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Friday, January 31, 2014

When White is Not Really White

In my last post I talked about Frank W. Benson's beautiful handling of white in his paintings.  I learned that his visions in white are actually a result of many colors working in tandem.

I recently did my own experiment with white by depicting an egret in the surf.  I used oil paints to create some of the color notes that I saw in the white dresses in those Benson paintings.  When we look at the egret in Surf Fishing quickly, superficially he does look white.  But closer inspection reveals much more.  Notice the shadows on the bird.  I mixed titanium white with small amounts of alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo blue and cadmium yellow to darken it and to add reflections coming up from the turquoise water.  White in any lit setting with other colors around it will reflect those colors.


The places on the bird that are the lightest are actually a mixture of white with a tiny bit of cadmium yellow mixed in.  That produced a rich, brilliant color that reads as bright white in this particular painting.  I never use any white straight out of the tube in representational paintings because white out of the tube is not what we see in nature. 
Lesson to be learned: white is not really white when we paint!

Copyright Mona Vivar, Surf Fishing, oil on canvas, 14 inches by 11 inches
Now available on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art

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