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How to Use White Watercolor

The world of watercolor painting holds a stunning spectrum of colors, but there's one color that often gets overlooked: white. While it may seem simple, the use of white in watercolor painting is incredibly versatile and nuanced, particularly when we delve into the different types of white: Titanium White, Chinese White, and the strategic use of the white of the paper with masking fluid. Let's demystify using white in our watercolor work.

Titanium White: An Artist's Power Tool

Titanium White, made from the pigment titanium dioxide, is the most opaque white in a watercolor artist's palette. This high opacity is a result of titanium dioxide's high refractive index, which is just a measurement of how much light can pass through it, making for an excellent covering power.

Titanium White is perfect for:

  • Correcting Errors: Its ability to cover up mistakes or make major changes is unmatched.

  • Creating Bold Highlights: For striking highlights, Titanium White is an excellent choice, either straight from the tube or mixed with a dab of color.

  • Mixing Vibrant, Light Colors: When your objective is to create lighter but still bold hues, Titanium White, with its strong tinting strength, is your ally. Just remember any color you mix with Titanium White will become opaque.

Chinese White: The Subtle Whisperer

Chinese White, on the other hand, is made from zinc oxide, a pigment more transparent and with a lower tinting strength than Titanium White.

Chinese White lends itself to a different set of applications:

  • Softening Colors: Chinese White is less dominant, making it ideal for lightening other colors without drastically altering their original shade.

  • Adding Subtle Highlights: If your piece calls for a soft glow or subtle highlights, Chinese White is your go-to, given its subtler impact compared to Titanium White.

Preserving the White of the Paper: The Magic of Masking Fluid

Beyond the paints themselves, one often-underrated tool for maintaining white in a watercolor painting is masking fluid. This liquid latex-based product allows artists to preserve the purest white in a painting: the white of the paper itself.

How and When to Use Masking Fluid

  • Preserving the Purest Whites: When you want to maintain the pure white of the paper for strong highlights or specific elements like reflections on water, masking fluid is invaluable.

  • Creating Complex Textures: Masking fluid can help you create a range of textures, such as white foam on waves or snowflakes in a winter scene.

  • Safeguarding Areas in Layered Paintings: If you're working with multiple layers or glazes and want to protect certain areas from being painted, masking fluid can be a lifesaver.

Just apply it to your desired areas before painting and let it dry (it will almost always feel a little tacky tothe touch). Once you're done and the paint is dry, you can rub off the dried masking fluid to reveal the untouched paper beneath. It's a fantastic way to maintain the bright, natural white of the paper, adding a lively and luminous quality to your painting.

The use of white in watercolor painting is both an art and a science, with each type of white bringing its own unique qualities and potentials to the table. Whether you're reaching for the bold opacity of Titanium White, the subtle transparency of Chinese White, or preserving the luminosity of the paper with masking fluid, mastering the use of white can truly take your watercolor artwork to new heights.

So grab your brush and palette, and embark on the journey of exploring the wonders of whites in your next watercolor piece.

Happy painting!

1 Comment

Kristin Haas
Kristin Haas
Jul 13, 2023


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