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Flowers, oil, 12x10in (30.5x25.5)
Flowers, oil, 12x10in (30.5x25.5)

How to Paint White Objects Using Oil or Acrylic Paints


Linda Birch - Posted on 03 Sep 2010


White paints

There are different kinds of white paint available in oils; titanium, zinc and flake are the most popular. Zinc now appears to be marketed as a ‘mixing white’, which is used to lighten colours without making them appear chalky. These are available in oils, water-based oils, Alkyd oils and acrylics. The choice is yours but, as a good workhorse, I usually find that titanium is the most useful. In addition, I enjoy using buff titanium and Naples yellow as an addition to white, as they mix well with other colours in order to make the close toned greys surrounding white.


How to paint white flowers
Flowers, oil, 12x10in. (30.5x25.5cm).
Use surrounding colours to define white flowers, and make sure there is a good strong light source to create contrasting light and shadow.

If you paint white flowers, find a good direct light source, otherwise it will be difficult. White needs contrast, both of colour (in this case, the greens) and in its tonal colour (the shadows and highlights found on white). In the painting, left, there are varying shades of white on the flowers, from the warm white (white plus a tiny amount of yellow ochre) of petals facing the light, to the cool shadows (white plus a little French ultramarine with red oxide). With cooler light, use a tiny amount of blue or green to the light whites and make any shadow warmer.

Cup and saucer

How to paint white crockery
Cup and Saucer, oil, 12x9in. (30.5x23cm)
Careful observation is needed with white – but the range of pearly greys and coloured highlights is a delight to discover.

For this little painting (above) I placed the group against a background of artificial lighting so the china picked up warm spots of highlight. The shadows were pearly greys made from French ultramarine, titanium and red oxide. Cadmium yellow and orange were mixed with white to create the highlights, which were painted more thickly. Red oxide with a little white was used for the background. A warning! Don’t take anything for granted. There is no formula for painting white, just patient observation and trusting what your eyes tell you, not what your brain does!


How to paint snow
Snow, oil, 12x16in. (30.5x40.5cm)
Lavender and blue greys were used to create subtle shades of white. Contrasting darks of burnt umber and red oxide with phthalo green were used for the hedges, while French ultramarine and brown with a little white rendered the background vegetation.

Another obvious example of the occurrence of white is snow. Here I must confess the subject is one of my favourites! I love the subtlety of white, and the lights and shadows that are found around it. I enjoy painting snow, because I prefer the subtle to the overt, the understated to bravura so the tones and colours of snow appeal strongly. I am also attracted to the challenge that white presents as a colour to paint. White picks up and reflects colours around it and there are a whole range of greys and reflected colours to discover and render. White is never pure white – it always collects and reflects colours near to it. Sometimes it can appear to throw off the complementary of a primary colour adjacent to it. In this snow painting of a lane near my home (above), I wanted to explore the coolness, but not just with blues. I used purple as well as French ultramarine, together with burnt umber and a little phthalo (viridian) green. The shape the lane made as it met the trees was a vortex; a shape often used by JMW Turner (see Steamer in a Snowstorm). I used titanium white, which is the white I most often use, as it has good covering power and mixes well, and I like its creamy consistency.

This extract is taken from a feature in the October 2010 issue of Leisure Painter and is part of a series which commenced in the September issue.

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