PART ONE: WHICH WHITE IS RIGHT BY ROBERT GAMBLIN
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.
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
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 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.”
The 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.
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.
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.
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
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.