View Full Version : what are your supports for Gouache?

Ian Bruce
09-11-2006, 07:17 PM
I am just starting with gouache. I have plenty of cold-pressed paper and a couple of blocks of hot-pressed. What are the other choices? Do you prime water color paper with anything or use, as is? I wouldn't mind trying board. Is plywood good, or only Masonite and other pressed boards and how do you prepare them?

09-11-2006, 09:45 PM
For me, the best results come on a paper surface that's only slightly absorbant. Use the paper as is, no priming necessary. Hot pressed 100% rag works well. Quality illustration board can be hard to find sometimes. Strathmore 4-5 ply works well. On occasion, I've made my own illustration board by gluing sheets of quality paper together, or gluing to museum board. Multimedia Artboard makes a paper I've just started using that's made with epoxy resin and it holds up well.

I've never bothered to try it on wood. I don't think there's any benefit there. If I were, I'd want it only slightly absorbant - maybe 1-2 coats of acrylic primer. I'd guess that real gesso would be too absorbant. Harboards (Masonite) are often tempered with oil, so unless sized and primed properly, I'd stay away from them.

09-11-2006, 09:53 PM
I think textured clayboard would be a good choice too. Another option might be to glue the paper to ampersand hardboard, either by dry mounting it or using an acrylic medium. Or those artboards for small works- www.art-boards.com

Richard Saylor
09-11-2006, 10:33 PM
The sizing on most watercolor paper is just about perfect for gouache. It does not need to be primed. I like 140 lb watercolor paper in blocks, both hot and cold pressed. For me the ultimate support is 300 lb hot pressed watercolor paper. For just doodling and experimenting, Strathmore Bristol board has a nice surface.


09-12-2006, 07:00 AM
Sometimes I give a coat of acrylic primer to my watercolor paper, but I also like gouache on unprimed paper.

Richard, I never thought to use Strathmore bristol! I'll have to give that a whirl. BTW, there is inexpensive Strathmore bristol in series 300 and 400, but they also have a 100% rag content bristol in their 500 series. It is available in 2-5 ply, if I remember correctly. I think I have some around here somewhere....'Will have to pull it out for my next gouache venture!


09-12-2006, 04:36 PM
A thought occured to about using paper. I know many artists like to employ an affect that watercolorists use for white areas by just letting the paper show through, which is reasonable. A problem I've seen in older works is the paper often changes color as it ages. I remember one illustrator's painting I saw made in the 60s and the paper had changed to a sort of salmon pink. He'd painted out an edge of the tree line in white, which at the time must have blended nicely with the white paper, but now stuck out as a big patch of white paint. On the other hand, I've seen some papers over a hundred years old that look rather bright. It's hard to tell how they may change.

Ian Bruce
09-14-2006, 08:17 PM
Thanks for the info. My gouache set just arrived and I am dying to dive in!

Robin Neudorfer
09-14-2006, 08:34 PM
I always liked Illustration board like this: http://www.dickblick.com/zz134/08/
or http://www.dickblick.com/zz133/05/

Richard Saylor
09-15-2006, 12:28 AM
...A problem I've seen in older works is the paper often changes color as it ages...Good quality pH neutral 100% cotton paper should not do that. Paper made from wood pulp will eventually change color, even if it is "acid free." I pretty much stick to Arches, Fabriano, Lanaquarelle, and Kilimanjaro (Cheap Joe's) for serious stuff, and cheaper wood pulp paper for doodling.


Alachua Artist
09-29-2006, 11:34 AM
I work mainly on rice paper. I love the texture from the fibers and bleed the gouache into the paper from the backside to give it color, enhance the fibers, and give some body to the rice paper. Otherwise, it's like painting on kleenex!

I've also use illustration board, Strathmore white drawing paper, and those cheap brown instutional paper towels. Obviously, I experiment a lot. Gouache is a wonderful paint - such rich vibrant colors and that velvety finish contrast perfectly with the gold and silver gouache I use as highlights.

09-26-2007, 11:11 AM
I use Ampersand supports for gouache, both textured claybord, and pastelbord, the latter when I want to use watersoluable pencils or crayons with the gouache. In either case, I spray the final product with Krylon, so I can frame without glass. Works great! Especially for pleinaire. I had called the Ampersand company advice line to make sure it was archival.
Rita Goldner www.ritagoldner.com

10-01-2007, 12:45 PM
I've also tried Ampersand boards, and like pastelbord the best. Gessobord makes the paint slide around a lot and lifts really easily.

Canson pastel paper is nice because it's toned, but it buckles a lot.

Overall, I like illo board the best.


Old Tex
10-01-2007, 01:40 PM
My preference is illustration board, although I may do a little experimenting one of these days.

10-05-2007, 10:13 AM
What is the difference between hot pressed and cold pressed?

10-05-2007, 10:15 AM
Hot pressed papers are smooth surfaces, little to no grain/texture.

Cold pressed papers are rougher surfaces, grainy to a lot of grain/texture.

That's the easy answer. :)

10-05-2007, 03:15 PM
Thank you :)

10-06-2007, 10:38 AM
Hot pressed papers are smooth surfaces, little to no grain/texture.

Cold pressed papers are rougher surfaces, grainy to a lot of grain/texture.

That's the easy answer. :)

I used to have a problem remembering which was which, until I thought of it this way: Hot press is smooth, since you use a hot iron to press out wrinkles of clothes.

10-06-2007, 11:17 AM
I used to have a problem remembering which was which, until I thought of it this way: Hot press is smooth, since you use a hot iron to press out wrinkles of clothes.
and here I thought we'd get some techie-wechie bidness from you. :lol:

10-07-2007, 09:42 AM
Oh hey, I totally forgot that I have several blog posts up about gouache supports. It's certainly not comprehensive, but there is a lot of info:

Gouache Supports, Part 1 (http://www.crashoctopus.com/2007/03/25/gouache-supports-part-1/)
Gouache Supports, Part 2 (http://www.crashoctopus.com/2007/04/15/gouache-supports-part-2/)
Gouache Wash (http://www.crashoctopus.com/2007/07/29/gouache-wash/)


10-07-2007, 05:20 PM
As long as we're sharing, I've written up a review here of
various supports I've used for both gouache and casein.

Watercolor: Arches is the brand of choice for me, specifically hot pressed 300#. It comes in even heavier weights, 400 to 1000#. The standard size is 20x30" but there's also a larger "mural" size of 25x40". There's also a couple different optional shades of bright white or "natural" which is a slightly duller shade of gray. 300# will still buckle some with water, so I typically tape it down first. Sizing with shellac first will make it better resist buckling. If you want to use lighter weight paper, I'd recommend mounting it to a thicker support like wood or foamcore.

Illustration Board: Strathmore, Bainbridge, Peterboro or Crescent are some brands that make good quality illus. boards. The better ones are 100% rag all the way through, as opposed to having a chipboard backing like the cheaper varieties. The Strathmore 500 series is my favorite. "Plate" or "vellum" (aka "kid") refers to the smoothness of these boards, and vellum is rougher, somewhere between hot or cold pressed. Different mills will vary in terms of how smooth they are. Another type of board I like is made by Crescent called "watercolor board" which is slightly thicker than most illus. boards. Get the "premium" grade of this one which is all rag content.

I've made my own paper boards by gluing several sheets together with starch paste. It's a good way to make use of loose stacks of paper I have laying around. I layer each sheet by rotating it 90 degrees to resist warping.

There's a specialty brand of paper made by Multimedia Artboard that I also like. It's made with epoxy resin which makes it very stiff and won't buckle at all when wet.

Wallis makes a specialty sanded paper that works okay. It has a rough sandpaper-like surface, but it's fairly light weight.

Wood panels can be either solid wood, plywood, or composites like hardboard or MDF. I prefer quality plywood panels if I'm painting on them directly, as opposed to one that has paper or canvas glued to it. To prepare a wood panel as a direct support, you should coat it with tradtional layers of gesso (not acrylic primer, but gesso made of animal glue and whiting.) You could use composites as a direct support too, but the wood is generally lower quality softwood and scrap material than a low acid hardwood would be. If you're using the wood as a backing for paper or canvas, it's not that critical an issue. An alternative to thick panels is sheets of thin wood veneer. Choosing the best quality wood is tricky, so the scope of that discussion is more than can be covered here briefly. A search here at WC can give more information, or you can ask me for details.

Wait, huh? Canvas? Yes. A stretched frame would be too flexible, but canvas mounted to a firm support like wood will work fine. The texture weave can also be an issue if you're planning on using thin washes of paint, but there are thin weave varieties out there, sometimes called "portrait grade." Linen is typically a thinner weave than cotton, but not always. Fredrix has a type they call "watercolor canvas" which is a thin weave cotton coated with a specially absorbant acrylic primer that works rather well. I've also used regular 100% cotton muslin (t-shirt material) mounted to wood and layered with gesso. You could paint on the canvas without priming or gesso the surface, but you'll need to at least size it first. Gouache won't adhere well to an acrylic size, but casein will. Hide glue or casein size would work fine with gouache.

11-10-2007, 03:37 AM
I like using ArtSpectrum Colourfix. There are a variety of colours, though I do like the black, partly beause I like using the black to "poke through"

12-12-2007, 01:10 PM
I am trying to make the best decision about support for my gouche work. I want to work between 2' and 3' square or larger. This is larger than most commercially produced art supplies, and so I have been looking to wood panels as a possibility. I need a rigid support that won't flex as I apply the gouache very thick and I don't want it to crack. I would also like to avoid cradeling the panels becaue I want to frame the work with glass. Cradeling seems to big and heavy. Also, both a carpenter and a museum picture framer have suggested that masonite is to volatile to environmental pressures such as humidity to make a good support, especially at the scale I want. Recent research has suggested that I investigate really hard wood, like oak or maple, as opposed to birch which is cheaper. Cost is not much of an issue. Any thoughts?

Furthermore, I need to know how well gouache will stick to acrylic gesso.
If it doesn't stick well, then I think I will mount paper to whatever panel support I finally decide. THANKS!

12-13-2007, 08:06 AM
A friend of mine uses masonite (with oil) in those sizes, and larger, and has had no problems. The paintings have lasted several decades so far. However, you should probably go with 1/4" thick or more to avoid any bending at that size... and it can get heavy.

Don't know about gesso - I'm looking forward to any responses on that one.


Old Tex
12-13-2007, 01:43 PM
I use gouache on both gessoed Crescent illustration board (cold press) and on masonite. It seems to adhere just fine once dry, but I use a spray varnish on my paintings, which may also bind it to the surface a bit more as well. The illustration board, even with a couple of coats of gesso, still has a lot of tooth to it. The gessoed masonite is a different animal. It presents a rather slick surface to paint on, but dries just fine. I prefer it because it doesn't warp when I lay in my initial wet first pass.

12-13-2007, 05:18 PM
Whatever you use at that size will need bracing. The frame itself can function as a brace up to a point.

Hardboard is actually less susceptible to humidity changes than solid wood or plywood. It can be more acidic and fragile, however. Oak is more acidic than birch, but it's harder and heavier.

Acrylic primer doesn't generally work well with gouache, but Fredrix makes a special "watercolor canvas" that will work. I think it only goes up to 2x3', though. There are some brands that make special acrylic primers that are more porous than regular acrylics, but I'm not familiar enough with them to recommend them. Golden and Art-Boards make two I know of. Also, there is watercolor paper that comes in rolls up to 5 ft high that can be quite thick, even over 300#, which would work very well for gouache.

12-14-2007, 01:35 AM
I frequently use a print makers paper for gouache too. Rives BFK 300 pound. It's thick and can take a lot of gouache without buckling too much. the surface is less textured than Arches, for example.

However I still have it in my head that mounting the paper to a support will be better for thick gouache surfaces. And because I float my work when I frame it, I can't use the frame to support it.

12-14-2007, 10:33 AM
Light weight paper would defintely need a backing of some sort, but some types of quality paper can be made thick and stiff almost like thin composite panels. Also, wood veneer can be found in sizes up to 4x8', and if you mount paper to that it will create a rather sturdy but lightweight support, which would be fine for gouache as long as you don't bend it. Rather large sizes would need extra bracing, mostly just to keep it flat.

12-16-2007, 03:22 PM
Just to update: my paranoia about gouache cracking has subsided after talking to a local gouache artist of 43 years experience. His works range in size from 20" - 28" and he simply uses good quality water color paper. He applies the gouache graphically, quite thick mixing with just a little water, and claims to have had no trouble with cracking as long as the drawings are carefully framed and never rolled.:clap:

c'est moi
03-07-2008, 12:12 PM
Having enjoyed watercolour for ten years, but unable to get sufficiently deep shades for 'moon scenes' I bought gouache - not a clue how to use it... but thanks to this site, as suggested by friend, also Co. Tipperary, I will attempt a painting. Thanks to all those with the generosity of sharing information.

03-14-2008, 03:56 PM
I use ampersand's aquabord (textured claybord).... it is fantastic... and just spray the finished piece and frame like an oil painting...

05-26-2008, 03:17 AM
I like the Ampersand pastelbord - not just because of the way it holds the paint and allows for beautiful bright layers, but because I can spray it with spray varnish and then just stick it in a frame with no fuss.

09-22-2008, 05:54 PM
I just started painting with gouache on scraps of colored matboard, after coating it with clear gesso. I like getting the background tint to unify the painting. Even though for me the beauty of gouache are the vibrant colors, the tinted background is excellent for the softer passages.

09-22-2008, 07:18 PM
I did some experimenting with gouache on a tablet of canvas paper a few nights ago, and while it no doubt is prepped more for oils or acrylics, the look and texture worked very well. Using very little water (keeping down beading) and either laying down a solid passage of paint or using a drybrush or scumbling technique made for a very "painterly" effect.

I'm thinking about investing in some of the watercolour canvases made by Frederix, since I liked the texture of canvas so much, to see how that compares.

maggie latham
09-28-2008, 01:56 AM
Hello everyone,

My favourite surface by far is either Arches or Fabriano Hot Pressed watercolor paper. I buy Arches 140lb in block form, for ease of use and no need to stretch if I end up using a lot of water.

I also sometimes prime the HP surface with two coats of Colourfix Pastel Primer in either white or eggplant. This has a gritty surface, which lends itself well to very dry brush painting. It will chew up your brushed, though, so use old cheap brushes on this surface.

Of course anything on paper needs to be framed under glass:) ….even if you spray a light coating of a water media varnish, which I sometimes do to give a glossy appearance to the piece or to “pop” back some of the colours when they have dulled down a bit.


09-28-2008, 10:23 AM
...Of course anything on paper needs to be framed under glass:) …

That's not true, Maggie. Oil paintings on paper do not need glass, in fact it would cause problems to do so. For gouache paintings on paper, it's not the paper that needs protection, if it's 100% rag, it's the paint surface.

maggie latham
09-29-2008, 01:57 AM
That's not true, Maggie. Oil paintings on paper do not need glass, in fact it would cause problems to do so. For gouache paintings on paper, it's not the paper that needs protection, if it's 100% rag, it's the paint surface.

Hello David,
Thanks for clarifying the point.
Being in the Gouache forum, I was of course refering to Gouache work on paper. Although as I also personally work in watercolour and soft pastel……..For the mediums I use ‘ everything on paper needs to be framed under glass’…….

Terribly sorry! I misspoke….I will be more careful next time with how my words might be perceived.

:) I think you have an interesting point about different surfaces and which ones (combined with which mediums) to frame under glass. How about starting a thread dedicated to just that? I’m sure a lot of members would have many questions.


09-29-2008, 10:52 AM
There's a prejudice against paper used as support which is often undeserved, and it easily gets me riled up, so I tried not to pounce on you. As with anything in the art world, one needs to be careful declaring absolute ways of doing things, since there are often exceptions.

It's a complicated issue. I was looking at the rules recently for a major juried show coming up, and they stipulate that anything on paper be glazed (under glass) without exception, a common restriction. If you place an oil painting under glass you would prevent it from curing properly. On the other hand, if I mounted paper to wood I guarantee no one but me would know, but I dislike dishonesty. Although watercolor, gouache, and other aqua mediums can hold up just fine, glass helps resolve cleaning and general maintenance issues.

Now, I if you dropped an oil painting on canvas and one on paper into a river, you might only be able to rescue the canvas painting. Then again no amount of glass would make a difference.

09-30-2008, 01:10 AM
However late in the conversation, I like a nice traditional gesso panel to paint on.... gouache takes really well to that. Paper is , of course my regular favorite, hot press at that. Cold press for watercolor. Gouache on gesso, though, is just REAL nice.

maggie latham
09-30-2008, 03:40 PM
Thanks for sharing where you are coming from about framing under glass. It can be a confusing issue, especially understanding the nuances of different mediums and supports.

I quite often like to use an acrylic varnish (brush on not spray) as a finish on my pastel paintings on either Wallis paper or prepared acid free mat board. Of course I always mat and frame these under glass. I like this technique for my way of working in pastels, and it developed out of necessity of selling unframed pastel work. Now I use fixative and acrylic varnish more as a design tool to bring out darks etc.

I guess my point is (as you so rightly pointed out) that artists do need to be careful declaring absolute ways of doing things.
I really appreciate the valuable info that you share with us on WC.

06-25-2010, 08:26 PM
I see that many people here like smooth paper surfaces (or boards) for gouache, and this is often thought of as the 'proper' surface for this medium. However, I find that I get best results on watercolor paper with an in-between texture: Not too rough but not untextured either. I was surprised at how well gouache worked on mat watercolor paper pads/blocks (mine is 200g Hahnemuhle, glued along the edges). It is slightly textured, but I am still able to paint extremely fine lines etc. The texture helps with the washes in my opinion: the washes on smooth hot-press paper has somewhat less 'sparkle'. I think you have to paint very thickly to worry about cracking.

Steve Orin
06-26-2010, 07:33 AM
Kinda depends on your manner of use... I like to use guache in fairly thick layers so I need a rigid support. Anything flexible would cause the paint to crack. Notice that most of the pics shown here are of guache used in thin, watery apps., like watercolors. Anyway, I prefer a high grade 1/2" plywood, sanded & primed, resanded.

Deborah Secor
06-29-2010, 04:18 PM
I've had thick applications of gouache on paper crack and learned my lesson! :( If you're going to use it thick and lush, I agree--you need a fairly rigid support.

One of my favorite papers is Pastelmat, which comes in 8 different colors and is an absorbent paper. Don't let the name fool you--you can use lots of wet media on this paper quite successfully. It has a nap that will slowly become lightly textured as you build up gouache layers. You can do washy effects, dry-brush or impasto layers (though not too thick, as above.) Lots of people have remarked that my finished paintings look a lot like pastels on this paper (the medium I've used for 25 years).

Another one is Somerset Velvet paper. This is a printmaking paper with a nice light texture, not strictly 'velvety' like a velour might be, but soft and very absorbent. It's 100% rag and has sizing that works nicely with gouache. I like the black a lot for certain subjects, though there are two whites and a gray, as well. It's light enough that it will buckle a bit if overly wet, but dries flat willingly.

I also like using plain old rag mat! I use the fallout from mats cut for paintings, which is economical and gives me a range of colors. I can use thicker applications on this surface, too.


07-03-2010, 10:50 AM
I personally like the old strathmore no. 1 illustration board. When I use birch or masonite panel, I first seal it with a coat of shellac, then sand and two thin coats of sanded gesso (acrylic) with 400 grit. It gives enough absorbency and the tack to hold the thin washes as you build up.