Watercolor whites

24 Feb 2009

Q: I don’t know which white to use in my watercolors. How do you choose the right white?

A: Many traditional watercolorists will say the only white that should appear in a watercolor painting is the color of the paper—either untouched by the brush or showing through the layers of applied paint. With this method, a color is tinted strictly by diluting the amount of pigment applied to the paper. However, if you prefer to lighten areas of a painting by applying white, or by mixing a lighter shade of a tube color, the rule of thumb is to use Chinese white for mixing and titanium white for covering. The reason is thus: titanium white is a more opaque pigment and better suited for adding just a few light highlights to a nearly finished painting, while Chinese white is made with zinc oxide and is therefore more transparent.


Q: Is there any problem with using acrylic white for highlights, snowflakes, etc. on a watercolor?

A: White acrylic paint will adhere well to watercolor paper, but many watercolorists choose to use white gouache instead. The reasons vary. Gouache may be diluted with little effect on its ability to adhere to a surface, while acrylic paint is not as reliable when highly diluted. Another consideration is that some watercolor associations and competitions require that participating artists use only transparent pigments--the white of the paper is the only white allowed.

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