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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Plenty of The Right White

Color chart set up: imperative tools besides paints, palette and canvas panel:  palette knife,  paper toweling, large wastebasket, mineral spirits, a container with a half and half mix of Murphy's Oil Soap and water, the first chart of the palette tube paints, AND PLENTY OF THE RIGHT WHITE PAINT.

The following article was written by the owner of Gamblin Artist Supplies, Robert Gamblin  It is part one of a two part newsletter article.  Susan Smolinsky was kind enough to tell me about it.  After reading it,  realizing I am using the wrong white for the color charts,  getting upset that in not one painting class I ever took in my lifetime did the instructor discuss white as a painting consideration all by itself, I thought I would pass it on to you. To read part two go to The newsletter Which-white-is-right is under studio notes listed in the left column menu. 

For my charts I'm sticking with the white I selected, Flake white, but it does annoy me as I look at the three charts I've completed that, according to the guy who makes oil paints, Quick Dry White would have been better--not only in cutting the drying time, but also in consistency. There's a lot of drag with Flake White. 


Skip Whitcomb, Winter Pasture, Oil
Skip Whitcomb, Winter Pasture, Oil

The most important color choice we make is the white we bring to our work.

The white we choose determines to a great degree what our experience of painting will be: how our colors will tint and mix, how they will feel under the brush or knife, and how opaque our paint layers will be.

There are important differences between whites. For example, Titanium White has an opacity and tint strength that influences color like no other. Being the best-known white does not make Titanium White the right choice for every artist. You might prefer a white that's more subtle in mixtures.

When I first started making color in my studio I began by making whites, there were three at the beginning. Over the last 30 years, we've expanded and refined our selection of whites. We now have seven to serve your needs across the spectrum of artistic possibilities.

From left: Titanium White, Radiant White, Titanium Zinc White, Quick Dry White, Flake White Replacement, FastMatte Titanium White, Zinc WhiteFrom left: Titanium White, Radiant White, Titanium Zinc White, Quick Dry White, Flake White Replacement, FastMatte Titanium White, Zinc White.

This Studio Note is intended to help you select the right white for your work. And in Part Two of this Studio Note, we report the results from our on-going study comparing our whites with those of other American and European companies.

Part One: Getting the White Right
The right working properties for your artistic intentions

A good place to start in choosing your white is to think about the white you are currently using, why you chose it and how you might like it to feel and perform differently. Identify the working properties most important to you: is it the Texture or feel of the paint and its Mark-Making qualities? Dry Time? Tint Strength and Opacity? or Temperature?

Texture of Gamblin Flake White Replacement
Texture of Gamblin Flake White Replacement

Texture and Mark-making

This is both the most personal and the most important characteristic. For most painters, it is the feel and mark- making possibilities of their white that is most important to their work. Our whites range from soft and smooth under the brush, to buttery, to stiff and dense.

Our softest is Radiant White. Without modification, it is the most brushable – meaning it has the least amount of resistance under the brush or painting knife.

The buttery whites, Titanium White and Titanium Zinc, are in an ideal middle ground of texture. Straight from the tube, both have a “short” texture – meaning they break cleanly and quickly from the brush and make a beautiful, crisp impasto mark. Neither is too stiff under the brush or knife. And both can be nudged – with just a little medium - to be made softer. With just a little fluid medium, brushability is increased; the paint becomes softer and has more flow.

FastMatte Titanium White: The New White

A number of years back we introduced a unique, mixed black called Chromatic Black – which painters dubbed with affection, “The New Black.” Our newest white, FastMatte Titanium White, similarly, has unique characteristics to rightly claim the title of the “The New White.”

FastMatte Titanium WhiteThe FastMatte line of colors have the same intensity of color as our traditional oils and dry in 24-hours to the elegant, matte surface preferred by many painters. The matte surface gives colors a deep, soft luster and is ideal for grabbing subsequent paint layers.

Never before have oil painters been able to create a consistent, matte surface with such ease. The fast drying rate means painters can stay in the flow of their painting session longer with layering and mark-making possibilities beyond traditional oils. The consistent drying rate of FastMatte colors means painters can return to a dry surface the following day.

These qualities in the FastMatte Titanium White give it tremendous potential in a variety of painting techniques. The fast drying rate and matte surface make it ideally suited for underpainting techniques. Since all FastMatte colors are compatible with traditional oil colors, using FastMatte Titanium White as a primary white means that it will speed up the drying time of all subsequent color mixtures, based on the percentage used.

With Gamblin FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors, oil painters can take their paintings further, faster than ever before.

Our stiffest and densest white, Flake White Replacement, exerts a greater amount of resistance under the brush and palette knife. Flake White Replacement handles like lead white. This means it is “longer” in texture - with more pull, or drag, on the brush. This specific quality means it can easily replicate the impasto of a thickly painted Impressionist painting.

The texture of FastMatte Titanium White occupies a unique space. Its quick setup time means artists can add layers sooner and create broken marks without readily picking-up or mixing into the wet paint layer below. Out of the tube, FastMatte Titanium White will feel grittier and a little denser than our traditional Titanium White. The stiff and grittier texture allows for more broken mark making and defined brushwork – qualities prized by plein air painters.

Drying Rate

In general, whites made with linseed oil will dry faster than whites made with safflower, poppy or walnut oils.

For even faster drying, our specialty whites, Quick Dry White and FastMatte Titanium White, are formulated to dry considerably faster than traditional oil colors. Our FastMatte Titanium White dries in 24-hours. Its drying rate and matte surface make it ideal for underpainting. Quick Dry White retains the working properties of our traditional Titanium White, but will dry a day or two quicker.

For painters that wish to work wet into wet, or otherwise desire more open time without using mediums, we recommend using Radiant White. Radiant White is not modified in any way to be slow drying; it is just naturally the slowest drying white in our range, at about five days in thin layers.

Tint Strength and Opacity

If your goal is the same as the Impressionists: to simulate the light of the world whether it is landscape, still life, or portraiture, then opaque whites will support this direct painting style.

Titanium White and Radiant White do this better than any of the lead whites the Impressionists had to work with. Our opaque Titanium White and Radiant White carry higher loads of titanium and, in turn, reflect back 97% of the light that falls on them versus 93-95% for the lead whites included in our test.

On the other hand, highest tint strength and opacity are not for everyone. Renaissance style figurative painting, which strives to show the translucency of skin, is handled best by a more translucent white. Flake White Replacement, an exact copy of lead's working properties, is most valuable for these sophisticated techniques. It can simulate the translucency of skin in a way that the more opaque whites can’t. Unlike lead whites, Flake White Replacement is non-toxic and can be disposed of without violating either local or national laws for the disposal of hazardous waste.

Claude Monet, Canotiers a Argenteuil, 1874, Oil on Canvas.
Claude Monet, Canotiers a Argenteuil, 1874,
Oil on Canvas.

Zinc White is at the end of the spectrum of Tint Strength and Opacity. Zinc oxide is the only transparent white pigment. It can be used successfully as a white in glazes and scumbles where the glaze needs to modify light or atmosphere without “whiting out” what is below. Think of depicting the mist where the ocean meets the land, the transparency of a woman's veil, or the flare of light coming off glass. Zinc White makes this easy to depict where titanium based whites makes this exceedingly difficult.

A note of advice concerning Zinc White: unless you are painting on a panel, Zinc White should not be used as the primary white in an oil painting. Further discussion of zinc below.

Tint Strength and Opacity
From left: Radiant White, Titanium White, Titanium Zinc White, Quick Dry White, FastMatte Titanium White, Flake White Replacement, Zinc White. Mixed with an equal amount of Ultramarine Blue, below.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Saint John the Baptist, 1513 – 1516. Oil on wood
Leonardo Da Vinci, Saint John the Baptist,
1513 – 1516. Oil on wood.
Pierre Coupey, White Chair, oil on canvas
Pierre Coupey, White Chair, oil on canvas

The Temperature of your White

Linseed oil whites are warmer; safflower oil whites are cooler in color. For most oil painters, the color temperature of the white, which is determined by the oil the white is made with, is not an important consideration.

But this will be an important consideration for artists who routinely paint passages of pure white. This is especially true for abstract artists who use white as a color and not as the light within a painting.

Upon aging, safflower oil whites hold their color the best: for abstract artists this also means that all colors mixed with safflower whites will also hold their original color the best. If this describes you, we have Titanium Zinc and Radiant Whites for you to choose from.

A Great Place to Start: Titanium Zinc White

If I had to suggest a single white to consider for all-around use, it would be our Titanium Zinc White. This is my current favorite. Expressing color is primary for me and Titanium Zinc White lets that come through. It has a beautiful neutral white color, and its tinting strength is not super high, so colors mixed into it are not overwhelmed by the power of the white. In addition to all this, it dries pretty close in time to linseed oil whites and dries flexible.


Gamblin Artists Colors White Selection Chart

Color NameCharacteristicsDrying RateBinderTint-Strength & OpacityTemperatureTexture & Mark-Marking
Titanium WhiteHighest tinting strengthFastLinseed Oil10WarmButtery
Radiant WhiteThe brightest, whitest oil colorSlowestSafflower Oil10NeutralSoft
Titanium Zinc WhiteSimilar to Titanium White's texture, more subtle in tint strengthModerateSafflower Oil7NeutralButtery
Quick Dry WhiteFaster drying traditional binder, not matteFasterLinseed Oil7WarmButtery
Flake White ReplacementSame working properties of traditional Flake White but does not contain leadFastLinseed Oil6WarmStiff and Dense
FastMatte Titanium WhiteThin layers dry in 24 hours to a matte surface with a beautiful tooth. Ideal for underpainting.FastestLinseed Oil, Alkyd Resin6NeutralStiff
Zinc WhiteTransparent white. Best for use in glazes and scumbles.SlowLinseed Oil2WarmSoft

Please note that this is a relative scale, made to compare characteristics such as drying rate, opacity and tinting strength only in relation to the whites listed above.



  1. The technical complexity of the painting is really a science.
    The colors, made ​​yesterday in the "laboratory" of artists such as Leonardo, Titian or Raphael, for people related to each other almost from the secret ... available today, openly on the market but still difficult to understand.
    The manufacturer explains his motives in a very technical way and it is a pleasure to read. Each artist then will run its own roads. Knowing, as always, allows you to choose from.

    1. I thought Gamblin's description of the properties of the different whites his company offers artists is fascinating. I had no idea that there were any choices. On every art supply list I was handed for a class or workshop, there was only one. For alla prima painting, that is the wet into wet technique, the artist may want the slowest drying white if the project was too big to finish in a day. For my purposes, I might have selected the fastest drying white. Then there's the effects of the different oils available to use as a painting medium. Anything I know about that, I found out for myself. I don't think painting instruction includes enough information about supplies. We all learn by trial and error. I think that's why I'm always happy to draw with charcoal or pencil; it's not complicated. :-))

  2. Bonjour chère amie,
    Je viens de prendre un cours !... Moi qui suis autodidacte, parfois cela fait du bien de comprendre le pourquoi du comment !
    J'emploie habituellement un blanc de titane et un blanc de zinc de chez Blockx. Mais j'utilise surtout le blanc Titazinc de Blockx.
    Je vais essayer de me procurer un blanc de chez Gamblin et faire ainsi la différence...
    Je vous fais un gros bisou.

    1. tintazinc bloc blanc sonne comme le meilleur d'un monde de blancs. Juicy? Bon pour vitrage? Mais assez opaque pour donner une bonne couverture? Je suis autodidacte trop quand il s'agit de peinture et encore l'enseignant et l'élève. je pense que les artistes sont toujours à la recherche de meilleures techniques et des fournitures pour une meilleure performance et d'expression. La curiosité est dans notre sang.

      tintazinc block white sounds like the best of a world of whites. Juicy? Good for glazing? Yet opaque enough to give good coverage? I am self taught too when it comes to painting and still both teacher and student. i think artists are always looking for better techniques and supplies for better performance and expression. Curiosity is in our blood. :-))


  3. great looking workspace and charts!
    would you like a tour of Gamblin when you come visit? :)

    1. Thanks, but no thanks--I didn't know Gamblin was in Portland--I don't know whether I'll get there. The trip got more happily complicated. My son and grandson are joining us for the celebration of his brother's milestone birthday and my niece heard we were headed her way and wants some time. My little side trip may be just a pipe dream, but there's talk of car rental... If I do get there, I'd rather go to lunch and just talk.