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25 March 2012

When white isn't white.

One of the most difficult things for me to come to grips with was how to paint a white object and still give it form. Like many beginner artists I thought a white object had to be just that "white". I have slowly realised, and learnt to see, that even white objects have a variety of colours in them. It is these colours which help define and emphasise the form of the object, help a cup look round or a face have shadow.

In this old pen and watercolour piece of some goats you can see that I added some cross hatching to the white areas for shading but had no idea of how to use colour.

From there I progressed to doing negative painting and a small amount of shading in grey, as in this duckling painting...

I was still not happy with the results. There had to be more than just grey for shadows. I began to research  how other artists tackle this problem, including following some wonderful online "classes" at WetCanvas. I finally started to "see" colour in the white. There is a whole rainbow of colour in there at times. Hopefully the following paintings demonstrate this (to varying degrees of success still) and help you to see the colour.

Painting a black object has similar issues. I was watching a crow on the roof just a couple of days ago and saw that black too is not always all black. There was a lot of highlights and light areas where the sun was shining on his feathers and lots of hints of other colours in there too. I guess this is a whole other project to pursue, especially as I have two black cats at home I want to paint successfully one day.

Then again remember that not all paintings and drawings have to be done in realistic colour, just have some fun with it.


  1. Oh,yeah, the old white and black problems. LOL YOu've done a great job with your practice on white objects. I don't always "see" colors in white, but I always try to put them in anyway. It certainly makes a better looking painting. I always make my own black, sometimes using blues and browns, sometimes using red and green. And yes, there are always highlights. Your black cats should give you lots of practice.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, and such nice comments too :) Yes I keep trying different combinations to make my own black, still looking for the best way to use them as well. I still remember from my first watercolour class over 20 years ago that you never use white or black paint. It stuck. And I am still finding ways around it. LOL.

  2. Jacqui - You do well with showing "white." I especially like the flower. Negative painting comes in handy as well as "seeing" all the colors in the whites. Someone just sent me a link to what looks like an easy sketchbook to make. I'll have to send the link to you, or post it on WetCanvas later.

    1. Thank you Joan. I actually find negative painting hard to do. I'm glad you like the flower, that took me ages to do and is half sheet size. I look forward to seeing the sketchbook link, thanks for thinking of me.