How to Make Gouache PaintOctober 21, 2009
Many years ago I learned how to make my own gouache paint since all the commercial brands I could find at that time were in small tubes that I used up rather quickly. Raw pigment was a bit more difficult to find back then than it is now. Anyway, here’s a sample batch I made recently of some burnt umber gouache.
It’s one of the simplest paints you can make, short of egg tempera. The only issue is finding all the ingredients. Essentially you just mix it all together and start painting. This pre-mixed binder can keep for several years, as will the paint.
2 tablespoons gum arabic powder
4 tablespoons distilled water
Pour water in a blender and add powder slowly while blending. Let it sit @1 hour. A faster method is to heat the water to boiling, add gum slowly while stirring, let cool to room temperature. The blender method tends to give me a clearer liquid. Strain liquid through a cheesecloth if it’s lumpy.
3 ounces honey and water (1:1) warmed into solution
3 ounces glycerin
1 teaspoon oxgall
3 teaspoons dextrin powder
Mix together in a warmed bowl and add in gum arabic solution slowly while stirring.
1-2 drops preservative: Oil of clove, Thymol, or even concentrated Lysol will work
2-4 tablespoons dry pigment
1-2 tablespoons Binder
1 teaspoon Calcium carbonate as an optional filler to help bulk up thin paint
Place pigment on a large glass or plexiglass plate. I usually dump out about 1 teaspoon of pigment at a time, as shown above.
Make an indentation in the pigment pile. Add a small amount of binder solution and mix together thoroughly. A good target is half as much binder as pigment (1:2) but some pigments require less. Keep adding just enough binder to make a smooth paint to your liking. Any pigment that is difficult to get wet can be helped along with a teaspoon of grain alcohol.
Rub a small swatch of fresh paint on a clean spot of the mixing plate. Let that air dry for several minutes COMPLETELY (this may take longer than you think – give it 20-30 minutes or so.) Rub the dried paint with a cloth. If paint completely lifts then the mixture is too weak or there’s not enough binder. If the dried paint has cracks then there’s too much binder. Those can be hairline cracks, so I like to make a high-res computer scan of the dried paint to be certain.
If you find yourself using up those tiny tubes of paint, making your own paint can be much more economical, especially for expensive or hard to find colors, and you have more control over paint quality.
Please remember that pigments have certain health hazards and require careful handling in powder form.