Reading Time: 25 minutes
- Consider whether white is even a colour.
- Utilisation of white in historical and cultural contexts.
- Discover the various forms of white paint.
- Artists known for using white.
Introduction: What is the Colour White?
Whether you classify white as a colour or technically light, as it is a combination of all the colours in the spectrum that are visible to the human eye, it is truly achromatic, lacking hue just like black.
So, what is it about white that has captivated artists and painters for centuries? In art, white can be used to create a sense of serenity or peace. Artists often use white in their paintings to represent spiritual enlightenment or a heightened state of consciousness. It can also be used to convey a sense of emptiness or a lack of identity.
What Does White Represent?
White is often associated with purity and light in the modern world, such as at weddings and in winter wonderlands. In some places, it has symbolised purity, innocence, and cleanliness; in others, death, mourning, and the passage to new life; and in many, the divine.
Although its cultural significance varies from culture to culture, we will explore more about the societal history of this intriguing non-colour, so continue reading to learn more.
How Has White Been Used Throughout History?
I frequently mention the caves of Lascaux, France, and what an incredible sight it must have been when they were found in 1940 by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat and his dog, Robot. Dating back to the Palaeolithic era 17,000 years ago, the caves contain an astonishing 6,000 figures, which can be classified into three distinct categories: animals, humans, and abstract signs, providing us with a fascinating insight into times gone by.
Before humans could classify white before the invention of it, the most noticeable aspect of cave art are the predominant colours that have been used:
- Black is obtained from charcoal, soot, or manganese oxide;
- Yellow Ochre often from limonite;
- Red Ochre from haematite, or baked limonite;
- Natural white pigments can be found in kaolin clay, burnt shells, calcite, powdered gypsum, or powdered calcium carbonate, or more commonly known as chalk.
White has been a powerful symbol throughout history, with different cultures assigning different meanings to the colour. In some cultures, white is associated with spiritual enlightenment, while in others it is associated with purity and innocence. In both Eastern and Western cultures, white has long been used in art, literature, and religious ceremonies to express deep spiritual messages.
Throughout art movements in time, white has been used to convey a range of emotions and ideas. In some cases, it is used to represent peace or a calm state of mind. In others, it is used to portray feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and despair. In this article, we will explore the mystical meaning of white and how it varies across cultures.
The Use of White in Ancient Civilizations
The use of white in ancient civilizations has long been a source of fascination and mystery. From ancient religions and mythology to historical symbolism, white has always had an important place in many cultures.
In ancient religions, white was often seen as a colour of purity and holiness. In Christianity, it is often used to symbolize the Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and the resurrection. White was also used in Hinduism to represent divine truth and peace. In Buddhism, white is seen as a representation of enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana.
The symbolism of white goes beyond just religious significance. Ancient mythology also held a special place for white. In Greek mythology, white was associated with healing, protection, and fertility. In Norse mythology, white was seen as a symbol of prosperity, luck, and victory.
Historically, white has also been a symbol of power and authority. In some cultures, it was the colour of kings and nobles. This symbolism is still alive today, especially in Western cultures where white is often seen as a sign of elegance and prestige.
Additionally, white has also been used to signify hope and new beginnings. Many ancient cultures believed that white represented a fresh start, the potential of a new life, and the promise of brighter days ahead.
The use of white in ancient civilizations holds many mysteries and meanings. Whether it is seen as a symbol of purity, power, or hope, there is no denying that white has been an important part of many cultures throughout history.
Use of White in Ancient Egypt
The Ancient Egyptians held white in high regard and associated it with many different symbols and meanings. White, or known by Ancient Egyptian name “hedj”, was seen as a colour of purity, truth, and rebirth, and was believed to be the colour of the gods. It was used in funerary rituals to symbolize the afterlife and was also seen as a symbol of divinity. As a result, many temples throughout Ancient Egypt were adorned with white marble.
White was also seen as a symbol of power and authority in Ancient Egypt and was often associated with the Pharaohs and their court. The Pharaohs were believed to be divinely appointed by the gods, and so white became the colour of choice for their clothing and other regalia. In addition, white was used to adorn many of the Pharaohs’ monuments and tombs, further emphasizing their power and authority.
Overall, white was a significant colour in Ancient Egypt as it was seen as a symbol of purity, truth, rebirth, divinity, and power. It was used in funerary rituals and to adorn many temples and monuments, demonstrating its importance in the Ancient Egyptian culture.
Use of White in Ancient Greece
White has been an important colour in Ancient Greece for centuries. It was often associated with the gods and goddesses, and used to signify divine power and purity. The Greek goddess Aphrodite was often depicted wearing white clothing and jewellery to illustrate her connection to the divine. White also had a significant presence in Ancient Greek mythology, as it was often associated with mysterious symbols of ancient civilizations.
One such symbol was Khione, the Greek goddess of snow. According to myth, she was the daughter of Boreas, the god of the north wind, and his wife Oreithyia. She was said to be able to control the weather, and was often associated with snow, frost, winter, and cold temperatures. This connection to white made Khione a powerful figure in Ancient Greek mythology and her influence can still be seen in many aspects of modern culture.
White was also seen as a symbol of cleanliness and pureness in Ancient Greece. It was often used in religious ceremonies and rituals to ward off evil spirits and bring about good fortune. White was also used as a symbol of hope and renewal, and was often used to decorate temples and sacred spaces.
Overall, white has been an important part of Ancient Greek culture and mythology for centuries. From its association with the gods and goddesses to its role in religious ceremonies and rituals, white has been a powerful symbol of divinity, pureness, and hope in Ancient Greece.
Roman Culture and the Use of White
White has long been associated with ancient civilizations, including the Romans. It has been used to symbolise everything from honour and innocence to power and strength to victory, gods and goddesses, power and authority, and wealth and prosperity.
Among the Roman gods, Vesta represented the hearth, the home, and the family. She rarely appeared in human form; instead, the flames of her temple in the Forum Romanum represented her. Vestal Virgins served as Vesta’s priestesses, guarding sacred items within her temple, preparing flour and salt for official sacrifices, and tending the temple fire. It was considered vital for Rome’s survival that priestesses remain virgins; if they were found guilty of any infidelity, they were buried or entombed alive.
Many other Roman deities were frequently depicted wearing white togas. This was intended as a spiritual representation of their strength, power, and supremacy. Both men and women in ancient Rome to denote their social status as citizens and their connection with the gods wore togas. However, at some point, the toga became a male-only garment.
White togas were frequently presented to victorious generals as a symbol of their victory. These togas were made of bright white wool and served as a symbol of honour and reverence. It was forbidden for exiles and foreigners to wear it; it was required for all formal events, even during imperial times, when garments that are more convenient had been adopted for everyday use.
Toga virilis (“toga of manhood”), also known as toga alba or toga pura, is a plain white toga worn at formal events by adult male commoners and senators without a curule magistracy. It symbolised adult male citizenship and the associated rights, liberties, and responsibilities. For the majority of ancient Roman history, respectable Roman women donned the stola, a long dress that reached down to the feet and was worn over a tunic.
Additionally, white was used as a decorative element for holidays, weddings, and other special events. Since white symbolizes innocence and decency, many women choose to wear it on their wedding day. Brides also wore long, deep yellow veils over intricate, six-part braided hairstyles; it was a major social occasion with banquets and festivities, if not a sacrament. The yellow veil was often described as “the colour of flame,” the brides themselves served as torches, illuminating and warming the homes of their future spouses.
White was used at funerals to represent the purification of the soul, to shield people from evil spirits, and to provide spiritual healing.
The use of white in Roman culture extended to other areas of everyday life. White marble was also widely used in ancient Roman architecture, and the principals of classical order, to build temples and other structures. Because of its ability to reflect light and create an exquisite and luxurious environment, this marble was highly sought-after and regarded as a symbol of wealth and success.
White was so important in Roman society that it was used for centuries after the Roman Empire fell. It is still seen as a colour of integrity, strength, and authority today, making it one of the most enduring symbols of Roman culture. Since 1566, the pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has dressed in white as a symbol of virtue and sacrifice.
It is obvious that white had a profound effect on ancient Roman culture and remains a powerful symbol to this day.
White Around the World: Contemporary Interpretations
As we have already discovered, the use of white has been present in civilizations all over the world, whilst holding many symbolic meanings throughout the ages.
White still expresses many of the same meanings today, alongside ever-changing contemporary interpretations or references to pop culture. For example, white environments are often used in interior design to create a feeling of peace and tranquillity in a room. Additionally, white is a popular neutral hue in fashion because it allows people to express themselves without making a strong statement. As a colour that can be painted with imagination and potential, it is often used to signify new beginnings and fresh starts. It is frequently used in photography and cinema because it can evoke feelings of nostalgia and tranquillity.
What Does White Mean in Different Cultures?
Understanding the cultural significance of white can help us comprehend its varied meanings in different cultures. White is a powerful symbol that has evolved over time, from its ancient associations of wholesomeness and safety to its modern use in fashion and interior design. We can gain a better understanding of the impact white has had on different cultures and communities by exploring its various interpretations. Whether it is used to signify a new beginning or evoke a feeling of nostalgia, white can be used to express a variety of emotions.
The National Flag of Ireland
The British involvement in Ireland started with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. British rule in Ireland lasted several centuries and involved control of portions, if not the complete island of Ireland.
Even though the island was under English rule at the time, the Society of United Irishmen was instrumental in the development of the harp as a national symbol, especially during the 1798 rebellion. Gradually, the green flag with a golden or gold harp came to be recognized as Ireland’s emblem.
The Irish Tricolour
The national flag of Ireland is known as Bratach na hÉireann, or more commonly known as a trídhathach (the tricolour).
Its origins can be traced back to the early nineteenth century, and it was first flown publicly in 1848, during the Young Irelander Rebellion, by one of its leaders Thomas Francis Meagher, in Waterford, one of the country’s oldest cities.
This was part of the wider revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe. Shortly before it was first flown, the Irish Tricolour was presented as a gift from a group of French women who sympathized with Ireland’s cause. This is said to be the reason why the Irish flag’s tricolour design has such a distinct resemblance to the French national flag.
During the Easter Rising in 1916, the Irish Tricolour was flown in Dublin as a symbol of defiance against British rule, and Irish unity. It was then that an trídhathach first came to be regarded as the Irish national flag. Following the Anglo-Irish War, most of Ireland gained independence from Great Britain, formally adopting the flag upon becoming a free nation in 1921.
It was recognized by official usage from 1922 to 1937, when its position as the national flag was officially affirmed by the 1937 Constitution, Article 7 of which states: “The national flag is the tricolour of green, white, and orange.”
In the context of the Irish flag, white symbolizes peace and unity between the Catholic and Protestant communities. It is regarded as a symbol of hope for a brighter future for all Irish people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The flag serves as a reminder that peace and unity are possible, even in the face of profound religious and political differences. Furthermore, the significance of striving for peace and unity in our own lives and communities, regardless of where we reside, should never be taken for granted.
Nowadays, white is frequently associated with weddings in most cultures. However, for the majority of its existence, marriage has been a worldly matter, having to do with the transfer of property, the creation and support of children, the tracking of bloodlines, and the control of women.
The Histories of Herodotus are regarded as the foundational work of history in Western writing. The Histories, written around 430 BC in classical Greek Ionic dialect, functions as a record of ancient traditions. One such interpretation, by Edwin Long in 1875, depicts The Babylonian Marriage Market as recounted by Herodotus in Book 1 of the Histories.
Although white has historically been the main color worn by brides at royal weddings, such as Queen Victoria’s white lace wedding gown in 1840, not all bridal gowns conformed to this colour scheme.The white bridal gown for “commoners” first appeared in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, brides would wear their finest dress, regardless of colour, to their wedding.
Having said that, Billy Idol’s single “White Wedding” was not as perfect as the title might have suggested…
White in Eastern Cultures
White has always been an important colour in many Eastern cultures. From the Taoist Chinese to Hinduism and Buddhism, white has had a huge role to play in the spiritual and symbolic aspects of these cultures.
In Chinese culture, white is associated with death and mourning. It is also seen as a representation of purity, innocence, and protection from evil spirits. It symbolizes clarity of mind and spirit, and is closely associated with the five elements of nature: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. White is also said to bring good fortune and success, and is used in many Feng Shui practices to promote and attract positive energy.
In addition, the white ‘yang’ of Taoist Chinese yin and yang philosophy that represents everything good, light and sunny that balances out the contrasting ‘yin’, or ‘dark side’, of black.
In Hinduism, white represents knowledge and enlightenment. It is the colour of Shiva, the god of destruction, whose role is to destroy the universe in order to recreate it. Hindus believe that the powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not carried out in a random or arbitrary fashion but with constructive intent.
Similarly, in Buddhism it symbolizes purity of mind and body as well as detachment from worldly desires. Buddhist symbolism of white is also closely linked with purity, enlightenment, and wisdom. Buddhists often wear white robes to signify purity and humility, and the white lotus flower is a common symbol of spiritual transformation, often used in meditation and prayer for a sense of clarity and transcendence.
White is associated with Zen Buddhism, which began in China and spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Zen Buddhism varies from traditional Buddhism in several ways, for example, Zen Buddhists do not believe in reincarnation and do not worship the Buddha or other deities.
Tibetan Buddhism is a centuries-old religion practiced in the Himalayan area. It is founded on Buddha’s teachings and emphasizes meditation, wisdom, and compassion as necessary components of spiritual practice. Tibetan Buddhism is divided into five colors, each with its own meaning:
- blue represents the sky;
- white represents the air;
- red symbolizes fire;
- green symbolizes water;
- yellow symbolizes earth.
Together, the five colors represent harmony. White has special meaning because it represents clarity and purity of thought, cutting through the delusion of ignorance and turning it into the wisdom of reality. Additionally, a lot of people who endeavor to climb Mount Everest frequently ask the nearby Tibetan monks for blessings of luck.
White also has a profound significance in India, where it represents the purging of the body and mind of all impurities. It aids in keeping one’s attention on the journey to enlightenment, free of selfish desires, and leading a simple existence. White is a significant component of Indian culture because it is frequently used in ceremonies like weddings, religious gatherings, and celebrations.
White has been an important part of Japanese culture for centuries. It is a color that embodies purity, serenity and elegance, and it is often associated with the Noh theatre, tea ceremonies, poetry and flower arrangement. White also has a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people, as it symbolizes peace and harmony.
It is also closely tied to the traditional geisha girl, which literally means “art person”. These women are known for their grace and beauty and are often seen wearing kimonos, and pale white colour face powder during performances or other events. The use of white in such rituals reflects its importance in Japanese culture – representing both purity and elegance at the same time.
White in Western Cultures
In Western culture, white has traditionally been viewed as a colour of purity, holiness, and innocence. Similarly, in Christianity, white is the traditional colour worn by brides during wedding ceremonies. It is also the colour most commonly used for baptismal gowns and garments worn by the clergy. White also symbolizes rebirth and renewal, as seen in the Western celebration of Easter when eggs are dyed white to represent new life.
As it symbolizes unity and new beginnings. White can also be used to represent death and the afterlife, as it is believed to be the colour of the spiritual world. Or the the American term white shoe firm used to describe prestigious professional services firms that have traditionally been associated with the upper-class elite who graduated from Ivy League colleges, usually in a field such as banking or law.
How is White Paper Made
White paper is a type of paper that has been specifically processed and treated to achieve a clean, bright appearance. The production process consists of several stages that include pulping, bleaching, and finishing.
- Pulping: The first step in making white paper involves breaking down wood or other plant-based materials into small fibres. This is done through mechanical or chemical processes. The resulting pulp consists of cellulose fibres, which are the primary building blocks of paper.
- Bleaching: To make the paper white, the pulp undergoes a bleaching process. This involves treating the fibres with chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, chlorine dioxide, or oxygen to remove colour-causing impurities, lignin, and other organic compounds. The bleaching process not only whitens the paper but also improves its strength and durability.
- Refining and Formation: After bleaching, the pulp is further refined to separate and align the fibres. It is then mixed with water and other additives to create a slurry. This slurry is poured onto a wire mesh screen, where water drains away, leaving behind a thin layer of fibres.
- Pressing and Drying: The wet sheet of paper is passed through a series of rollers to press out excess water and achieve the desired thickness. Next, it is dried using heated cylinders or air-drying methods. During this stage, additional treatments may be applied to improve the paper’s surface properties, such as coating it with a mixture of clay and other materials to enhance smoothness and brightness.
- Finishing: Finally, the dried paper is wound onto large rolls or cut into sheets. It may also undergo additional processes like calendaring, which involves passing the paper through high-pressure rollers to further smooth and polish its surface.
When all of these steps are combined, white paper of various quality is created, which is widely used in printing, writing, and, of course, by artists.
Cleanliness of White and Clean Lines
Modernism is a philosophical and artistic movement that emerged in response to wide transformations in Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Bauhaus, opened from 1919 to 1933, and taught an ethos that focused on the approach rather than just the style. Despite the fact that this was a time when primary colours—red, yellow, blue, black, and white—tended to predominate in design. With an emphasis on colour and light, artists from the Bauhaus, groups like De Stijl, had a preference of exhibiting their works against white walls in order to minimise distraction. The white walls were also thought to act as a frame, rather like the borders of a photograph.
Walter Gropius, a German-American architect and one of the Bauhaus Art School’s founders, is generally regarded as a pioneering master of modernist architecture. The Modernist movement, which included Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright, saw an increase in the appeal of angular white-hued buildings.
The Bauhaus philosophy of form follows purpose and less is more, remain as some of the guiding principles of contemporary design and architecture, and white is frequently used to emphasise these qualities, providing a neutral backdrop for the building’s form and function to take centre stage.
Cleanliness is an important aspect of modern architecture, both aesthetically and functionally, and uncluttered space, particually in small rooms, ensures that the architecture is appreciated in its purest form. There are a few other things to consider if you want to integrate white into your modern architectural or interior design. To begin, select the appropriate shade of white; various shades can have varying effects on the overall look and feel of the room. Second, consider using white as a neutral backdrop to enable other elements of the design to stand out.
What is Photocatalysis?
Photocatalysis is a fascinating process that has revolutionized the way we think about materials and their ability to interact with light. One particularly interesting application of photocatalysis is in the creation of self-cleaning concrete, Light2CAT, developed during a European Commission-funded initiative that ran from 2012 to 2015.
To understand how this works, it’s important to first understand what photocatalysis is. Essentially, it is the process by which light energy interacts with a material to produce a chemical reaction. In the case of self-cleaning concrete, highly efficient visible-light-activated titanium dioxide (TiO) is used.
What does all of this have to do with the colour white? As we know, white materials are especially effective at absorbing visible light, a key component of photocatalysis. When exposed to light, these anti-pollution additives or coatings trigger a reaction that breaks down organic matter on the surface of concrete, effectively cleaning it and reducing the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NOx), which is most relevant for air pollution.
Our knowledge of this technology may lead to the discovery of even more applications that we had not yet imagined. The next time you see something that is pure white, keep in mind that it may serve more than just a decorative purpose. It may play a crucial role in preventing pollution and environmental degradation!
The Role of Colour Psychology in Interpreting White
Colour psychology plays a major role in how people interpret the colour white. Understanding how our minds process colour and the psychological implications of white can vary depending on the context. It can evoke feelings of serenity and calmness, but it can also create feelings of emptiness and isolation. The colour white can also be used to create an atmosphere of optimism and potential. On the other hand, as an environment associated with cleanliness and sterility to communicate safety.
By understanding the cultural significance of the colour white and its psychological implications, people can better interpret its meaning and use it to their advantage.
What is a White Personality Colour Code?
Taylor Hartman developed the Colour Code Personality Profile, also known as The Colour Code or The People Code. This 45-question personality test is used to identify an individual’s personality colour. It is based on the idea that each person has a dominant personality colour that influences his or her behaviours and emotions. White is one of the colours in this system along with Red, Blue and Yellow.
Individuals with a white personality trait are peace-loving people who will go to any lengths to prevent conflict. The items that make them feel comfortable are all they ask for in life. That sensation feeds their desire for internal fulfilment.
White personalities are more likely to possess virtues like kindness, consideration, patience, and acceptance. They tend to be drawn to simplicity and minimalism in their surroundings, be calm under pressure and have a peaceful presence that others find reassuring. They do not have any self-importance, although through careful hearing and thoughtful consideration, they are adept at creating ideas that did not previously exist.
However, some of the limitations of this personality type are that individuals rarely express what they are thinking, experiencing, or seeing. They may struggle with decision-making and assertiveness, as white personalities often prioritize harmony over conflict. They detest functioning at another person’s pace and sometimes have a self-deprecating streak.
By understanding your own personality it can help you gain insight into your own behaviours and emotions, and can help you understand the people around you better. By recognizing the dominant colour codes of others, you can adjust your communication style and behaviour to better connect with them.
If you are interested in learning more, try taking a personality test to discover your dominant colour code, and start exploring what it means for you and the people in your life. Just remember, some of these types of tests may have limited psychometric value, so take the results as a guide.
Use of White in Marketing, Design & Fashion
White is a colour with a lot of power and significance in marketing, design, and fashion. Its use can create a sense of purity, cleanliness, and freshness in any design. It can be used to create a sense of spaciousness and openness while also being used as a background colour to emphasise the other hues in the design. In fashion, white is often used to represent sophistication and elegance.
White space, also known as negative space, is an important part of design and marketing. White space in the visual arts refers to portions of a page layout or image deliberately left unmarked and used as a component. Often used in typography it refers to any character or series of characters that represent horizontal or vertical space.
It gives balance and structure to a composition and allows the eye to focus on the elements that matter most. Apple’s design is a great example of how white space can be used effectively to draw attention to the product. Clean lines and minimalist designs are also popular methods of using white to create an aesthetically pleasing look.
In design fields, white is often used to highlight or act as a neutral background to let other colours, objects, or textures take the spotlight. It is also a popular colour in minimalistic designs, particularly when used with various other shades of white or other light neutrals such as gray, beige, or taupe. Although colour associations should never be presumed to be universal.
Throughout, the last number of decades the characteristics of white have been used the marketers to represent coolness. From the pale pastels, spirited enough to fit the colour, a post-war optimistic palette of the 1950s and 1960s. The palette of the 1970s reflected a feeling of warmth and earthiness, with whites, yellows, and terracotta undertones.
I remember a number of cars from the 1980s being all white, especially factory sport models, such as the Ford Escort RS Turbo and Vauxhall Astra GTEs among many others. When used properly, it helped to create a modern, stylish look that was sure to turn heads.
Is White the Absence of Colour?
Because light encompasses all of the visible spectrum’s hues, some people consider it a colour. It is thought by many people that black is a colour because it can be created on paper by combining other pigments. However, while white and black act like colours, it is probably more accurate to say that they supplement the visual spectrum.
White Blood Cells
White blood cells, also known as leukocytes, are an essential part of our immune system, as they are responsible for defending the body against foreign pathogens.
A drop of blood the size of a pinhead contains approximately 5 million red blood cells (erythrocytes). These cells are small, biconcave disks without a nucleus, and they get their red color from an iron-containing protein called hemoglobin.
Did you know that the ratio of white blood cells to red blood cells is approximately 1:600, representing approximately 7,000 and 25,000 white blood cells? However, despite the name, white blood cells are actually colorless. When viewed under a microscope and dyed, they can appear with a very light purple to pink hue. These incredibly small cells have a rounded shape and a recognizable central membrane (nucleus).
The number of white blood cells present in our bodies is important, as it helps to determine whether we have an infection or other medical condition. The number of white blood cells in a person’s body can vary depending on their age, health status, and other factors. Thanks to advances in technology, doctors can now measure the number of white blood cells present in a sample of blood and use this information to diagnose and treat illnesses.
White Foliage Plants
White foliage plants are a great way to brighten up any outdoor space. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them perfect for adding texture and depth to your garden. Impatiens, hosta, and coleus are some of the most popular white foliage plants available. These plants can be used to create a stunning contrast against green foliage or as a backdrop for other flowering plants. With their unique color and texture, white foliage plants can add an element of elegance and tranquility to any garden landscape.
Is It Possible to Make White with Combinations of Other Colours?
No combination of other colours can be used to make white paint because any other colour of paint absorbs some of at least one particular wavelength. Combining paints or filters to form other colours is known as subtractive colour mixing.
However, in additive colour mixing, in which wavelengths are emitted rather than absorbed, the opposite is true. If red, green and blue spotlights converge on the same spot, their combination is white. This principle is used in televisions, fluorescent lamps and computer monitors or any coloured electronic display device.
Colour as Light
A colour is defined by a physicist as a specific wavelength of light, and the colour of an object is determined by how it reflects and absorbs light.
White is a bright and brilliant hue to the human eye that can cause headaches; for example, when skiing or snowboarding, snow can become blinding. This is because, in comparison to other colours’ wavelengths, white reflects and cannot absorb light.
Sunlight, which is polychromatic, consists of seven main colours namely violet, indigo, blue, green, orange, and red, acronym VIBGYOR. When these seven colours are combined we just get one, which is white light. Technically, white light is a continuous spectrum that could contain an infinite number of colors if a color name for each wavelength was created.
Metamerism is an intriguing phenomenon that occurs when two colors appear the same in one lighting situation but appear different in another. Metameric matches are quite common, especially in near neutral colours like grays, whites, and dark colours, creating an unique sensory experience.
It is important to understand this phenomenon in order to create accurate colour matching for different products.
Designers, artists, and manufacturers can use metamerism to create products that appear the same regardless of the lighting conditions in which they are viewed. This is particularly important for products like clothing, furniture, and automobiles that must look the same in different environments. With this knowledge, designers and manufacturers can ensure that their products appear consistent across various environments and settings, and that they remain neutral under any lighting condition.
What Pigments Are Used to Make White?
Though white light can be created by mixing the colours of the visible spectrum, the unique specification of white pigments are made up of a wide range of different compounds. Although white light is not a colour, when white is used as a physical pigment, it is considered one. White pigments come from various sources, including calcite, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and lead.
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Japanese civilizations all used natural white pigment powder, typically consisting of white lead, which was a by-product of silver, which was used to make facial powder.
During the Renaissance period between the 16th and 18th centuries, both men and women wore a variety of products, such as creams to bleach their skin and white paint or powder all over their faces, such as Venetian ceruse, also known as “blanc de ceruse de Venise” and “spirits of Saturn.”
This artificial fairness was considered a sign of wealth, intelligence, and power, since those who wore it did not have to work in the fields and get sunburned, thus avoiding imperfections and maintaining their social status. Ironically, cosmetic products during this period were highly dangerous due to the presence of lead, and in many cases led to premature deaths. Exposure to lead, whether through dust or absorption through the skin, can damage the brain and nervous system, and slow growth and development in children.
Many artists, like Johannes Vermeer, in their painting techniques and choice of materials, notoriously and unsuspectingly used toxic white lead. This is why you should never lick a paintbrush to achieve a finer point.
Different Types of White Paint
In addition to being pristine and striking, white pigments, or molecular colouring agents, are used by artists to create high contrast, subtle highlights. Unlike shades, which use black, or tones, which adds grey to a colour, a tint is when an artist adds white to a colour. White, in the form of a with a primer or gesso is often used as a base layer for other colours. Whites can range with the following qualities and characteristics, which can serve different purposes in your painting, and final artwork:
- Opaque, which means not able to be seen through it or in other words not transparent.
- Sheer, very light, presque to being fully transparent.
- Transparent, allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.
It took me years to appreciate the many variations of white, and people are surprise to find out that there are so many different white shades available, some of which we will review below:
Lead white was always the practical choice up until the 19th century due to its density, opacity, and warm tones, Due to its density, opacity, and warm tones, lead white was always the practical option up until the 19th century. Due to its natural radiance, its use was irresistible to artists like Vermeer and the Impressionist Van Gogh. The pigment was extensively used until it was banned due to health concerns in the 1970s.
The colour zinc white was first developed in the early 1780s as a safer option to the widely used toxic lead white used by oil painters. As the least opaque, Zinc White is best suited for tinting and glazing paintings. Based on zinc pigments, it has a particularly “clean” finish, making it a prime choice for light highlighting as well.
Titanium dioxide, a titanium pigment, was discovered in 1821, but it was not until 1921 that a titanium white oil colour suitable for artistic uses was commercially available. Titanium White is widely regarded as the best and most versatile opaque white. It is significantly brighter than lead white and has the highest tinting strength of any white, reflecting back approximately 97% of the light that strikes it. It is an extremely popular choice among artists due to its durable finish and excellent coverage, making it ideal for base coats or when a large surface needs to be painted white.
Flake white, also known as Snowflake white, was one of the first synthetic pigments. It is created by combining lead shavings with vinegar (an acid) to cause a chemical reaction that result in a white deposit of lead carbonate. Its history can be traced back to some of the oldest civilizations, such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, when it was the only white pigment that was widely accessible to painters. It is also one of the longest-lasting traditional lead-based whites. The working characteristics of conventional Flake White have been matched by contemporary lead-free formulations, making its use considerably less dangerous.
Most Chinese Whites are a variation of Zinc White having characteristics of a pale, neutral, tarnished white with a semi-opaque khaki undertone. First commercially available in 1834, its name comes from the Chinese porcelain that was popular with 19th century. It became popular among artists for its ability to take the edge off brighter colours.
China White is one of many versatile warm whites that can be used to decorate interiors and exteriors of both contemporary and traditional houses. It goes well with honeyed-toned woods, reddish browns, and mid-browns with a yellow undertone, such as Craftsman-style homes.
It was initially developed in the 1870s, and for a while, it competed with lead and zinc white oil paints. Zinc sulphide and barium sulphate are combined to create porcelain white. These two substances, collectively referred to as Lithopone, when mixed yield a special white that is neutral, slightly cool, dull, and semi-opaque in its characteristics.
Inks contain the same kinds of pigments as oil and acrylic paints. Inks can be applied to surfaces using a variety of instruments, such as brushes and dip pens, and are ideal for calligraphy or adding an understated sheen to work. Personally, I prefer acrylic inks for airbrushing, because they have a brilliance when building up layers, especially when used on dark surfaces.
Furthermore, there are numerous shades, tints, and values of white available, with names varying from pearl and snow to silk and corn, to mention a few.
Painting with White: Artists Who Realised Its Potential
White is a powerful colour with a mystical meaning and a strong cultural significance. Throughout history, artists have used white in their works to evoke certain emotions and feelings. From Vincent Van Gogh’s dream-like atmosphere to Georgia O’Keeffe’s sense of mystery and intrigue, white has been used to create stunning pieces of art.
White can also be used to evoke emotions of hope, optimism, and renewal. Artists such as Claude Monet and Paul Klee were able to capture this emotion in their paintings, using white to bring out the beauty of the natural world. Similarly, LS Lowry, Pierre Adolphe Valette, Kazimir Malevich, Lee Ufan, and Frank Auerbach all used white to create works that spoke to the human experience, highlighting the power of this colour.
From its ability to evoke feelings of wonder and awe, to its capacity to tell stories and communicate emotion, there is no doubt that white is a powerful colour with immense potential. The works of these iconic artists prove that white can be used in incredibly creative ways, allowing for a diverse range of expression. Ultimately, the use of white in art is a testament to the power of colour, and its capacity to captivate and inspire, or even break a creative block.
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque artist known for his use of white in his paintings. In many of his works, he used white to create a sense of mysticism and mystery. In some of his greatest works, such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Vermeer used white to emphasize the beauty of the subject. This use of white serves to make the painting appear more spiritual and it creates a feeling of awe and wonder in the viewer.
Vermeer’s use of white was not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly symbolic. For this reason, the use of white in Vermeer’s paintings conveys a sense of spirituality and divine energy. Additionally, white is also seen as a colour of peace and tranquillity, which further reinforces the sense of mysticism that Vermeer sought to create in his works.
3D Street Art
Among the other names for 3D street art are 3D pavement art, 3D sidewalk art, 3D chalk art, trompe-l’oeil, street painting, and anamorphic art.
These particular ephemeral art subgroups are essentially non-material, and can be painted over or washed away at any time.
Artists that practice this technique are known for their incredible ability to create stunning and realistic illusions of light and depth, making their artwork appear as though it is floating above the ground. Obviously one of the most important tools in their kit is chalk
Further, back, white chalk – often made up of the mineral calcite – was used in prehistoric rock art and decoration. One of the most commonly found chalks was made from a soft type of limestone sedimentary rock, formed over time from a build-up of microscopic plankton settling on deep sea beds. Some examples of chalk art that have lasted to this day are vast in scale, such as the Uffington White Horse in the UK, which is the most ancient chalk-cut hill figure in Britain, dating back to over 3,000 years old.
I hope you enjoyed my article on white and its cultural significance. White has always been a part of many societies, cultures, traditions and art. This is because white represents many different things. It has been used as a symbol of purity, cleanliness, and innocence, but it also has been used in spiritual rituals and traditions. This is why white has been a powerful force for many people.
No matter what culture you come from, the mystical meaning of white has been an important part of our collective history. From spiritual enlightenment to mourning and purity, white has been used to convey a range of emotions and ideas, messages which transcend time and space.
The human fascination with white transforms what was once a non-color into a colour of importance, whether it’s in leaving blank or clean spaces or in making bold white statements in architecture, fashion, and art.
Its symbolic qualities can be interpreted differently depending on the cultural context, but its overall meaning is rooted in a sense of purity, cleanliness, and innocence. If you are looking to add a touch of class to your wardrobe or interior design, the colour white is an excellent choice. Try experimenting with different shades and textures to achieve the perfect look.
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Dudley Moore and Peter Cook
Adrian Reynolds, or ‘Ren,’ is a Dublin-based contemporary artist. His works are a reaction to the world around us. A world that continues to evolve quicker than ever. His work investigates colour, form, and texture, putting them at the intersection of abstraction and representation. His art has been shown in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.