I just recently watched an art instructional video and the artist said, “You’ll see I’ve started off with a nice layer of liquid white.” I backed up the video and listened again…yep, liquid white. That’s what he said. In all my years in art school, I’ve never heard of liquid white. So I Google’d it. Turns out, this was a favorite of tv legend Bob Ross, who used to coat his canvas with a special mix of white paint and medium so he could get a nice, soft effect when he started painting his blue skies and happy trees.
There’s a special Bob Ross brand liquid white which, according to most people online can be easily replicated by mixing titanium white with linseed oil until it’s about the consistency of creme fraiche (or runny sour cream). A couple of notes about this:
1. It will soften all your colors. If you put down ultramarine blue, you will have a very soft, pale blue color that is very easy to blend. This can be helpful, but be warned that if you’re using student grade paints, it may dull your colors more than you want it to. Artist grade paints tend to retain their true pigment when mixed down with white while student grade can become a bit lifeless, so be aware of this if you decide to experiment with liquid white.
2. Be aware of drying times. I read a post by someone saying to mix stand oil with titanium white to make the liquid white. This can be a dangerous move. Stand oil is thick and dries much slower than other mediums (like linseed oil) so if you go this route, remember your fat over lean. Any medium you use on top of the stand oil should be fatter (more oily) and dry at the same rate or slower than the stand oil itself otherwise your paint will crack. If you use straight stand oil in your base coat, you cannot use anything with turpentine on top of it (no oil painting medium or paint thinned with turpentine).
3. Don’t use zinc white. It has a slower drying time than other paints and tends to be brittle, so could lead to unwanted cracking and flaking of your paint.
4. Liquid white is not the same thing as gesso! Gesso has an acrylic base, so you don’t want to mix your oil paints into that. Gesso needs to be completely dry before adding any sort of oil paint or medium on top.
Here are some comments I found while doing my research:
This original post appeared on About.com
Oil Painting Tip: Make Your Own Fluid White
A helpful painting tip submitted by a fellow artist.
About 25 years ago I first was introduced to the wet-on-wet method of oil painting on a TV program hosted by William Alexander. He used a thin, oil based white mixture that he called “Magic White”. It was basically, white pigment in linseed oil, about the consistency of cream. He coated the canvas with a very thin coat of his magic white before he began. Bob Ross, Robert Warren, and many others you see on TV were students of William Alexander. I have made my own version by diluting my titanium white out of the tube with linseed oil. It works just fine.
Tip from: Don
Magic White / Liquid White will lighten any colors you use, so are very good for doing the distance on a landscape. It gives you the aerial perspective automatically! Then work the foreground with only a linseed oil medium, to get full color in your next painting session.
Remember, Magic White / Liquid White products are simply a blend of materials to make a medium. They allow oil paint to flow more smoothly, and are very good for the underlayers. They also slow the drying (curing) time of oil paints, so be aware of this. If you do start with either of these products, make sure you do use a medium with any other layers so they will adhere well. I have worked over a Liquid White painting with both linseed and stand oil.
While they do a wonderful job, and I often use them to get a really well done sky, you do not have to use them on the entire painting. Even if you do, you can allow the work to set and go back over them later with other layers.
Tip from Susan Tschantz
If you use this method or decide to give it a try, let me know your results in the comment area below. I’m interested to know what you all discover!