Allison Richter Wildlife Studio
Techniques for my ArtIs it really white?

Is it really white?

When creating my artwork I put a lot of color into my whites.

In my teenage and early college years, I painted items white where I saw white. Logical right? Whether that was white feathers, fur, landscape areas, basically everything that I saw as white received that color.

As you can imagine, this worked only OK. The areas were lighter yest, but not interesting. At one point I was sitting in an art history class and my professor introduced me to El Greco. She spoke about how Greco was known for his whites, and how other artists studied his colors. The more she poke that evening, the more it clicked. Where whites really white?

Technically perhaps white can be defined as white, but when white is affected by reflected light, color, shadows, time of day, weather, water, foliage, and and all of these things started to make sense.

Creating White in Art

Creating White in Art

I began to experiment. I added color hesitantly and then too boldly. I would add and subtract color in my whites to see what would happen. If was amazing. Finally I was able to add definition to light areas without them appearing muddy or dirty.

Many many years and artworks later, I still think about El Grco and his whites when I am working on areas that for all logic says is white, but in reality the whites are composed of a myriad of colors and hues which is fascinating.

If you are an artist and you haven’t tried adding color to your whites, I encourage you to try it. Stay away from black and grey. See where it takes you. You might fall in love with adding color to your whites too.


  • Stephen G. Hipperson

    As a photographer, I struggle with white all the time. For me, white can only mean paper white, which is without detail, blank lifeless, massless. It’s the presence of colour/shade that makes something white. Think of a snow field – how do you make this seem white – not by the white but by the presence of grey (shadow). When we use ‘auto exposure’, subjects that are white are particularly difficult as our meters measure things to 18% grey – point an camera at a snow field and you’ll get a dirgey mid grey snow field.
    On the other hand, we photographers need to be brave enough to allow paper white to exist in our pictures, even if in tiny amounts as specular highlights – the number of photographs I’ve seen which have been ‘ruined’ because the photographer has though have any paper white in their image fundamentally wrong.
    Unfortunately, unlike the artist, we are somewhat restricted by the colour of ‘canvas’ we can use and have no ‘white’ ink for our digital printers.

    • allisonrichter

      Stephen, you make an excellent point. The little photography I have done I struggled with finding contrast. My black and white photos always seemed a bit muddy to me. You may have shed some light on why they felt this way, there may have not been any paper white. You have inspired me to find that level in photographs now when I go see them! I’m excited to think about this in a new way πŸ™‚

  • Stephen G. Hipperson

    by the way – did the show go well?

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Allison Richter – a national wildlife artist