Which White is Right?

Courtesy of Currys.com, written by Judy Taylor.

I discovered the misuse of white quite accidentally. I wanted to paint the delicate peaches and cream complexion of my granddaughter. While I got the right value and hue, the results looked chalky. Where, I wondered, did I do wrong?

I asked that question several times and finally got the answer from a fellow participant at a workshop. “What kind of white are you using?” she asked.
“Ah, Titanium” I mumbled. There was more than one white? News to me.
“Try Zinc white. ” She told me.

After that I was left to my own devises to experiment with the various whites to get the effect I was searching for. While this may not be the complete answer of how to get life-like skin tones, it sure explains where I went wrong.

The whites that I have experimented with are: Titanium – made from the element of Titanium; Warm white – similar to Titanium white but not as glaringly white; Zinc white – originally called Chinese white – you’ve probably had an encounter with it if you have done much watercolor paintings. Quite transparent it gives very nice foggy effects in a watercolor. But I digress.

And Gesso. (The G is a soft g and it is pronounced Jesso.) You’ve met Gesso on your prepped canvas. Yes, it is the acrylic paint that goes on all canvases (or other surfaces) to seal and isolate the surface.

Uses of White
– Change value
– Opaque a transparent color
– White out


Changing Value

Most acrylic paint comes in a medium value (for that hue). As beginners we usually make the mistake of painting right out of the tube and so our paintings are all one value. (To test your painting for value, take either a black and white photo or photocopy of it. Are there black and white and many shades of grey in your photocopy?)

Above: Various whites mixed with Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson. What we really want in a painting is some light values and some dark values and lots of (greys) between. We can lean one way or the other but we need a range of values.

The easiest way to do that is to add white to get a lighter value and dark colors to get a darker value.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Read the whole article to find out what each white is useful for and general tips on using whites in your paintings.

See all of Currys.com Art Tips & Techniques.