I remember my first year at school of arts, I was painting my second still life, the volume was ok, the structure drawing was ok, but my colors were milky and my shadows really heavy and dirty, my Teacher as he was walkig seening all my friend’s paintings stop at my spot and told me use less white and black, the next day he told me same, and at the next day he came to me and ask me for my white and black colors, he took them with him and told me to lighter colors you are going to use just lemon yellow and this little amount of white that I am going to leave you here, he squeezed a little bit of white on my palette and to dark the colors just ultramarine blue, I was like what ? it is imposible, I need black and white in my palette I could not do anything without them, I mean the amount of white he left on my palette was almost nothing, but my teacher he did not give me back my tubes of paint, and…. what else could I do, I painted for the next 3 days, It was difficult at the beginning, I needed to put more atention in mixing the colors, to get ligthers colors I was just taking yellow and a little bit of white, to darker the colors it was easier because ultramarine blue is a very dark blue, and in front of my eyes my painting started to get vibrant colors, it was clean, pure, it was amazing, I ended up with a very vibrant painting, full of color, there was not milky colors no dirty colors, I felt really good, my teacher saw my painting and he gave me my colors back and told me, you need to control these two colors, it is not going to be easy, it is going to take you a while but remember this lessons every time you squeeze white paint on your palette.
You will notice the use and abuse of these two colors in two ways, in the case of white we will have opaque colors, are often called milky colors alluding to the white milk, even in some cases the shadows will look milky, the shadows will be dirty and heavy and the shadows must be transparent.
The problem does not end there because although we know that we must control these two colors until we master them very well, it is quite difficult to avoid their use.
A tip to be able to control this is to have two colors to darken as are burn umber and ultramarine blue, and two colors to clarify as Naples yellow and lemon yellow, those colors will be our first options, then we will add a litle bit of white or black depending what areas really need them.
There are really deep shadows where we need pure black and applied in thick layers, it would be the same for white. (But the problem is not that, the problem is when we mixing them with other colors.)
For shadows burn umber mixed with ultramarine gives us a very dark color, almost black, which we can use in some dark areas or mix with other colors if we need very dark tones, I am not saying you should darken all colors by mixing them with these Dark colors, remember the rule: to get the shadow of a color the rule indicates that we must get it by mixing this color with its complementary, for example if we want to get the shadow of orange this will result from mixing the orange plus blue, the level of shadow will depend on how much blue is increased in the mixture.
Another important detail, if we are working the shadow of an object do not add too much white to the mixture, it would turn off the color leaving them milky.
For the lights we will use the Naples yellow or white mixed with lemon yellow, possibly you will see that your art work has the illuminated areas yellowish, but I assure you that your painting will be fresher and full of color than just brightening with white.
Gradually we will master these colors and manipulate them as we like.
Let’s see these images that correspond to the painting of a student.
At the first one we feel the presence of white in the mixture, the lights are milky and whitish and the black for the shadows has produced very heavy shadows and also the color of the grapes has been dirtied At the second exercise where it was avoided the use in excess of white and apply more yellow to the mixture of the illuminated areas, the difference is notorious in terms of cleaning and vibrating colors, despite being the painting unfinished we can image that it will have a better end than the first one, not to use black make the shadows transparent and resplendent at the same time.