Painting Whites in Watercolor


Watercolor Painting Tutorials from the Pros — Leaving White Space

Watercolor artist Michael Reardon loves “painting” passages of white in watercolor but as many of you likely realize, he doesn’t paint them at all. Reardon simply understands how to use the white of his surface to the best advantage. He discovered his own particular approach to whites while traveling. He would make quick sketches on the go. Because of the need for speed, he simply kept parts of the painting unpainted with the intention of returning to those areas later.

Watercolor painting by Michael Reardon.

Watercolor painting by Michael Reardon. Text adapted from an article by Bob Bahr.

But it turns out those areas created dynamic lights and highlights that Reardon quite liked. He found that he could draw the viewer’s eye with the use of the pure white of the unpainted paper. These areas best captured the light, highlights, and atmospheric effects of the moment he was witnessing while working.

Experimenting for Bright Whites

Reardon began experimenting with a range of subtle shades or tints of white to make his paper surface seem even whiter. For example, putting the darkest value next to the white of the paper for the greatest contrast.

But there was not always a need for such extreme contrast. Reardon also discovered that a sense of searing whites can be created just as easily when he puts number-two values next to the number-one value of the white of the paper.

He creates near white areas with very diluted transparent pigments, such as a very light yellow, red, or blue. Placing these “number two” values next to a true white area (the white of the paper) makes the whites pop.

“The beauty of painting shades of white goes to the heart of my approach to capturing the fleeting qualities of light,” Reardon says. “Light bouncing off a white object is the clearest example.” So the artist chases these delicate color influences, from the warm tones on the ground to the tints of blue in the sky to the greens of nearby plant life, opening his eyes to all the ways that the brilliance of his whites are affected and then setting himself the rewarding task of replicating them in his watercolors.

For more artistic insights, consider the latest watercolor painting tutorials from Michael Reardon himself. His suite of instructional videos encompasses all that a watercolor artist needs: light and color. Light and Color in Waterscapes, Light and Color in Cityscapes, and Light and Color in Landscapes to be exact. These three videos are Reardon’s powerhouse trio, and each teaches you how to paint a unique environment and space. Beginner watercolor artists will be put at ease with the straightforward and intuitive approach of this master artist, and the more advanced watercolorist will be challenged and enlightened through Reardon’s color mixing and creation of forms. Enjoy!

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