Every artist got their start from somewhere. Natural talent plays a role, sure, but that talent was then refined by an instructor, class, or diligent practice.
Bob Ross is one mentor that’s helped millions of people learn to paint. Through his online videos, he continues to teach people the basics of wet-on-wet oil painting to this day.
If you notice, at the beginning of his videos, he begins by stating, “I started with my layer of Liquid White.” This may have some people checking their paints and asking themselves if they’re missing something.
So, what is liquid White for oil painting? Liquid White is a base coat that’s used for oil painting. It’s a mixture of titanium white paint and linseed oil. It is the basis for an oil painting technique referred to as wet-on-wet that Bob Ross learned from his own mentor, William “Bill” Alexander, and continued to use throughout his career.
As you gather your supplies to have a Bob Ross painting night, make sure that you remember to grab a container of liquid White as well. If you’ve never used it before, keep reading below to learn all about what it is and how to use it properly.
What Is Liquid White?
Liquid White, also known as Magic White or Fluid White depending on the brand, is a base layer for oil painting.
Liquid White is made of a combination of titanium white and linseed oil. This combination thins the paint and gives a smooth base layer to work with. There are many reasons for using Liquid White.
One of the most common reasons is that Liquid White helps you blend the colors easier. Rather than blending your colors together on the palette, taking your time trying to achieve the perfect blend, you can blend them right on the canvas.
The layer of Liquid White helps the colors you’re trying to blend mix together beautifully, giving you a smooth and soft look similar to watercolor painting.
This smooth blending is characteristic of landscape work, which is why Bob Ross is so well known for this technique.
Originally learned from his own mentor William “Bill” Alexander, Bob Ross rose to fame for showcasing his wet-on-wet oil painting through his videos in The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross series.
You can check out one of his videos below! You’ll notice that one of the first things he says after his introduction is that he started with a layer of Liquid White.
Liquid White is also handy for those who may take a little longer with their painting. The wet-on-wet technique ensures that your canvas stays wet so you can mix and blend your colors as you go, even if you need to blend the colors you applied first with the colors you applied last.
This is extremely helpful for those just starting to learn how to paint who may need a little extra time to get their painting just right on the canvas.
If you want to learn more about Liquid White and see it in action, check out the video below. This is a quick overview of what Liquid White is and samples of how it’s used.
Other Types Of Oil Base Paints
As you search online for your jar of Liquid White, you may see product listings for Liquid Clear or Liquid Black as well.
Liquid Clear and Liquid Black are similar to Liquid White. They’re other base layers for oil paints, but instead of being white, they’re either clear or black.
Liquid Clear is helpful for using the wet-on-wet technique without changing the color of your paint.
When using Liquid White, you may notice that it lightens all of your colors. This is from the white paint in Liquid White and is impossible to avoid when using this product.
However, with a jar of Liquid Clear, you can still use the wet-on-wet oil painting technique while maintaining the integrity of your colors.
Liquid Black has black paint instead of white. This is best used for dark paintings, such as nighttime landscapes. You can get a variety pack of Liquid White, Liquid Clear, and Liquid Black, with a bonus bottle of brush cleaner, here.
How To Use Liquid White For Oil Painting (Tips & Tricks)
The process for using Liquid White on your canvas is almost too simple, as you can see in the steps below:
- Shake or stir your bottle or jar of Liquid White.
- Apply in an even layer with a paintbrush or cloth.
- Start painting!
There are some key tips to keep in mind when using Liquid White, though. For best results, follow the recommendations below.
First, to use Liquid White with your oil painting, make sure you shake or stir your bottle first. We mentioned this in the steps above, but it bears repeating. This step should never be skipped and is vital to ensure the Liquid White goes on correctly.
When left to sit, Liquid White may separate between the paint and the oil. Giving it a good shake or stir will reincorporate the oil with the paint to ensure a smooth base layer.
It’s also important to remember to apply a solid layer of Liquid White. You don’t want it to be too thick and gobbed on there, but you don’t want it to be too thin either.
Thin paint sticks to thicker paint, so you want to ensure the layer of Liquid White is thick enough that your color paints stick.
Keep in mind that using Liquid White will mean that your painting will take longer to dry. There’s a solid layer of wet paint and oil underneath the colors, so give the painting enough time to dry.
This may take several days, but it will be worth it in the end for the smooth blending you can achieve by using Liquid White.
When using Liquid White, you want to make sure you use it with the knowledge of how it will affect your colors. As we stated above, Liquid White will lighten all of your paints thanks to the white paint it’s made with.
This can be great for landscape paintings of a sunny day on a lake or in a meadow, but may not work great for every painting subject. Keep this in mind when determining whether Liquid Paint is right for your oil painting.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Liquid White is made specifically for oil paints. You wouldn’t want to use it with acrylic paints or other types of paint.
For acrylic paints, you can get a similar effect using art gesso. Gesso and Liquid White are not the same product, but gesso is a common base layer for acrylic paint.
Finally, Liquid White isn’t just for a base layer! It is mostly made up of white paint, so you can certainly still use it as such.
It can be nice to use Liquid White to add soft highlights to your painting, or as a decorative accent at the end. For example, a snowy landscape painting would do well with a splattering of Liquid White for the snowflakes.
The video below from Wild Creates on YouTube gives some great tips and tricks for the best way to apply Liquid White.
How To Make Your Own Liquid White
If you want to make your own Liquid White at home rather than purchasing a jar, it’s easier (and cheaper) than you might think.
First, you’ll need to gather your supplies.
Once you have all of your supplies, you’re ready to begin!
- Squirt some of your titanium white paint onto your palette. Consider how much Liquid White you want to have at the end.
- Keeping in mind a 1:1 ratio of paint to oil, pour your oil onto the paint. Try starting with a small amount of oil then adding as you go for best mixture.
- Mix the oil into the paint slowly with your palette knife. Ensure that as you combine the two together, the mixture is smooth and fully incorporated. The final consistency should be cream-like with soft peaks, similar to a soft egg white meringue.
- When the paint and oil are fully incorporated to the correct consistency, transfer the homemade Liquid White to your empty paint can with your palette knife and secure the lid with an air-tight seal.
There you have it! You now have your own homemade Liquid White. Depending on the supplies you might already have on hand, this can be a more affordable alternative to purchasing a jar of Liquid White.
Plus, if you already have all of these supplies and need to use some Liquid White in a pinch, making your own is faster than ordering some or running out to the store to pick some up.
For a visual of how to make your own Liquid White, check out the video below from Wild Creates on YouTube.
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