Finding the Warms and Cools of White

30 May 2011

Painting flowers can be a study in different shades of white, as in Ann's flower oil painting, Philadelphus III.
Painting flowers is sometimes a study in the subtlety of color, as in Ann's
flower oil painting, Philadelphus III (oil, 12 x 16).
Painting large flower portraits has given me the opportunity to explore what seem to be the nearly infinite shades and tints of the color white. Just visiting the paint counter at the local hardware store and attempting to pick “white” for a wall color can result in taking home a dozen or so paint chips differing slightly in warmth and coolness. 

When painting outdoors, you'll notice how white flowers can also be warm or cool, with pink, ivory, and even blue tints. In addition, their color reflects the light shining upon them and the light shining through their translucent petals. In shade, they take on cooler tones. If you are plein air painting in bright sun, they take on warmer tones. 

I’ve diagrammed some of my color choices in the painting Philadelphus IV (12 x 16, oil). I’ve intentionally exaggerated the different warm and cool shades of the fragrant white Philadelphus (Mock Orange) that grows outside our studio.

In direct sun, the Philadelphus appears to be white, as the flower petals are reflecting almost all of the sunlight striking them. When the flowers are in shade or shadow, they pick up the local colors of the environment, such as the blue of the sky or green of surrounding foliage and reflect those back to the eye.

Flower oil painting by Ann Trusty, Late Stellata Bud
How to paint a white flower is a study
of a great many colors. Late Stellata
by Ann Trusty, (oil, 5 x 7).
The Japanese lantern effect caused by the warm sun shining through the partially translucent flower petals when you are en plein air warms the cast shadows. I’ve also used violet in many of the shadow areas. Violet is what I call a “bridge” color and can appear either warm or cool depending on the temperature of the color it is placed next to. 

I enjoy both the challenge and the fun of playing with and exaggerating the warm and cools of flower colors that I find to see how far I can stretch the perception of “white.” It's a great way to really get to know the subtlety of color.

--John & Ann
Visit us at The Artist’s Road to see more of our discussions of color and go to Hulsey Trusty Studios to see more of Ann's flower portraits. 

How to draw flowers that are white by John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

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