Painting white in full colour

Chinese Vase
10 x 8
White is tricky and fascinating colour to paint and I often tackle it in the studio to see just how my painting chops are progressing.  It's all very pleasant to paint stuff that comes easily for me, but sometimes it's good and humbling to try to paint the hard stuff.

This little Chinese vase is one of my favourite objects.  It's shape, pattern and colours all appeal to me and I've used it over and over.  Each time I paint it, it looks different thanks to type of lighting I used on it, the background and ground colours, and the mood I'm in.  I was into high drama when I painted it this time, and that turns out to have been a good thing.  I learned just how much further I could push my whites.

Setting up the vase on a powerful red and putting a dark background behind it, forced me to work with strong contrasts.  The vase couldn't be a delicate pastel in this setting as it wouldn't harmonize with the overall strength of the colour environment.  So I had to push the colours in the whites into quite rich and relatively dark territory so that they could compete with their background.

Another tactic would have been to concentrate on the blue pattern of the vase, but that wasn't as interesting to me in this set up.  What attracted me to this was the reflected colour and its transition from warm base to cooler shoulder in the shadow side of the vase.

Because everything in a painting is part of a relationship, darkening the white areas meant darkening the patterns as well.  Peripheral vision helped me to see how dark I could make the patterns since, when I looked at them out of the corner of my eye, they appeared nearly black.  When I looked at them in the centre of my visual field, they lightened and showed their varieties of ultramarine and cobalt colours. So the darks were painted using peripheral and I looked at the whites both peripherally and centrally so that I could pull as many colours out of them as possible.

This all sounds very rational and clinical and, of course, it wasn't.  Most of a painting is done, ideally, in an intuitive, joyful way.  My left brain is turned to low and I work swiftly and fluidly with big brushes and an "it's only paint" attitude.  Only when I reach an impasse do I stop and give some serious thought to a passage and plot my next move.  It worked out in this case and showed me that I've made some progress in my understanding of colour and tone.  Next time I'll set up a pure white object and see how I make out.

Happy painting!


LindaHunt said…
I am attracted to your have the kind of technique that I wish to strive toward....this is a truly beautiful white.
You're very kind, Linda! Thank you for the comment and for reading my blog.