Example of oil painting with white

In watercolor, white is the paper. It must be protected from the start. Sometimes you can get paint to come back up, but only certain colors. It’s always a challenge to keep the white areas clean. Sometimes I use a latex mask, occasionally tape, but that creates another set of issues because it can rip the paper if you aren’t careful.

In oil, white is paint. Six different ones. With slightly different working qualities. Then it gets mixed into the colors, or painted on the surface. It’s not what I am accustomed to thinking about. It’s one of the reasons for the media shift. I was building layers in my watercolor map paintings and wanted to put white on the top layers. It’s useful for defining roads. I didn’t always know where things would go at the start, so I didn’t have the ability to protect the whites. I found myself compromising by adding white gouache or painting back in with watercolor ground.

Now I have a selection of different whites to learn about. And I can add it over the top of colors like I did in the painting above.


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  1. I use gouache for white on watercolors on the top layer, but it does not feel like a compromise to me. Maybe I am not the purist I thought I was! Used to work in oils and this makes me want to try that creamy goodness again.
    Have you ever tried Absorbent Ground Medium? I learned this from Gwen Diehn, it brings back a workable white in some situations.

    • I didn’t know about Absorbent Ground Medium. It’s getting added to the “The List.” Thanks Jill, you are spectacular at leading me down delicious technical and visual paths.

  2. Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful!

    I’m really loving this journey that you’re sharing. I feel I’m learning more about art as I hear your experiences – explaining what you’re learning, what intrigues you about this new medium. And I simply love this painting! Can’t wait to see (and read) more. 🙂

    • Thanks Jennifer. There is a freedom to the marks that I’m starting to really like. So much to learn.

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