Art Lesson: Mixing with White

One thing I really want to start doing with some of my posts is sharing artist tips and tricks. Kinda like “art lessons” in a way. I decided to start by sharing a color experiment I did this morning.

My next painting is going to be an adventurous journey for me: I plan to work mostly in pastels and whites, something I have yet to do successfully. Add the more complicated still life and it promises to be a challenge.  Before I could start the painting however, I wanted to get to know my colors a little bit better and decided to do some color mixing.


For those who do not know, there are actually several different whites one can use in oil painting. The two standards are Titanium and Zinc. Titanium is an opaque white that is also a bit on the warm side, while Zinc is more transparent and a bit on the cooler side. For the most part in my previous works I have been just kind of picking and choosing at random (yes, I know, shame on me!). But seeing as I want to do this painting in pastels, I knew I needed to actually buckle down and learn some things about my whites. Below is my palette and all the colors I tried.

IMG_3354For this experiment, I worked mostly with the “moderns” for my colors. Modern colors are basically the newer, man made colors. Although I could not find a real definition, Gamblin has a brief explanation here. Because modern colors are man made, they tend to have a higher chroma and thus tend to stay bright when mixed with white (a great example is Pthalo blue, which can sometimes be overpowering). I figured these would be great colors to work with for this project in order to avoid the “chalky-ness” issues I have had in the past.

As you can see, when mixed with color, titanium and zinc white actually do very different things. The titanium tends to lean a bit more to the “chalky” side, and is obviously very opaque.  The zinc is keeping the color a a bit more like it’s original (Note – I tried to mix the same ratio of color to white with both whites), which is likely because of it’s opacity.

One of my professors once told me that if you are unsure of the hue of a color, you can always mix it with a bit of white to find out. After this experiment, I agree. I also am finding myself wondering what colors such as your traditional browns and ultramarine would mix up to be with the whites.

At the end of my color mixing, I have definitely learned a lot about my colors and white, and cannot wait to start my next painting. I hope that I can finally master the white painting at last!



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