So I wanted to write a post to compliment my previous post on using grounds, that is, I wanted to talk about the colour white a bit more. Last time we talked about avoiding white as a colour to start painting over for various reasons, and today I want to talk about yet another situation in which to avoid white.
The Basic Painting Process
When painting with acrylics, after we have our ground down and it’s completely dry, we usually start painting our backgrounds, working our way forwards, and eventually painting the very foreground of our image. We also paint the subjects in our painting in a dark to light manner, meaning that we generally start with the shadowy colours, layer on midtones over top, and then finally layering over our highlights.
The problem many beginner painters run into is the lure of the highlight. The final highlights, those of pure Titanium White, pull our entire painting together, giving it that final dimensional layer, and sending back our shadowy parts even further. It makes our paintings look truly finished, giving that impressive glint of light in the spots where our subjects shine the brightest.
It does all of this…as long as we don’t jump the gun and use it too soon.
The problem we have as human beings is that we’re attracted to shiny things. Just like raccoons with tinfoil, we see highlights and shimmery things with the utmost attraction. Our problem is that we tend to look at that little blob of Titanium White on our palette and think, “Ohh….shiny!!!!” and immediately reach for it before we’re anywhere near the highlight stage.
The Problem with Too Much, Too Soon
The problem beginners have with pure Titanium White is that we reach for it far too soon in the painting process. Usually we have just finished our midtones, start looking around for a source of highlighting, see that pool of bright Titanium White calling our names, and like a raccoon to aluminum our little paws reach out and grab it.
What happens when we start using pure Titanium White immediately after the midtone stage is that it can be too much white too soon. Using pure Titanium White everywhere we want a hightlight can leave our painting looking quite chalky, with too much pure white sticking out at us. It also hits us with a wall in terms of painting progression, because we can’t make that white any brighter, so we basically come to a roadblock and decide that our painting is finished and there’s nothing more we can do.
Highlights Have Layers
What we fail to see in this situation is that our highlight layers have various parts to them. Just as our overall painting has darker spots and lighter spots, so do our highlights! Not everything is super bright white, some spots may be only slightly lighter than our midtones. Having this variation is what really makes our final images sparkle.
Look closely at your reference photos and you will see that only a very few spots are actually white.
Most of the highlights are simply a lighter, brighter tint and hue of the midtone colours. So next time you reach that spot where you’re tempted to grab that pure white and start going sparkle crazy, take a step back, breathe…resist the urge…. then try something like this instead:
- Use a glazing technique to start brightening up parts of your painting
- Use a different colour to brighten up your midtones (eg. mixing a bit of yellow into greens to brighten them up, or a bright green into a blue to alter it’s hue and make it look lighter)
- Use a weaker white (like zinc white) to mix with your midtones to start creating lighter tints
- Use Titanium white mixed with your original midtones, and your brightened up midtones to see what kind of stronger highlight colours you can get.
…after you’ve finished a couple of these steps, then you are ready. You have resisted the shiny ball syndrome and proved that you’re no painting amateur. Now you can take your precious pure Titanium White and apply it to the few select spots where the highlights are the strongest.
Then step back and see what a difference saving pure white until last can really make in the quality of your work!
Raccoons everywhere rejoice! Someone has overcome the temptation!
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Till next time, keep creating!