Watercolor is known for being a transparent medium. When applied over a light base like paper, or white paint, it’s easy to layer on pigment and control how your colors will look.
But did you know there are different ways of using watercolors? Many people use watercolors that are transparent, which gives a really nice effect, but sometimes using opaque colors will make layering the different colors a lot easier and even keep them from spreading in unwanted directions.
So, what are opaque watercolors? Opaque watercolors are thicker watercolors that don’t spread as easily and have a lower water content but higher pigment content. They are meant for solid and controlled colors and can be harder to layer than transparent watercolors.
This article will tell you about some options for opaque watercolors and how to use them in your next artwork!
Everyone knows what watercolor is – it is a nice, watery type of paint that can wash over your canvas to create beautiful abstract shapes, artistic textures, bright colors, and detailed artwork.
However, that’s not the only thing to know about watercolor. Knowing how watercolor behaves will really help you adjust your technique when working with this unique media.
Let’s take a look at some prominent properties of watercolor.
Transparent Vs. Opaque Watercolors
Transparent watercolor maintains its brightness or luminosity by allowing the white of the paper to shine through the layer of watercolor, creating a glowy or soft look for your painting.
Transparent color has a unique effect that is the most well-known look for watercolor, but it can be a pain when you want to layer your colors. When layering transparent watercolor, a light layer needs to go under a dark layer because the transparent color simply won’t show when applied the other way around.
Transparent color is great for creating a layered color-mixing look by layering a dark color over a light color. It is also good for creating a lovely luminosity that enhances the natural texture of your paper.
On the other hand, an opaque watercolor is packed with pigment that blocks the light and prevents the bottom layer from peeking through the top layer of paint.
Although opaque watercolor is typically thinner than other liquid paint, it is still rich with pigment that can completely cover an area, making layering much easier.
Staining Vs. Non-staining Watercolors
Transparent watercolor also comes in staining or non-staining options.
Staining watercolors are very good at wading their way into the fibers of the paper, becoming a part of the paper itself. Staining watercolors usually create a very smooth texture, and you won’t be able to tell where the paint ends and where the paper begins.
In contrast, non-staining watercolors do not get absorbed into the paper. It usually lays on top of the paper and can sometimes be easily scraped off with your nails.
You may think that it’s better to use staining watercolors, but non-staining watercolors are often used in very creative ways to create textures for a painting.
For example, you can wash a big area with a non-staining watercolor, then scrape some away to reveal the bottom layer and create a dynamic look. This is a technique often used to paint clouds or tree trunks.
Opaque Watercolor Vs. Gouache
Gouache and watercolor are commonly used as beginner mediums – they are very easy to work with and can be quite forgiving for errors.
Some artists say that opaque watercolor and gouache are basically the same thing. While the composition of the two is very similar – you have pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder – there are some distinct differences between opaque watercolor and gouache.
Similar to watercolor paint, gouache can be re-wetted and becomes matte as it dries. It can be activated with water, and you can use a brush to apply it, similar to working with watercolor paint.
Gouache produces a very opaque and matte color on a surface, but it is definitely not the same as opaque watercolor.
This is because when something is watercolor, you can make it more transparent by mixing in more water. When you work with opaque watercolor, if you want a lighter color or a thinner consistency, mixing in some water will do the trick.
However, with gouache, you won’t be able to produce transparent results no matter how much water you mix into the paint – the result will always be an opaque color.
If you want to achieve a lighter color, you will have to mix in white gouache to bring it a few shades up, rather than mixing it with water. Since gouache is still water-based paint, you can thin the paint with water to achieve a more watery consistency, but water is not an effective way to transform the color.
Compared to opaque watercolor, gouache often looks quite dull – even the lighter colors. This is what sets the two types of paint apart the most, and it is why artists often prefer one over another – while watercolor can produce a dimensional, luminous look, gouache often results in a very flat and matte appearance.
When To Use Watercolor
Watercolor paints are incredibly easy to blend. When the paint is still wet, simply touching two colors can result in the colors mixing at the border. This characteristic produces a lovely effect that only watercolor has and makes blending quite simple and straightforward, especially for beginners.
Watercolor paint can become more transparent when mixed with water. This means that the white of the paper can show through the layers of paint. If you want to layer your colors, you can only use a dark color on top of a light color.
Because watercolors are so easily blended, you can very easily let the colors blend together by accident, which is why a lot of beginners struggle with this medium. However, with just a little bit of control, you can learn how to use this blend-ability to your advantage.
Also, since watercolors require a large amount of water, your paper needs to be quite structurally sound. Otherwise, it can become weak and disintegrate when you try to paint with watercolor.
When To Use Gouache
Gouache dries with a very thick, opaque finish that completely blocks out the bottom layer of paint, which means layering colors can be quite easy – you don’t have to worry about the bottom layer of paint showing through.
Gouache behaves very similarly to other types of paint in that it doesn’t require water to activate. So, you can use it on thin paper or in your sketchbook without having to worry that the water will bleed through the pages (like it often happens with watercolor).
However, be careful when you want to apply several layers of gouache, as it’s best to wait for the first layer to dry completely before applying the next color. If not, the bottom layer of paint can be activated again, causing the colors to bleed into one another and create a mess.
Applying the layers of paint gradually will also allow each layer to dry properly, which can prevent the paint from cracking.
If you love the blend-ability of watercolor, you won’t be able to achieve the same result with gouache. Gouache behaves more like paint than like watercolor, so the colors won’t blend when they touch – you will have to put a little bit of effort into blending.
Gouache is also available in fewer colors compared to watercolor paint but can be blended to create new colors. Because this is an opaque and matte type of paint, your artwork won’t look as light, dreamy, and pastel as watercolor paintings.
When you first open a tube of gouache, you will notice that the paint is a bit thicker than watercolor. Generally, you can use a stiffer brush to apply gouache compared to the soft brushes often used with watercolor.
Mixing Gouache With Watercolor
Some watercolor purists prefer to use opaque watercolor and follow the principles of watercolor, but if you want to experiment, you can totally mix gouache with watercolor. A good thing about watercolor and gouache is because they are very structurally similar; you can mix the two together to achieve the result that you want.
If you want to make your watercolor more opaque, you can mix in some gouache to minimize some of the transparency that can happen when you paint with watercolor.
This is often a technique used if you want to use a lighter color over a dark background without the dark color poking through – you can mix the light watercolor with a little bit of white gouache to make the color quality a bit more opaque and allow the paint to completely block out the dark color on the bottom layer.
How to mix the two media together is really a matter of experimentation. You can try out different ratios and find the balance that works best in your artwork.
If you want to use gouache or watercolor as a bottom layer and add more details on top with a pencil or marker, you will be glad to know that both of them behave very similarly to a bottom layer.
That means you can freely draw on the paint with a pencil or ink marker after the paint is completely dry. The two have a very similar texture when you want to draw on it, and you can definitely experiment with using different types of makers to achieve amazing results!
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