Experimenting with Watercolor and Gouache

Q. I’m just beginning to experiment with watercolors and gouache. Would it be OK to mix the two?

A. Watercolor is nothing more than water-soluble pigment plus a binding agent, gum arabic. Water is used to dilute the pigment and spread it onto your paper. The water evaporates, leaving a translucent stain through which light is reflected. Add Chinese white to the mixture, and you have what the French call gouache and the English call body color. Light is refracted from, not through, this mixture, and the resulting look is quite different.

I recommend that if you’re just starting out in watercolor, you should master that medium first. Gouache is opaque, and it takes some skill to use it accurately, as it will muddy up your transparent watercolors in no time flat.

To answer your question: yes, you can mix the two. You can mix anything water-soluble with anything else that’s water-soluble. My advice, however, is to practice with transparent watercolor first. When you have a grip on that medium, you can try experimenting with gouache.

Burton Silverman has had dozens of solo shows and has been shown in many national and international exhibitions. His work has been acquired by museums such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The National Portrait Gallery. He’s received awards from the National Academy of Design, the Portrait Society of America, The Butler Institute of American Art, the American Watercolor Society and more. A book about his work, Sight and Insight: The Art of Burton Silverman, was published by Madison Square Press. He’s also had a distinguished career as an illustrator, and his work includes portraits for the cover of Time magazine and the Profiles section of The New Yorker magazine.

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