When a White is a White

Q. Could you explain how to use white pigments in watercolor? And what is the difference between zinc white, titanium white and Chinese white?

A. The beauty of watercolor is, of course, using the white of the paper instead of white out of a tube. You want to use the white of the paper to its fullest, letting it shine through the transparency of your pigment.

You can use masking fluid to preserve the white of the paper by painting right over this masking and rubbing it off later. Or, you can learn how to preserve the white of your paper without the masking, which is very tricky—one stroke and you’ve lost it.

But if you choose to use white paints, there are a few things you should know. First of all, whites are made out of two pigments: zinc white and titanium white. Zinc is cooler and more transparent. If you want translucency, use zinc white. Titanium white is more opaque and warmer, so it has more covering power.

Most Chinese whites are made out of zinc, and some have a little titanium mixed in them too. To know for sure, look at the color index name on the tube. They are used to lighten color to get a touch of lighter value.

Whites are tricky and can muddy up a painting in the blink of an eye. Not to mention, you can make your painting 100 times duller by just adding one drop of white to lighten a color. There are better ways to do that without getting into mud, such as by adding a little bit of the color’s complement. I’m not opposed to using either white pigment—just be very careful. A little goes a long way. Remember: “A little dab’l do ya.” (Who said that, anyway?)

If you have a question for Catherine Anderson, send it to Water Rescue, 1507 Dana Ave., Cincinnati OH 45207, or via e-mail, wcmedit@fwpubs.com. Her response could appear in the magazine or on the web site. Sorry, no personal replies.

“I don’t paint paintings to convey a message, but they inevitably do. So much of myself goes into each one,” says Nancy Tipton Steensen. “Once a collector told me that looking at a wall of my paintings made her happy. ‘My life is so static,’ she said, ‘and when I look at your work, I see spontaneity and movement—qualities my own life lacks.’ I consider that a great compliment.” Steensen lives and paints in Battle Ground, Washington; her paintings are represented by Lawrence Gallery in Sheridan, Oregon.

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