A reader asked me this question;
I have never used lead white. But titanium white to me is the color killer. I cannot get over how much it dulls and cools colors. Even the tiniest amounts sap the life from the color mixture you are working on. Since we are talking about palettes, do you have any instruction on color lightening while avoiding the neutralizing power of titanium white?
There's an interesting question. I have written about this before and somewhere back in the over 1000 posts behind this one lies pretty much what I am about to say now.
EVERY DROP OF WHITE YOU USE IS A DROP OF COLOR YOU DON'T USE.
White will kill your color, make it chalky or vapid. Titanium white is very opaque and it will eat your color if used in excess. What I mean by that is it will overpower your colored pigments because it is so opaque. But still I think it is the best solution for 99% of the painters out there. But here are the alternatives.
- Zinc white, the Emile Gruppe above was painted with zinc white, Gruppe and zinc's other adherents liked it because it didn't eat up their color so much., It is much more transparent than the titanium, weaker. BUT be warned, there is a major question about the permanence of Zinc white. It makes a brittle paint film and recent thought seems to have turned decisively against its use. If you are going to use zinc white you may have permanency problems.
- Flake or lead white is less opaque than titanium also. It handles beautifully, looks good on the canvas and dries quickly. It has everything going for it except one thing. It is poisonous. I don't recommend that anyone other than hardcore professionals use it. It is not appropriate for amateurs. Unless you paint pretty well you won't see a big benefit from its use, and will needlessly expose yourself to lead. It is a good idea to wear gloves when working with lead white, never eat or smoke when working with it and never spray it or sand it. Aerosolized lead is a dangerous thing. Don't breathe lead.
If you paint darker, that is, you key your paintings down little you will have deeper richer color. Just as transposing a melody down an octave on the piano gives a richer sound, keying down a painting gives richer color. You can make your paintings with color almost straight from the tube if you keep the key of your paining a little bit low. The answer is to use less white.
An old, and very skillful artist told me about twenty five years ago "make nature look like your palette" I thought that was really strange for a while. I had worked so hard to learn to "hit" the color of nature in the value s that it presented itself in front of me. What he meant was to voice nature in values that were more like those of the pigments sitting on your palette unalloyed.
I have known a painter or two who have substituted Naples yellow for their white and used that in its place. I never thought that worked so well, to fold a soft yellow into the entire painting. it gave a "look," that while OK in a single panting would be oppressive in a roomful of them. Tricks are like that, they frequently take away more than they give. Naples, real Naples is a lead paint too, like flake. So it is poisonous. However, most Naples today is a mixture of titanium white, yellow ocher and some cadmium ( or cheaper substitute like arylide) yellow. These Naples are not labeled hues for some reason. Remember, a hue is a mixture of colors that imitates the real thing. The Naples hues have none of the lovely softness of the real Naples. They are strident and a bit acidic.You can tell a real Naples because the tube is very heavy, like lead.
Lastly, passages that are transparent, contain no white. That's what transparent means in painting practice, non white in there! The white of the grounds shows through the paint to keep it light in appearance.. The paint itself is only a thin film. You can bet the white problem and paint some very high key notes anyway by working transparently on a white ground.
I think the best strategy is to paint with less white but still use titanium. It s the best nontoxic permanent white. Titanium is inexpensive and made in lots of different styles by different makers. If you go easy on it you will have fine color.