Friday, May 18, 2012

A little dab'l doo ya!

Emile Gruppe

 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.


 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.
I think as I said before, that titanium is the right white for most painters. This One is the whitest thing imaginable, nothing else is like it. 

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.


Juha Peuhkuri said...

This piece of advice really hit the spot for me. I've been struggling with chalky and lifeless color for a while. Who would have thought that less white helps? Not me. Thanks so much!

I'd also like to say that I found this blog only very recently and I'm happy I did: it really is a veritable gold mine of information (and well written too). I'm sure you're making a whole lot of painters very happy.

Johan said...

Zinc White dries slowly, this can be another less intersting thing about this paint for some. said...

Use a very high quality titanium white. You may see a big difference in how it effects your colors in mixing. Also, you can make a blend of titanium and zinc. Gamblin makes a
"Radiant White" blend that you might want to check out .

Anonymous said...

I like to mix some flake white with titanium (about 1:4 ratio). It makes my paintings dry in a day or two without using any medium.

Carol Reynolds said...

I always find much helpful information on your site and appreciate all you do to help other artists. I use titanium, but I also use Permalba white (separately, I do not mix the two whites together). It is nice and buttery but does not have as much opacity that titanium possesses.

Tim said...

Ive just been through he same thing! I went out with nothing but Michael Hardings Flake White/Walnut oil a few times, and I had a terrible time with the skies and light paths/patches. Problem I had was it got contaminated very easily, and I ended up really having to layer it on (trowel style!) but for other things its very subtle and good. I now carry both with me outside. Titanium white is like master volume and the flake is like fine tuning.

Anonymous said...

Stape, thanks for sharing the info on titanium white.

You know, one of the tricks in photography is to Under expose in certain cases to have more saturated colors. So your notion of keying a painting lower makes sense. I definitely will give that some experimentation. I also like I the idea on going transparent over white ground.

Do you still use LeFranc titanium white? What's your staple, Stape?

I'm placing my first order with RGH. I will mention you. I can't get over how affordable they are, especially if you are willing to tube it yourself. I've been avoiding cad red med and deep, cad yellow, cobalt blue and violet because w&n is so costly. I'm going to get some pints of those colors and tube them myself.

Thanks for passing on the knowledge.

jeff said...

The brand of Titanium is important.
Williamsburg makes a real nice Titanium white.

I think it's good idea to make hue/chroma studies with whatever hues you have on your palette and the white you use. I'm thinking about the kind of study Richard Schmid has in his book.

I like the comment about pitching the painting and getting the landscape and palette to work in congress. I read somewhere that Constable called what he did with landscape painting akin to weaving the paint to get the effect he wanted. I'm not sure if this is the same thing. Being Constable is using 19th century langauge, but it does seem to be a similar idea in my view.

Unknown said...

Another winner post.
I am probably permanently damaged from lead. We were refurbishing a Civil War era house.. I was stripping old painted stairs, sanding away like mad with a hand sander.... did this for several days before I realized that, duh, it was old and probably lead based paint on them. Had a headache for a couple of days. But if you speak in simple two syllable words I can usually still follow along, so not too badly damaged.
I still like the LeFranc and Bourgeouis (sp?) Titanium that you suggested a couple of years back. Reasonable cost and good quality.

Unknown said...

Hi Stapleton,
I enjoy your thoughtful posts.
I'm an acrylic painter and so we have even less whites to pick from-- basically zinc or Titanium. Titanium has the same problems as oil painters--it really cools things off and leaves the colours a bit chalky. I do find that glazing in with a medium and touch of white on gesso works well- just like the transparent passages you talked about in your post. Zinc is quite lovely and so far my research hasn't revealed any problems with cracking or brittleness. Perhaps the mix with the plastic polymer of the acrylic binder solves this issue.

I'm going to try the keying idea--I hadn't thought of that before.

Thanks for your wonderful mentoring. I enjoy reading your blog always.

Christoffer Gertz Bech said...

I have found that pretty much everything out there labelled "titanium white" is actually a mix of titanium and zinc - so, if you want to avoid zinc, there are very few options. Williamsburg makes a pure titanium, though.

Personally, I prefer lead white. Yes, it's poisonous, but so are cadmiums. I wouldn't want to handle the dry pigment or sand it, but as tubed oil paint I really don't see any problem as long as I dont store it next to my toothpaste or mayonnaise.

Anonymous said...

Stape, your recent posts have plunged me into deeper thought about what I'd like to accomplish with my landscape paintings. I'll be pondering and writing in my journal.

I now about the poetry that I wish to design in paint, but I need to learn to revise the facts, Which I adore at times. Guess I'll explore options in paint for awhile.

Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Oops, posted on wrong blog post!

stapeliad said...

For what it's worth, Gail at Vasari told me that cadmiums are more of a hazard than lead because the particle size is smaller and can absorb through the skin. She said the lead particles don't absorb because they are too large. Cobalts are quite toxic as well. In any case, the pigments are bound in the oil at a molecular level but they definitely would not be suitable for a sandwich spread.

I think what really matters is knowing your materials and using them responsibly and with common sense.