Organizing Yummy Tubed Gouache + Watercolor Paints

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. 
Come join us. Life is so
endlessly delicious." 
Ruth Reichl

Thoughts about watercolor vs. gouache and my method for organizing tubes of paint. My organization scheme is as simple as possible, so that can simply pull out paints, jars of water, brushes, etc and paint. I want quick, easy access with almost no set up or tear down time. 


Identification: {left} M. Graham Artists' Gouache, Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, Maimeri Artist Gouache


My first step to getting organized, after accumulating a bunch of paints, was to cut little squares of watercolor paper. and document what colors I had so that I could use the cards as reference. I painted a swatch on each card and documented pigment codes, brand, gouache or watercolor, etc. You can put more info on the back too, if you wish, like date purchased, notes on opacity, etc. The watercolor swatches are W&N.

My inner creative grid-loving geek had a blast. After painting all of the swatches I  toyed with the order that I wanted to place them in the palette boxes. Have no fear. This was not any sort of scientific or art school algorithm but rather ordering them in a way that pleases the eye. You get to decide the order you like best!


My little swatches make me happy!!!


Getting a handle on the colors I have. There are an abundance of blues. This is also really helpful when trying to decide what additional colors to buy. When you lay out the colors like this you can see some gaps.


The swatches come in handy when you need to know what the colors will look like when dry. Or to dream up new color palettes for a piece of artwork. Or a flower.

Tubed watercolor and gouache paints share so many similarities that I store them together. And while they can be used straight from the tube for vivid intensity and sheer deliciousness, they are more often stored in a palette, spritzed with water, and used like pans.


Identification: Winsor & Newton Artists' Watercolor Tubes; right = Professional}

Next, the process of squeezing a similar amount of paint into each well, following the order I had decided {and then re-decided after they got pushed around on the table by the kiddos and interrupted by dinner}. For this step I worked ever-so-slowly to be sure I put the paint where I wanted it.

I squeezed a little bit of each of the W&N watercolors into the sections of the new palette. A little room for expansion. I like to mix colors, but I also like the immediacy of simply dipping my brush in a color. A visually engaging color mixing book is the Color Mixing Bible



After squeezing all of the gouache colors into the palette I made a "map" of the paints. More on that below. Gouache paint is thicker than watercolor.




The gouache looks like a candy shop.


A rainbow sun, gouache with a bit of watercolor on an index card.


My "map" for the new palettes. It's like a map key or legend. Using a ruler, I measured the number of squares I would need per row and painted swatches here as a reference. This is significantly more important than the little sample card swatches that I did before figuring out what order to put the colors in the palette. This is how I know what paint is where. When the paint runs low, I know what color to use to refill the section. And I know what colors become grainy or flake or whatever.... so that I don't buy them again.

Notes about gouache & watercolor & color selection.

Generally speaking, gouache is more opaque and watercolors are more translucent. But that is not to say that some gouache is not translucent and some watercolor is not opaque. I know this not because I read it somewhere but because I experienced painting with all sorts of colors. Experimenting and testing hypotheses is the way to learn.

Each color/pigment is different. The colors I select will be different than the colors you select. The important thing is to consider what you plan to paint. For example, if you paint nature & landscapes, you'll need the colors necessary to paint nature!

When comparing brands, you will find that some pigments have different names depending on the brand. I am admittedly a geek and enjoy researching pigments and reading reference charts and trying to comprehend the scientific details. Although I do focus more on single pigment colors, I do love Payne's Gray and other mixes. This makes it easier to work in short bursts of time with little-to-no-setup.

My collection of tubed watercolor and gouache paints

My collection of tubed watercolor and gouache paints

That's the story of how I got my tubes of watercolor paint and tubes of gouache paint organized in pretty palettes that look like edible rainbows!