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I've been starting out with watercolours, and have been wondering what the purpose of white paint is.

The best way to make something white is to never paint on it in the first place, and other colours are lightened simply by being more dilute. When I use white after the previous layer has dried, the effect is often very weak and once the white dries it is hardly noticeable.

Are there ever situations or effects where white paint is useful in watercolours?

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Normally, in watercolour painting, you don't get any "white" paint. The techniques for watercolour painting, as you stated, is to use the underlying paper to supply the "white" colour, and to supply for the brightness of a colour as you use coloured washes to allow the white to show through that layer's transparency.

However, there is a thing called gouache, which is a sort of opaque watercolour paint - and you can get white guache. I've found white goache useful for adding tiny highlights such as the "whites of the eyes" and little stars and shines and sparkles. It's also useful for covering up mistakes. Plus, you can paint over the white goache with other watercolours.

The white paint you get in plain watercolours is mainly for making your normal watercolour washes a bit more opaque. Watercolours are, by nature, transparent, so adding white to a colour will make them less transparent, but never opaque (unless you add gouache). I would use white watercolour, perhaps, for example, for some leaves and foliage where you want the colour to be both paler and more opaque. You still have to use layering though.

This page describes a bit of why you would use white watercolour paint - there are reasons to use white paint, you know.

This page describes how to paint "white" without using white watercolour paint - since people don't normally use white paint to paint "white".

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  • Ah yes I see. So if you're not layering paint over dried paint, there ought to be no real reason to use white paint. – Ingolifs Dec 5 '19 at 20:22
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    That's how people usually work with watercolours. People hardly ever use white watercolour paint. But when you paint, you can really do anything you want unless you are trying to reproduce some historical technique. If you find a use for white, then use it if it suits your needs. You don't have to follow any painting rules if you don't want to. What I'm saying is there could be a reason to use white watercolour, but it depends on what you want to accomplish. I mentioned how you could use white to make your colours slightly paler and opaque. – bgmCoder Dec 5 '19 at 20:26
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    I added a couple links for you to see what I'm talking about - one link is why to use white, the other is how to paint white without white paint. – bgmCoder Dec 5 '19 at 20:30

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