Oil vs. Gouache


So I’m at it again… I broke out the oil paints. Every once in a while I get the urge. Sometimes it’s just that I want a break from gouache (as much as I love it), and sometimes it’s as simple as “hey I’ve had this cool-shaped canvas sitting here for months! I shall do something with it!” Since gouache doesn’t stick to canvas, I have few options.

Oils have this delightful quality to them that’s hard to explain. It’s something about the glowy transparency of the oil that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The ability to layer and create large, smooth areas is a great perk, which I take advantage of every time, since gouache can’t do that. And they smell good, too.

BUT. I don’t break them out too often. The main reasons: They’re such a mess. They try my patience. And they take up a too much real estate. The mess: oil, thinner, and sticky paint that doesn’t dry fast enough and all the sudden you put a thumbprint in your masterpiece trying to pick a cat hair out of it even though you painted it 3 days ago. Patience: see above about drying time. When I want to paint, I want to paint NOW DAMNIT. And space: again with the drying time and needing someplace to set it for 3 days that I could be using for my smaller gouache commissions. And everything’s bigger.



Oil on left. Gouache on right.

Here’s a comparison list of what you need to paint with each:


  • paint
  • canvas or masonite or etc.
  • gesso
  • palette knife
  • thinner
  • oil medium
  • dryer (i.e. japan dryer)
  • varnish
  • brushes to paint
  • brushes to blend
  • brushes to varnish
  • extra brain cells to replace those destroyed by inhaling varnish
  • patience


  • paint
  • paper
  • brush

But despite all that they’re out and I’m enjoying it. Maybe it’s the Spring in the air, or maybe I’m just due for a little crazy.

10 thoughts on “Oil vs. Gouache”

  1. Interesting that you like the effects of both oil and gouache. I paint with oils mostly, and tried gouache once or twice just because I thought, cool, you can sort of “layer” strokes on top of one another like in oil! I loved what I saw as I tried the gouache…then experienced the most inexpressible disappointment at how dull it dried. As an oil painter, it was just too awful. Which is why I gave up gouache. :)

  2. P.S. You don’t need a medium, a dryer, nor varnish, if you don’t want them. I use none of those. I don’t tolerate fumes at all.

  3. Yep, gouache does dry to a matte finish. I think that’s one of its charms. But both shiny and matte have their place. ;)

    And that’s true about not *needing* those things, but in order to explore the full range of possibilities with oil, you need extras. I love glazing, for example. I can’t paint in oil without something to cut it; right out of the tube is like dry-brushing and kinda frustrating. What kinds of techniques do you use with no “additives?”

  4. I have been painting exclusively in gouache and adore it but someone gave me a bunch of oils and i wouldnt have a clue how to get started…to me to hit the google search for instructions….my only gripe with gouache is getting a truly clean bold white over greys and briwns in say,a pelikan or white dove but I do love it xxx

  5. Yeah, that’s a tough one. The whites and most yellows in gouache don’t have enough opaqueness to cover some darker underpaint. You really have to lay it on thick and even then it’s not always bright enough.

  6. gouache paint 4ever babyyyyyyyyyy, oils suck & they cause headaches & make you sick

  7. Hi Jeff! It’s been a while since I wrote that post, and I haven’t tried gouache on canvas in a long while. I suppose you’re right, it will stick to canvas, especially if you use correctly primed canvas. A concern I have though is that it would be quite easy to lift paint off the tops of the “bumps” with just a finger, since gouache re-activates. Thoughts?

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