Painting White: Pro Advice for Artists

Before you reach for that tube of white paint, see what Lori McNee has to say about how much color it takes to create the illusion of white, and give more life to your next work. Bonus: scroll down for a video preview on luminous painting.


Creating the illusion of white, such as in snow, clouds, animals, or still life objects, can be trickier than one might think. Often, a beginning painter will simply reach for the tube of white paint and call it good, but later wonders why the artwork looks dull, flat, and lifeless.

The reason is this: Although white makes a color lighter, it also removes its vibrancy and brightness.

To illustrate just how much color really goes into painting the illusion of white, let’s look at my still life painting “Harey Situation.”

Painting white - Lori McNee -
Lori McNee, “Harey Situation,” oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in.

At first glance, this painting looks like I used a lot of white straight out of the tube to create the white tablecloth, the white snowy owl, the white snowshoe hares, and even the white snowflakes.

But look again!

How to paint - Lori McNee -

I put a white piece of paper next to my still life painting to help you compare the whites. Note the pure white paper compared to the white in the painting. Can you see how much color really goes into this?

Continue reading this blog post at to see more in-progress photos of “Harey Situation” and learn more how painting the illusion of white.

And learn more from Lori McNee with her popular painting video workshop “Luminous Landscape Painting” (preview it below!)

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