Friday, 14 March 2008

White or White? (Oil painting)

There are a number of whites available from manufacturers (Winsor & Newton offers nine whites in its Artists' Oil Colour range for instance). We will limit this article to the three types of white most often encountered by painters.

Many white paints are milled with Safflower oil or poppy oil which lessens the risk of yellowing. However, safflower and poppy oil undergo greater dimensional changes than linseed oil when drying and they are not suitable for underpainting (the movement of the underpainting film could crack the layers applied above). For this reason, underpainting whites are milled with linseed oil.

Early Snow - Oil on canvas (24”x 20”) by Benoit Philippe

Lead White

Lead white (or flake white) is the oldest of the whites used by painters. It was already in use during antiquity. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were already making it.

Lead white has a heavy consistency. It is also the fastest drying of all of the whites (because of the lead), which is useful for underpainting when using Alla Prima techniques.

As lead based paint became classified as hazardous, zinc white and titanium white started to supplant it.

Zinc White

Historically, Zinc white emerged during the eighteen century, when it is presented as a possible substitute to lead white.

Zinc White presents the following characteristics:

  • It is the most transparent white and suitable for glazing, scumbling and alla prima painting.

  • It dries slowly, so painters who want to paint wet into wet over a long time will find it useful.

  • It tends to brittle, so it is not recommended to use it as a general white or to paint large white expanses (which may crack over time). It is safe to use in moderate amount and mixed with other colours.
Titanium White (Titanium dioxide)

Titanium white is the most brilliant white available to artists today. This is a modern pigment as it was introduced for artists only in 1921.

Titanium white is an excellent all-purpose white oil colour and is the one to pick if you only want to buy and use one type of white:
  • It has excellent chemical stability.

  • Its covering power is useful for creating opaque layers.

  • Its tinting strength is superior to both Lead White and Zinc White,

  • Its drying time is faster than that of zinc white and slower than that of lead white.

Some manufacturers mix titanium and zinc pigment to take advantage of the quality of both. This white is often sold under the name “titanium-zinc white”.

Add to Technorati Favorites


Chris said...

I appreciate your suggestions on the color white. I have only used titanium white up until yesterday. I'm working on an oil painting (I'm a novice) of picture of my grandfather from WWII. It's my first attempt at glazing. I used zinc white for the cheeks. Keep in mind it is till a work in making. I'm posting my progress on my blog. Any helpful hints would be appreciated.

Here is the link:

Thanks for the help!

Anonymous said...

I have been surfing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
It's pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the net will be a lot more useful than ever before.
Feel free to visit my site ; interior designing