Sunday, February 5, 2012

White on White, 8x10" (Sold)


Recently, I've become very interested in the subject of painting white.  I just completed painting a portrait of three sisters in white dresses, and while I was in the process of painting it, I visited every master painting I could find in Chicago and Boston to see how the Greats handled this very complex subject.

Here are a few things that I found:

     1. Simplify.  Keep white objects and fabrics as simple as possible.  First, find the lit areas and the shadow areas.  Find an average color in the right value and cover the areas boldly.  Step back and decide where the color can be tweaked a bit, and indicate a few details without stepping outside your values.

Cecilia Beaux

     2. Look for color in both the lit and shadow areas for vibrancy.  I've never seen anyone able to show warmth and sunlight on white fabric like Sorolla, but his whites are far from white!  Pink, blue, and yellow dance all around, without a single stroke of pure white to be found.  And yet, those fabrics are white!

Joaquin Sorolla

     3. Balance warmth and coolness in the shadows.  Sargent's shadows make me want to weep, they are so beautiful.  When I saw his portraits in person, I could see that each shadow has both a warm and cool tone in each one, giving them life and interest.

John Singer Sargent

The most important lesson that I learned on this journey is that in order to paint white, the artist has to slow way down and observe the subject closely.  In fact, white has taught me to become patient, and to let the subject dictate the right path to follow in painting it.  Many rules and preconceived notions about painting have to be put to the side, and silent study is put in their place.  Sometimes, all this patience and study reward us with a new level of achievement, and we can say that it was all worth it.    


  1. Okay Ann, you have set up the ultimate challenge..I hope to get to it this week. Yours is beautiful!!

  2. Love your subtle hint of hues...very nicely done. Thank you for sharing this, now I want to go paint another one!

  3. I have been struggling with this DPW challenge. It has been so good for me and i have learned a lot. Love your painting and thank you so much for sharing so much information. I will keep trying. Hope to get something posted by the end of the week!

  4. Hi Ann, your 'white on white' painting is so, so nice! Lovely values that just 'sing'

    You set us all quite a challenge ;-D

  5. Ann, your commentary about white on white is most helpful and true! The challenge was just that: Challenging! Thanks for this post. Eileen

  6. Thank you for sharing so many helpful tips. And from such great artists!
    Happy Painting,