Acrylic “gouache” review, new portrait

Folks, I may have strayed to the dark side.

I love gouache. But I’m also clumsy, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped colour or water where I didn’t want it over an area already painted, and then struggled to repair it. So I’ve always kept one eye on so-called “acrylic gouache” …

<purist rant> let’s get this out of the way now. Acrylic gouache is not gouache. It’s acrylic. The only reason to call it “gouache” is that it has a much runnier consistency than acrylic, and it dries to a matte finish. </rant>

Because the binder is acrylic, acrylic gouache dries waterproof as all acrylics do, so when I inevitably drop water or colour where I didn’t want it, I can easily wipe it off. And when the painting is finished, I don’t have to worry about sealing it with anything. Bliss!

A while ago I tried Holbein Acryla and I hated it. I tried Turner acrylic gouache, and didn’t care for it either. So what exactly possessed me to try Liquitex’s offering? The bottle. Yes, you read that right. I’d been looking at Youtube reviews of it (because I’m always open to changing my mind) and I fell in love with the incredibly sensibly designed bottle. More than once I’ve gotten a mouthful of gouache trying to pry a stuck lid off with my teeth, and that’s not fun. Not to mention the way dried paint flecks sometimes come off the threads as you dispense paint from tubes, leaving a gritty mess on your painting. The Liquitex bottle has a clip-off lid and a long nozzle, so you can squeeze out any amount in a very controlled way. (You can also remove the nozzle if you need access to the entire bottle of paint).

I bought eight bottles; white, black, and a warm and cool of each primary. A few quick experiments confirmed it comes off the brush in a similar (but not identical) way to “real” gouache, and does indeed dry matte (although as other reviewers have pointed out, the black can be “shiny” if used too thickly).

So today I decided to try a portrait, of which I’ve painted several in gouache, to see what how it would compare. I grabbed a picture of the wonderful Krysten Ritter (I’ve wanted to paint her for ages), did the drawing on a 5×7″ piece of cold pressed watercolour paper, and then …

… then I realised that I could underpaint without fear of it lifting later! (1 point to house Liquitex). So I covered the entire page in a vibrant orange, dried it with a hairdryer, and then went about painting as I normally would.

It took a little getting used to. Unlike gouache, the paint is usable right out of the bottle (it’s already a great consistency), so no need to add water to the paint or mixes. It perhaps doesn’t last quite as long off the brush as regular gouache – I found myself going back to my paint piles to reload the brush more often when doing large areas. But in every other respect, I had no problem with it whatsoever. The only time I ran into a small issue was when an area wasn’t as dry as I thought it was, and accidentally blended the light I was painting into the (still damp) black area. But once it was all dry I was able to correct that, so that was no big deal.

I had no problem mixing all the colours I wanted from my 8 colours – I was even able to get a nice turquoise which can sometimes be a challenge. I might be tempted to add a few more colours to my arsenal – orange, green, purple and perhaps one or two earths like yellow ochre and burnt sienna.

I used my modified stay-wet palette the entire time (an original large stay-wet plastic box, but lined with wet paper towel and topped with glass). The paint stayed workable with an occasional misting, and I also left it overnight out of curiosity and it was still perfect the next day. Many people complain it dries too fast on the palette – I certainly didn’t find that, although on a regular palette I can see that might happen. I’ve always used stay-wet palettes with gouache for this very reason.

Overall, this experience has certainly made me question why I’d ever go back to using real gouache. I honestly can’t think of any advantage it would offer. I like using it, the bottle is a wonderful design that I’m quite certain will lead to less wasted paint, the colours are vibrant and mix well with no sign of muddying, there’s no smell (real gouache has a distinct smell), being able to confidently paint in layers … I could go on, but I think I’ve said it all!

Aside from all of that, I’m also really pleased with the painting itself! I wanted to learn how so many other artists are able to exaggerate some features (especially eyes) while downplaying others yet still maintain a likeness. I feel like this is a great likeness and a flattering portrait, but I’m always open to hearing your opinion in the comments below!

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