White carries the meaning of freedom, innocence and purity, cleanliness and coolness. In some cultures like china, white symbolises death an illness. White is used extensively in the medical world (cleanliness), brides are often dressed in white (purity).
White is the brightest of any paint colour involved in art and is not included on the colour wheel. It is the ultimate highlight and is usually saved until the last stages of a painting for that final pop of dimension. It is mixed into colours to create tints and variations of a hue. When mixed with varying amounts of white the colour becomes lighter and less saturated as more and more white is added, resulting in soft pastel colours that eventually become almost pure white. White is almost never completely white.
Many artists take a lot of care when choosing a specific colour. When it comes to white, often it’s thought that any white will do as white is white – nothing could be further from the truth!
White has been used in one form or another for centuries. First made and used by cavemen, white was made with ground up lime or seashells. Oyster shells burnt and ground up make a white that was used in Japan and medieval England. Lead white was first made in ancient Greece and was extensively used in the Renaissance period. It was poisonous then and still is and was widely used until 1921 when Titanium White was invented. Lead white also known as Flake white, is toxic and causes brain damage amongst other things and must be used carefully.
Oil paint has been in use for much longer than acrylic paint which was invented in or around the sixties, therefore there are many more whites for oil paint than for acrylic.
The colour of white
The colour of white is decided by the oil that the pigment is mixed with. Safflower oil is the palest of the oils, whereas linseed oil has a warmer colour. Other oils used are poppy and walnut oil.
There are many sorts of whites that are manufactured, here are some of them: –
Titanium White is probably the most popular and most bought white. This is a soft, pliable and opaque white and can be used for most subjects. It’s easy to mix but does tend to make transparent colours opaque.
Zinc White is a semi-opaque and cool white and is good for mixing subtle colours and can also be used for glazing. It can be brittle when dry and drying time is slow. It’s quite stiff in use.
Flake White – (also known as Chemnitz white or Lead White.)
Flake White is poisonous, as it contains lead and must be used with great care. Its advantages are its opacity and fast drying time. It has a warmer tone than other whites.
Flake white Hue
The main base for this paint is Titanium White and not lead. Like Original Flake White mentioned above, it has a lower tinting strength and will dry very fast.
This is a cool white and can therefore be compared to Titanium White, but it does have a lower tinting strength and is very soft.
This white is similar to mixing white. It is transparent and has a low tinting strength.
Underpainting white is one of the most opaque whites. The drying time is fast which makes it ideal for underpainting work. It has been made to resist cracking and contracting. A good white to use in glazes.
Did you know that white mixed with black makes tones of grey and is very cool. ( of course you did but bear with me…)
And did you know that white mixed with colour gives pastel tints. (bear with me a little longer…)
Now this might be new to you, when you mix contrasting colours, then added to white, give various sorts of warm grey.
Here’s a challenge for you
Try painting a picture only using various shades of white, making sure you get lots of contrast in the shadows, it’s very challenging and makes you think!