Mixing with white, that sounds simple doesn’t it? Yet, I remember the frustration I went through after I left my 15 years of watercolor painting and started working with water mixable oils and acrylics. When painting with watercolor the white comes from the paper and using water, hence I never used white in my paintings. Mixing with white was new territory.Because white was a new color on my palette, I did not understand what was happening when I mixed my white with another color. There was a fair amount of exasperation expressed as I tried to comprehend what this color was doing to my mixtures! Unfortunately, I did not have the where with all to ask anyone either — not smart. Then I finally learned some tricks on my own, did some research and asked a couple of experienced painters.
White is the largest tube of paint that most of us own and we usually squeeze more of that color onto our palettes than we do any other color. Therefore it needs to be understood and I needed to practice and to explore. I was surprised with what I learned.
Here are the Secrets to Mixing with White:
- White will lighten a color but it does not brighten a color;
- White cools a color or makes it bluer;
- White dulls a color;
- The above have the most profound impact when mixed with these six colors: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green and green.
- White makes a transparent color opaque;
In other words, white changes the brightness (value), hue and intensity (chroma/dullness) of a color.
MIXING TIP: When you lighten the colors listed above in #4, add a speck of yellow to restore their original hue and intensity. You can see this in the chart below and then I also did the same with blue, blue-green and red-violet. You will also notice that I added a tad of orange to the two yellows to warm them back up.
I want to encourage you to make your own color charts mixing with white. You can easily expand upon it by mixing different ratios of white to the different colors. Creating a chart like this is gratifying because you learn more about your paints. Seeing the mixtures using your paints is also valuable.
It really is interesting to see what happens when a little white (or a lot of white) is added to a color. It’s helpful to see the subtleties on a color chart (I used canvas paper) versus in the middle of your mixing palette while madly trying to mix a color for a painting.
What else do you see when you look at this chart? I wish the differences were more evident in this digital image because it’s fun to see how the white – particularly with the red, red-orange and orange – cools the color. It surprises me every time I do it! Then adding just a little bit of yellow brings it back to life.
By the way, I mix with a palette knife when I create color charts. It is cleaner and a habit I have developed. Also, the white I used was Titanium.
Available White Pigments to Choose From:
- Titanium white paint is the most commonly used by fine artists and is the most opaque white pigment. Titanium is the most neutral in color but is slightly cool.
- Zinc white is made from pure zinc oxide and is more translucent than Titanium. It produces brilliant color mixtures. Zinc white is known for its ease of use and is often used in glazing. Its tintorial strength is not as strong as Titanium which means you will use more of the paint when mixing.
You may find a lead white, but this is not commonly used and is very toxic. I have also seen a permanent white. Experiment and discover the differences.
The more you work with the different whites the more you will determine where it might work best for you and your work. Enjoy! Let me know what you discover. Studying color is such a delight and full of surprises.
If you would like to learn more about mixing color and end your frustration with it, you are welcome to check out my book at: https://ijustwanttopaint.com
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