White paint, is it allowed?

Vit akvarellfärg

Virtually everyone who teaches watercolor painting says that students should not use white paint. If you read books, or on the Internet, about watercolor painting, you also get the impression that most writers do not like white. The reason is probably that as a beginner you must first learn to use the white paper to create white and bright colors, not with a mixture of white color. White details in a painting are reserved simply by painting around them. Light colors are created by a lot of water in the mixture, the more water, the lighter the color.

Watercolor is a transparent medium, it is this property that distinguishes watercolor from all other painting techniques. Gouache paint is opaque watercolor, it contains the same pigment, the same binder as watercolor paint but costs a third of what the watercolor paint costs, so transparency is a precious property that is lost if you mix it with white paint. Mixing watercolor paint with white paint is an irrational way to turn an expensive transparent paint into an opaque paint, which you can buy much cheaper as gouache paint. After all, it is the transparency of the watercolor paints that makes the watercolor technique unique.

White color is usually very different from the white of the paper, so white painted color surfaces look different from other white, as if they do not belong in the painting. But white paint can still have its place in a watercolor painting, you have to use it wisely, though. Small bright highlights that are well placed work well in watercolor. They should not be in direct connection with saved white paper, white color always looks strange when you can compare it with white paper. Anders Zorn used white paint in this way, just like all watercolor painters a hundred years ago, the “ban” on white paint is relatively new.

This is how I look at white paint:

  • White paint is never used in mixtures with other watercolor paints.
  • White can be used for small highlights that are not in close proximity to unpainted paper.
  • I always use the most opaque white color, it should not be mixed, just have as good opacity as possible. Ignore the usual watercolor paint “Chinese white” which is zinc white where maximum transparency is sought. Use titanium white in gouache instead, it is opaque.


Using white paint in watercolor is controversial. Some people ban all use of white paint, others (like me) think it’s OK to create small highlights and the like. A small minority use white more extensively, almost like gouache. If you want to create a highlight with white color, it should be as opaque as possible, in which case use titanium white in gouache color.

Everything is allowed, nothing is forbidden!

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