Gouache: M Graham vs Arteza vs Caran D’Ache

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After watching Mira Byler paint with gouache on youtube last night, I thought this morning I’d give it a try. Gouache paint is kind of a cross between acrylic and watercolor, at least in performance. It rewets after drying, like watercolor, so can be put into a palette to dry and easily be carried somewhere to paint. You can thin it as much as desired, but like acrylic it is opaque, and can layer light on top of dark. It’s almost backwards painting compared to watercolor, where you have to think ahead and leave any light or white spaces colorless while you fill in darks. In some ways it is simpler than painting with watercolor (at my skill level). It feels chalky after drying, and reminded me of poster paints and tempera paints we used as kids in school. Gouache can be a bit harder on brushes than watercolor, so I don’t use my very expensive brushes with it. And actually I think the slightly firmer brushes perform great with the medium.

You may (or probably DON’T) recall that last year towards the beginning of my 365 challenge, I tried Caran d’Ache’s pan gouache set… the only gouache set I could find not in tubes. Here is what I painted at the time, following a tutorial:

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I was new to gouache, and to painting at all, and set them aside.

Fast forward to February of this year, I found an Amazon lightning deal on a 24 color Arteza gouache set, thinking maybe I’d like tubes better. And I also bought 4 M Graham tubes from a local art supply shop. So finally (only 6 months later, right?) I decided today I’d give them a shot.

Arteza result:

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The lightning deal on Amazon in February was under $15. The regular price for this set is currently still $18.98, and I’ve linked them here if you want to look at them. 

And HERE is a link to a set of 5 M Graham primary gouache tubes for $24.88.

And HERE is the Caran d’Ache set linked , 15 colors including a small white tube for $33 on Amazon right now, in a tin, with a paintbrush.

M Graham result (ignore the blob, user error!):

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Caran d’Ache result:

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(I can tell you pretty positively, no matter what set you get, you’ll also want a nice big tube of white to add to it. Gouache doesn’t lighten with water the way watercolor does. White needs to be added to get any lighter values.)

Here I have compared two paints from each brand which use the same pigments: PY 3 (yellow) and PB29 (blue). Caran d’Ache doesn’t give me pigment numbers, but I chose the two that matched. To my not-very-trained-eye, the M Grahams, in the middle, seem slightly more vivid than Arteza, and they went on more smoothly. They also don’t feel as dry and chalky. There is a difference, but it is not significant. (to me) They are all three VERY CLOSE. I doubt I could label one accurately in a ‘blind’ test. The Caran d’Ache was very easy to wet down to a watercolor like consistency. I think I may be able to get heavier opaque results with the tubes, and thinner wet washes (maybe) with the pan set.

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Honestly, my paintings in the end seem about the same.  This is very likely because I’m a complete gouache novice and they were all fairly crappy  🙂  I’ve read in reviews of the M Graham gouache paints that they dry very nicely in pans, and don’t crumble like most other dried gouache brands, due to the honey added. And I can tell you Caran d’Ache has figured out how to pan them up without cracking.

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One more thing to consider… as far as I can tell, I can’t purchase Arteza gouache tubes or Caran d’Ache pans individually, to replace a color, only in sets. M Grahams are sold in sets and individually. Which do I prefer? I see benefits to using the tubes over pans, especially if you will be doing large areas of color. It’s tricky mixing large amounts with the dried pans… good to remember if I do pan up my M Grahams. AND I have trouble keeping the pans clean when mixing them. But honestly I enjoyed the Caran d’Ache paints best… they are super creamy and a dream to use. They don’t give me pigment information on the pans, however, and both tube sets do. Pigment numbers and lightfast ratings. I have to assume for that reason that the Caran d’Ache probably aren’t “artist grade”. Still these are the ones I’m more likely to use, I think.

But remember… $25 for 5 tubes vs $19 for 24 tubes vs the $33 Caran d’Ache pan set, 15 colors… this set also has a metal palette box AND a paint brush… I think it really depends on what you’ll be doing with them, how frequently you’ll use them, etc. Are you a crafter? A part time artist wannabe? A professional artist? A gouache newbie, just interested in checking out the medium? Do you prefer using your paint from tubes or from dried pans? Will you be doing very large areas of color? I fully expected to love the M Grahams and hate the Arteza… but I kinda love them all. In the end, for me… all three gave similar results, but the pan set is my favorite.

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