This month we continue our “Pigment of the Month” series with a look at white pigments - a seemingly simple color with surprising variety of choices. As every painter knows, white is a critical color on any artist’s palette. If you ask a painter if they have a favorite white pigment, you are likely to get an impassioned answer as to why they prefer Titanium, Zinc, or Flake White, among others. They might even tell you about how they wish they could find Lead White. But how is it possible there is such a difference with white pigments?
Until 1920, Lead White was the most commonly available and used white pigment on the market. It does not take an art expert to explain why Lead White fell out of fashion; artists began seeking alternatives that were less toxic, which resulted in new options being manufactured. Variances with these modern pigments include opacity, tonality and drying time. Titanium White is one of the most opaque of the whites, meaning it is not very translucent and has strong coverage when used on its own. Titanium white also has a powerful effect when mixed into another color. On the other end of the spectrum, Zinc White is one of the lower opacity whites, it dries slowly and does not have a strong tinting effect when mixed with other colors. And even with alternatives on the market, some artists still prefer the texture and tone of the tradition Lead White that was found on the palettes of the Old Masters. Despite regulations, it is even still possible to purchase Lead White paint today, though in limited quantity and availability.
Interested in learning more? We suggest you read “Getting the White Right” by Robert Gamblin, an in-depth look look at white pigment formulations. http://www.gamblincolors.com/newsletters/getting-the-white-right.html