Friday, 24 February 2012

Using the forbidden colour

'White' in aquarelle watercolours - why does it exist?

From the first time I started working with aquarelle I learned that using white paint in aquarelle watercolours is 'not done', for the simple reason that there is no need for white! White is the lightest colour in your painting, you are working with transparent paint and every painted part is darker than your paper. So when you need the lightest colour don't paint that part, leave it the colour of your paper. This must sound familiar to you aquarellistas out there!
From light to dark the purist way

It is what I teach in my watercolour class and what I've always practised. The only question is, why does white aquarelle paint exist then? It is transparent and doesn't help covering or repair mistakes...

It set me thinking and I have now found at least one good and purist aquarelle use for transparent white:
As you probably know, the best way to go from dark to light in an object in aquarelle, is to start with the lightest colour. (In other words, start with the thinnest paint, the shade with the least pigment or the most water). If you start with the darker tone (with the highest amount of pigment in it or the least amount of water), and add a thinner paint, you get the famous 'cauliflowers' effect! (This can be very beautiful - but it is not always what you want). 
Cauliflower effect

Since the cauliflower effect is caused by the more watery, low on pigment and therefore lighter colour, you can avoid it by making the colour lighter by mixing transparent white through it! 
I used W&N Chinese White in my experiments (and to be honest wasn't deeply impressed) but it did work, and there were no cauliflowers...!
From dark to light using white

For those of you who have thought of using white to cover small mistakes: don't use acrylic paint, it is slightly shiny and stands out. Better use gouache white... they are watercolours too, only opaque... But you don't have this from me!

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