays very fluid and can ‘flow’ right out of the palette if tipped over. So I recommend using it very sparingly, only 1 or 2 drops in each color. Let it dry for at least a week before taking it out, or wait as long as it takes to avoid runny color.
It kept the paint movable and moist, and didn’t change the opacity too much. But in colors that are naturally more transparent, I noticed it made them slightly more transparent when rewetting them. Maybe it’s best used with earthy or very opaque colors.