Saturday, September 25, 2010

White Watercolor Paint?? What? Why? When?

Storm Tossed
Watercolor 11" x 15" Mats to 16" x 20"

Use white watercolor paint?  Should I or shouldn't I? 
In my watercolor painting above, Storm Tossed, I used white watercolor paint to make the white water created when the waves hit the rocks and the shore.  By using white paint as well as leaving some areas white, I was able to create a turbulance that would be difficult to achieve any other way. 

Watercolor painting in its purest form doesn't use white paint to tint colors or provide highlights.

Instead, white areas of paper are covered with only a very pale watered-down wash to simulate light areas or, to achieve pure white, are left unpainted altogether.

This means you have to have a good idea where these areas are going to be before you start painting. This involves some pre-planning of your picture - which is actually a very good discipline, whatever paint medium you use.

In other more opaque mediums like oil painting and acrylic painting, the artist relies on adding the finishing highlights with lighter colors or white paint. This gives a bit more flexibility if you change your painting half way through.

However, don't be put off by this. Great watercolorists often used white in their watercolor paintings.

Turner was a good example. He had to use white for some of his highlights as he frequently started off by staining his paper with tea, coffee or even wine to create a particular atmosphere!

Watercolor Tip:
Never use white to mix with other colors to produce a lighter shade. This is done with oils and acrylics, but never watercolor. Adding white to other colors will only “muddy” up the color.When Does a Watercolor Artist Use White Paint?

The following are suggested time to use white paint:

a. Snow - applied via spattering to create an overall effect of snow falling.

b. Spray from water, etc. (like in my painting above)

c. Highlights that would be very difficult to achieve any other way.

Remember, there's only one rule in painting and that's to enjoy yourself. So if white paint's good enough for Turner and the other greats, you go ahead and use it as well!

Happy Painting!


Stephanie Butler said...

My son asked me to buy him a watercolor paint and he is enjoying it.

Karen A. Cooke said...

Glad to hear that your son is enjoying watercolor painting. Watercolor painting can be frustrating for beginners as mistakes can't be easily corrected. In acrylic painting, you can usually paint over a mistake and try again. With watercolor painting, once it's there - it's there. However, I find that "happy" mistakes often make the best paintings. If not, it's only paper! Hope he continues to enjoy it!

Nguyen Quynh Trang said...

I tried to use white paint to highlight my work (after finishing) but couldn't see the effect. The white color just faded into the background and when it dried, I saw no white there. :(
I'm struggling with this highlight thing. Could you help me?

Karen A. Cooke said...

White paint is not usually used in watercolor painting. Highlights in watercolor are made by masking the white paper with a masking fluid so that when the paint is applied, the masking fluid will keep the white paper free of any paint. When the paint dries, the masking fluid is removed and the white paper (the highlight) can be seen.

Highlights can also be made in a watercolor painting, by using a utility knife and scraping the paint off to expose the white paper beneath.

Hope this helps!

LynnDel said...

I've steered clear of white since being told it is basically a no-no, but I love how, when you drop a bit of white onto a damp, painted, surface, it almost explodes into the other colors. This has got to be useful, somehow.

Sue said...

Nothing is a "no no" if it's what you want to do with your painting. It defies the creative, artistic nature of art to say "always" and/or "never". Experiment and see what YOU think. I too heard to never use actual white in a painting, yet I have seen it done well (and not so well). So give it a try if you choose and see if you like it. If not, that is the only reason not to use it.

Anonymous said...

Nguen, for highlight, use titane white, wich is opaque. The chinese white is tranparent.

Nguyen Quynh Trang said...

Dear Karen and Anonymous,
Thank you very much for your advice. ^^ I'll check them out.

Karen A. Cooke said...

Nguyen, I hope you were able to be successful in painting white with watercolors. Thanks to Anonymous for the timely response. There are differences in opacity and coverage of white paint. Chinese White is transparent and cannot be used to cover painting areas. Happy Painting! Karen

Nguyen Quynh Trang said...

Thank you. ^^

Anonymous said...

Watercolor got its principles: never use white painting.

Anonymous said...

In the nicest possible way isn't it ridiculous that people follow 'rules' in painting? Why not just treat rules at most as suggestions? Painting is often about problem solving, so why not choose the best solution on an individual basis?

It's depressing to think how people think that sticking to an arbitrary ruling is so important or you will be 'doing it wrong'. Who made these rules? Why should anyone care? You can't do art wrong! It is up to personal taste. It's weird to me that you need to manipulate a painting's outcome with masking fluid (cheating?!!!) rather than doing something that makes a lot more sense like using a more readily available, resource like white paint. I also tend to think white space can look rather strange - just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

So if and when I want to stick white paint on my very ordinary paintings I will and with no justification needed. Sometimes the painterly crowd seem very herd like and not at all about self expression - which to my mind is all that art is about. Art should not be about people pleasing (an opinion, not a rule and some may beg to differ.) I please myself in these matters. And, good enough for Turner should be good enough for me.

Nguyen Quynh Trang said...

I also agree that we shouldn't stick to any rules. If it looks good, so it's good, no matter it's blank space or white-painted space. I'm using both and as long as the result looks nice, I'm ok with it. ^^

Anyway, people have their own rules, so you can follow your rules. The art is yours anyway.

Suzy said...

Well, I am a beginner watercolorist, and I'm trying to understand the purpose of white tint. I noticed it fades away when you try to use it as a highlight. However, if I used it in a concentrate way, it seems to work nice to add hightlight little details. I did the "mistake" about mix white with a bit of blue, BUT I loved the result - a pastel shade of blue, with little transparency. I didn't know it was so forbidden.

Karen A. Cooke said...

Suzy, I personally don't feel that there should be hard and fast rules of watercolor such as never using white. The important part of painting of any medium is to experiment with color and how the different paints interact with each other and then use them in ways that make your painting work in the way you would like. That's art and creativity! Enjoy your painting - I say - Make your own Rules!