White (light toned) subjects - help!

I'm so, so, struggling...................  any suggestions for painting subjects which are predominately white?  I'm trying to teach myself pet portraits but when it comes to light toned dogs (e.g. white based), I can not seem to get to the highest key (value), without the underneath looking dreadful (as it is too dark) or looking false (as the light tone looks awkward)!

I did the painting as the dog made me laugh with it's expression (and I worked off a photo).

I've posted a dog I did yesterday and I daren't say but it had loads of light tones (and as I said above, I just don't seem to have the knowledge/experience to get there).  I've placed a white tone on his left ear so that you can see how low key (value) the painting ended up.

I can't place light tones down flat first as unfortunately there is a lot of form in dog's fur (and I want to add dark tones for depth).

Any tips would be so much appreciated x



  • lpit

    Welcome to the Forum

    Well... this is a fine character portrait.

    I am no furry friend expert but there are millions of shades, tints and temperatures of white.
    I suspect you should be starting with white tones and progressively lose them as you overpaint with all the greys, browns and blues.

    Anyway, here is an expert on oil painting furry creatures.


  • I like that painting you posted.  Pretty cool actually.  Here is one I did of my predominately white dog.
  • Thank you Denis - I'll look at Jason Morgan's website link.  I never thought about working backwards from light to dark....... I find adding whites such a nightmare as I've noticed you loose the colour strength and it then looks dreadful against the tone underneath.

    Thank you also to Jeff for your portrait of your light toned dog.  I love the brush stokes that have created the form and I love warm and cold colours.............  did you add them on top of the white tones or underneath................ such a beautiful and serene portrait.
  • lpit,  I block in large areas of tone first and go back in with shades of white.  My dogs are Great Pyrenese.  If you have ever seen one in person, they are great big piles of white fur.  This particular one is half Anatolian Shepard so a lot of earth tones mixed in with the whites for her.  For furry messes like this, I like to do a bit of exaggeration just do maintain some visual interest.  As far as your dog portrait goes, I don't think you are that far off really.  Its actually quite good.  The background color feels real in it which a lot of people don't get, meaning that the head appears to exist in a real space as opposed to just sitting on top of another color.  Don't get discouraged, you are on track.
  • edited March 2018
    Just the slightest nudge off pure white makes a big difference, i would take your image and look at it in  black and white to really help you to see where the value changes are. From there just paint as you normally would only your pallet will be a slew of whites, some warmer where the light source is whole some cooler in the shaddows amd some neutral tones. Reserve the brightest white for the end. It helps to see what those are by bumping up the contrast in your black and white version. Then you will see where the brightest white should be reserved for. These two paintings were painted before i kNew of DMP so they are in a different method, but when it comes so seeing color its all the same. 
  • Thank you Jeff for explaining your painting method.  Yes, your georgeous pooch is a ball of fur, such depth in the fur.

    Thank you Jessica - I converted my portrait to b/w (scary image!) and amazingly it only displayed about four tones (oh dear!) and hardly any lighter tones.  I think it is an excellent suggestion to see where you need to add the lighter tones for form (never converted a portrait in b/w before) - if I was going to start again, I would work more lighter tones on the pooches left (and leave the right in dark).  It makes  you really think about tone without the colours.

    This portrait was a tester to see how far I could go 'light' in tone (value).  From the photo below, I failed lol!

    Tomorrow I'll try again and paint another light toned dog.........  I'll include both your tips and see where it takes me.

    Thank you again x

  • Another suggestion (and something I do sometimes) is print your photo in black and white as Jessica states.  paint your picture with a very limited pallet (white, blue and brown).  Then take your color image, and increase your pallet variety and go back in.
  • Thanks Jeff - I'll try that - I do need to sort out my palette as my oils are many years old (even the labels are off some!).  The Geneva oils look delicious but living in the UK, it looks like it is difficult to purchase.  Have you tried the Geneva oils?
  • Two things. 1. Review Mark's videos concerning color-checking and try his method. 2. Slow down. Paint with your brain then paint with your brush. Your dog painting looks very good and doesn't show how much trouble it was for you to paint.
  • @lpit, I have not tried the Geneva oils.  I actually use water miscible oils (Windsor Newton).  I'm going to be switching to the water miscible oils by Cobra though because they have a better consistency.

  • Hi Bob, you are so right............  I love doing brush strokes (in both the initial drawing in paint and placement of paint) and you are totally right that I work fast without slowing down and stopping to 'think'.  I did watch Marks youtube on colour checking, and even though I think it is an excellent process for accuracy, I think I would loose my initial excitement of the subject matter (I think it is also because I have spent time painting plein air, and I'm used to working fast before the light changes).  

    What I was impressed with (also), was the way the palette is layed out and pre-mixed.  I need to look at that closely again (the colour strings), as this would really help me (I hope), by dipping in premixed piles of oil paint.

    A lady on facebook group has suggested mixing with a sky blue (rather than white) to create light values (tones), rather than pure white mixes...............  

    I'm also now thinking about looking at staining colours in oils (I forgot that some are opaque and some are translucent), I wonder if that will remove the dreadful chalkness and lack of colour strength.

    Art is such a complex subject, you think you have achieved a problem, only to have it hitting you in the face the next day!
  • lpitlpit -
    edited March 2018
    Hi Jeff,  I recently bought Artisan water soluable oils, as the advisor in the art shop said that they were the same as oil paint.  Sadly I found that they were not and I felt that they were 'slimey'.  Prior to the oil painting recently I picked up acrylics and painted them in the same way as oils.  The only problems I had with the acrylics was their drying rate on the palette (I tried a retarder), that is the reason I tried water soluable oils.  I also found the water soluable oils did not mix well and did not come off the brush cleanly.

    When you try out Cobra, please let me know what you think (as I couldn't decide between them). 

    Wish I could win the lottery or premium bonds - I'd be like a kid in a sweet shop.............  I'd rush off to London to Cornilesson's art shop to buy Munssini oil paints and also buy the Geneva oils..... what a dream!
  • I have Cobra as well as normal oils. Cobra are much like Rembrandt oil paints, a lot better than Artisan it terms of feel to me.

    If you add some oil and a small amount of water it works well (with the drawback that water makes some colours milky and colour shifts until it evaporates)
  • Thanks Richard, It was the luck of the draw and I chose the wrong product (as I had a choice of either a small set of Artisan or Cobra).  With regards to the mixture, do you mean make a dipping medium of water/oil together (to dip in the brush when mixing colours?).  Would you mind telling me which oil and the mixture ratio of oil/water.  I wonder if that is why I struggle with it because I dip in the water and it may create the problem with the paint on the brush.

    It's true though about buying good quality paints.  I've spent so much money on cheaper brands, that in hindsight, I think it is better to buy quality (when you think that they are expensive, you later realise that you've spent the same amount on inferior items!).  I don't know how much the postage is to the UK, but the Geneva oils look so gorgeous (both in consistency and colour strength).

  • Yes.  The Artisan have a very thick consistency kind of like toothpaste, which is really annoying.  I hear Cobra is much better.  I don't think this is really an issue with water miscible oils though.  I think it is just this particular brand.  What Richard says is spot on.  I only use water on the first block in layers.  After that I use linseed which thins it out.
  • but...but...but...I really like the painting you have done, low-key!  It's interesting and well-done!
  • Thank you to all for your help and advice and encouragement - plus the video on fur painting (thank you ) x

    I'm going to watch further youtubes by Mark (so kind of him to post them on yourtube) and they are so interesting with such a wealth of information and experience.

    Next week I'm going to cointinue and keep going with the lighter tones......  very interesting what Mark said about getting 'milky colours' into the darkest tones - I've noticed that now (as I didn't see it before) but, as soon as a white mixture gets near your 'darks', that's it, the contrast has gone and the richness of deep colour goes.

    I'm going to try and work out the 'colour strings' and will dip into the premixed colour.  

    Oh, I've also seen the bit about scraping off the old oils and popping them in a jar to use as a neutral colour - really nifty.
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