Australian Fine Artist

Using White Oil Paints

White, like black, is an under estimated and misunderstood tone in oil painting. Most people think you just add white to any colour to lighten it. this is a basic and common mistake. By adding white to your colours too early and by too large an amount, you will will end up with what is called a ‘chalky’ finish.

If you have ever noticed that the colours in your paintings looks dull and lacking in tonal depth and contrast, this could be because, as I did in the past, you have been adding the wrong white, too early, and in the wrong quantity.

TIP. When lightening any colour, add another colour or two or more FIRST. Don’t go for your white immediately. For example, you may have a dark yellow and want it lighter. Add a lighter yellow and mix. If that isn’t light enough add another even lighter yellow then mix. Then you add a touch of white to lighten the whole mix. You should still have a good intense colour. If you feel you have lost it a bit, pop in a touch of your original colour and mix to bring it back.

Try this method withother colours to see what you get. One colour that where you will se this method working best is red. If you add white to red, you will just get a pinkish colour. In this case try adding yellows with a red base, oranges with a red base or other lighter reds, then add a touch of white, then go back to your reds again to help hold up the red hue. If you mis the right colours with each other to leighten them, you may not need to touch your white tube at all, so this method is worth experimenting with.


Types of Whites.

Not all whites are the same. So, knowing where to use which one will change the final colours you get as you add them to your mixes.

  • Titanium White
    This white is the most opaque, meaning that colours will be muted by this colour.
  • Zinc White
    This is a semi-transparent white, so colours will hold up better when it is mixed.
  • Transparent White
    This white is suitable for mixing, and allows the original colour to hold up better.
  • Irredescant White
    Is a transparent mixing white that adds a pearlescent sheen to colours.
  • Flake White
    This white was originally composed of lead, so was banned in many countries. It is now less toxic so may be available in more art stores. It is a warm semi transparent white that mixes well and adds a little warmth to cool colours.

If you would like more information about how to use your paints and other art materials, Winsor & Newton have very good videos that are freely available on the web at:


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