There are differing opinions among color theory purists whether white
should be considered a color at all, since it represents the absence of hue or
chroma, and cannot be made from the three primaries, as black theoretically can
be. It's not usually represented on the color wheel, but white is usually an essential
ingredient of any palette.
|Flamenco by Ann Trusty, oil painting.
Ironically, the history of white pigments is a dark
and morbid one. Lead white was one of the earliest and most reliable whites
discovered, and has been in use since 400 B.C. Unfortunately, its toxicity
sickened and killed scores of people, and for that reason, it is no longer
manufactured in the U.S. Lead white's victims included not only the workers
engaged in its manufacture and the artists who used it, but also the women who
once applied it as face cream and makeup!
However, there was no easy replacement for lead
white and, despite its obvious toxic effects, it continued to be used for
centuries. It took the work of many chemists a very long period of time to
develop the formulas for zinc white and titanium dioxide white, two colors that would eventually replace the widespread use of lead white. Zinc white was
developed for use in oil paints in the late 1700s.
By 1921, a titanium white
oil color suitable for artists' use was introduced by an American manufacturer.
Zinc white is more transparent and useful in tinting and glazing work, though
prone to cracking over the long term. Titanium white has become the most common
replacement for lead white in artists' pigments because of its lack of
toxicity, its thermal and environmental stability, and its opacity.
The titanium pigment, titanium dioxide, now accounts
for almost 70% of the total production volume of all pigments worldwide. As
artists, we know it as the strong, brilliant white pigment available for oil
painting, but that use is just a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands
of other commercial and industrial uses it has. It is used extensively to
provide opacity and whiteness to plastics, foods and toothpastes, as well as
cosmetics, skin care products, and sunblocks. It is sometimes used to whiten
skimmed milk and to mark the white lines on tennis courts. Interestingly, it
was also used by NASA to paint the exterior of the Saturn V rocket!
In painting, the addition of white gives us
advantages and deficits at the same time. White is needed to lighten dark colors, and is used to mix colors to create tints, pastels, or high-value areas in a painting. The
trouble with mixing colors with white is that white also cools a color.
This may result in the necessity of adding additional warm colors to color schemes to bring the
resulting mixture back to the proper temperature.
All in all, we consider this a very small drawback
of the reliable, more stable and safer substitute we now have for the beloved
but cruel lead white of old. What about you? What do you think of mixing colors with white? Which white(s) do you use? Leave a comment and let us know.
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--John & Ann