Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Color is White?

9" x 12" watercolor

The watercolor above of our dog, Dusty, is an excellent example of painting white.  I am always asked how to paint "white" when "white" paint is typically not used in watercolor painting.

Have you ever wanted to paint a room in your home white?  I have.....and then I went to select the paint and wondered how may colors of white are there?!!  There are literally hundreds of shades of white paint. 

The same holds true with our white dog, Dusty, in the painting above.  Dusty is what one would consider a white dog.  We rescued Dusty as a 2 year old and his name was selected by his previous owner.  She did an excellent job of naming this fellow.  He is white, but he has a steak of "dust" down his back and around his muzzle.  Therefore, painting this white dog had to include some "dust." 

I painted Dusty from a photo as a camera does not pick up the slight differences in color that the human eye can.  Although I used the photo for basic shape, I looked at my subject in person (Dusty) to pick out the colors. 

Dusty's fur contains shades of yellow ocher, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine blue, cadmium orange, sepia and Payne's gray; all of these colors are very diluted.  And, one can always use white paint.  It's your painting and you set the rules!

It is best to study your subject in real life to catch all the rich nuances of color hiding in fur or any object whether the color is white or another color.    Rarely are any colors simply one shade, but made up of various shades and values of a color with other colors in shadows or highlights.

I'll provide instructions on how to paint the picture above of Dusty; however, the process of painting white works for any subject.

Supplies Needed:
Watercolor paper (I used Arches 140 lb. paper – 9” x 12” size)
Watercolor board
Masking tape to anchor paper
  • Round brush – your choice of size
  • Liner brush or script brush
  • Fan brush
Paint:  colors of your choice.  I used the following on the fur in the painting above:
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Sepia
  • Payne’s Gray
  • Black
  • White
  • Rose Madder

Painting Instructions:
Lightly sketch in the shape of your subject.  If you are painting fur, drawn lightly in the locations where "clumps" of fur are located.   Prepare washes of the colors needed for your subject. 

Look - really look - at the colors in your subject.  What colors do you find in the white fur?  Mostly gray?  Mostly browns?  A mix?  This is the hardest part of the process of painting white....really looking at the subject and selecting the colors that are part of the white. 

1st Layer:
I painted the eyes, nose ears and tongue first as I wanted to define the subject and work the fur around these areas.  The eyes in this instance are a mix of Sepia and Black.  Be certain to leave a white highlight.  Wet the area and leave this highlight dry.  If your highlight becomes flooded with color, you can always scratch a bit of white in the eye using a utility knife after the paint has dried or touch in a bit of white paint.  Define the eye with black.    The nose is a mix of Sepia, Black and Rose Madder as Dusty has a bit of pink in his nose.  Define the nose with bits of white as well.  Wet the entire area of the tongue.  Drop in deeper shades of Rose Madder toward the outer edges and allow to mix with the clean water to the center. Add details if needed.  Deepen the shades of color around the muzzle area to define the mouth.    I used a light wash of Rose Madder for the ears and dropped in some Payne's Gray to deeper the shadows.  Allow the eyes, nose, ears and tongue to dry before starting to paint the fur. 

Start adding some of the darker shades of color as shadows between the clumps of fur.   Don't do every hair, just the most defining areas as a base for the fur you will be painting later.   Use some warmer colors and some cooler colors for light and shadows. 

2nd Layer:
Some areas will need to be darker and you can begin to add a few lines for fur.    As discussed in a previous blog with instructions for painting fur, use the brush method that you find successful and that works for the fur you have selected to paint.   In my painting above, I used a small fan brush to add the fur around the mouth, but a round brush to paint the remainder of the fur.   Let the individual bits of fur "stick out" around the ears, eyes and top of the head.  Do not overdo on adding fur.  Sometimes less is more; and in this case with fur, that is definitely the case.  Leave some fur areas unpainted, it is not necessary to paint every single piece of fur on the animal's body. 

3rd Layer:    Look over the painting to see if you need to add any additional shadows, fur lines etc.  I used acrylic white to paint a few stray hairs over the eyes and ears.  Don't overdo this part. 

Now you know - what color white is.  Well, it's white and gray and yellow and.......

Happy Painting!


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