Sourced from the sap of acacia trees, gum arabic is an essential component of watercolors. It is a water-soluble natural binder that helps to suspend and hold pigment particles together. Available in both powder and liquid form, gum arabic can be easily mixed by do-it-yourselfers who want to produce their own stable watercolors. You can also mix additional gum into your paints to improve viscosity and allow more precise brushwork. While it might not be a fundamental tool to keep in your studio, gum arabic can be a great problem solver when it comes to finicky jobs.
1. Jacquard Gum Arabic
This gum arabic is a superfine-grained powder that comes in a tiny, 1-ounce bottle—but a little goes a long way in extending your watercolors. Compared with liquid gum arabic, powders give you greater control, as you can add as little or as much as you like to water to create your preferred consistency. If you are creating your own watercolors, Jacquard’s product helpfully includes suggested ratios to create stunning paints. You can also dissolve and incorporate it into ready-made paints to increase their tack, which can ease brushing and prevent unwanted seepage.
2. Pure Organic Ingredients Gum Arabic
This powder comes in a thoughtfully designed, resealable paper bag, not unlike one that would hold loose-leaf tea. Made of 100 percent pure gum made from the hardened sap of the Acacia senegal tree, it is a food-grade powder that dissolves quickly in water. You can easily create a liquid base and add pigments to make your own watercolors, or apply it to your painting surface to reduce wetness as you paint. A small amount of this gum arabic mixture will give you a lot more control over paint flow.
3. Earthborn Elements Gum Arabic
Earthborn Elements specializes in health and household products, and while its gum arabic targets folks working with craft cocktails and confectionery, it also performs well as a paint thickener. The water-soluble powder comes in a tightly sealed, 20-ounce tub, making it an economical pick for schools. Compared with some other formulations, it does not mix as easily with pigments, so a little experimentation with your ratios might be required. Still, this is an above-average gum arabic for a great price.
4. Holbein Gum Arabic Medium
If you don’t want to bother with the initial mixing that powder requires, the Japanese company Holbein sells liquid gum arabic that can be used for watercolors and gouache. Liquids tend to be less cost effective than powders, but because they are pre-mixed with water, they blend slightly faster. This binding agent is made with pure gum arabic and is sold in a small, 60-milliliter bottle, making it easy to dispense. The solution is strong and adheres to pigments very well; just a few drops will improve the flow of your watercolors while increasing both gloss and transparency.
5. Winsor & Newton Gum Arabic
This prehydrated gum arabic offers a convenient way to adjust the viscosity of watercolors while increasing their sheen. The gooey solution provides greater control over the spread of pigments, whether you are using student- or artist-grade paints. And if you make your own watercolors, it can help you produce paints with greater body. You can even rub some on brush tips to reshape their points for smoother strokes. Winsor & Newton’s product also delivers as an archival-quality medium, as it doesn’t stain surfaces or yellow over time.