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How to Make Gouache Paint

October 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.

gouachepaint2

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.

gouachepaint4

BINDER:
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

gouachepaint1

PAINT:
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.

gouachepaint3

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.

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15 comments

  1. This is the first I’ve ever heard of someone making their own paint. Good for you!


  2. this is a very useful post.
    Thanks for sharing


  3. Glad you liked it. If you try it out, let me know how it goes.
    I’m always tweaking the ingredients, but these work well. Glycerin and honey essentially do the same thing, so those amounts can be adjusted, but I wouldn’t recommend increasing them or else it gets sticky and takes forever to dry.


  4. Thank you so much for this!! The cost of gouache has kept me from pursuing as much as I’d like to -those little tubes last no time at all.

    Found your blog after searching for how to blend gouache – took me to Wet Canvas first. Very good description. How can I see some more of your gouache
    work?


    • Well, Nancy, you could see more works if I made more. One problem with having a variety of paint media in the studio is they all want attention. I try to fit some gouache in when I can. It’s a lovely medium. I hope you find the information helpful.


  5. Yes, the information you provided on both Wet Canvas and here is very helpful; in fact today am about to do the blending gouache exercise you described. Blending has been a head-scratcher, so will let you know how I get on. Would like to try gouache portraits (but not before I have a better grip on blending), and also gouache with pastel for the top notes. Thanks, Nancy


  6. Hello again;
    Hope I’m not troubling you with questions, and only if you have the time can you tell me, from your experience, what genres gouache is best suited for.

    Maybe it isn’t well suited for portraits. Did the blending exercise yesterday and it certainly helped me
    blend better than I have before by a long chalk.

    I tried it with sable brushes and again with bristle
    brushes and oddly found it easier going with bristle
    brushes. Is gouache best done with sables though.

    Also I found the later bands dried before I could get to them – maybe am just slow.

    I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

    Nancy


  7. I don’t mind the questions. I’m happy to answer as best I can. I’m glad to hear the exercise helped you.

    I think gouache is as well suited to portraits as any other medium can be. Faces are no different than any other thing you might paint. That said, each medium has certain strengths and shortcomings compared to others.

    Where gouache becomes a particular challenge is blending large areas smoothly. Casein has the same issue. The usual approach is to use thin washes of paint, like watercolor. Another way is to put the burden on the palette and mix your color values gradually and quickly. Where it excels is in quick sure strokes of unmodulated color.

    Most artwork in gouache is relatively small, around letter size. I have seen some much larger, 2 to 3 feet, but it’s rare.

    Sables brushes can work okay, but tend to be rather heavy. It can be easier to handle bristles softly but the hairs tend to be a bit stiff. My preferred brush is a nylon shader, which has a soft flat tip, or long flats.

    Hope that helps some. Stay with it.


  8. Thanks so much for your answers! Thinking about doing letter size paintings in gouache makes me a look more confident; had no idea that they were done on the small side.

    Will also check out the brushes you use. I really appreciate this David, and I’ll stay at it. Now back to watch the video just posted.

    It’s a beautiful spring, blossomy day here in Vancouver BC and hopefully it’s good where you live too.

    Nancy


  9. make that “a lot more confident” rather than the garble first typed.


  10. I should clarify what I said about sables being heavy. In particular I was speaking about the common sable rounds. Sable is the type of hair, so they are available in different configurations including flats. Sign-painting painting brushes (aka “show card”) I find to work really well for me, and some of those are sable.


    • Thank you for that David


  11. I think it is great when artists share these formula’s. It is so expensive to paint, and the art stores charge way more than their products are worth. I know, I was an Ink formulator and 1 gallon of ink cost less than $10 to make and we charged $150 for it. As I study Art History I find that lots of the masters painted on Board. Which could be high grade plywood, with a good coat of primer, and nailed to stretcher boards?


    • Thanks for sharing that, Mot. $150? Wow!
      Plywood, as we know it today, is a fairly recent engineered product, historically speaking. Although some samples of it have been unearthed in Egypt and China, the process was a lost art until around the first of the 20th century. Artist who painted directly on wood, such as Rembrandt and Constable, would often use single planks with a maximum size of 6 to 12 inches or so in one direction, depending on the species. Larger pieces would have to be joined together. Alternatively, some artists would cover them with paper or canvas before priming.


  12. Thank you for such a Wonderful information.



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