352: Black is a Color

–I HAVE read how many artists avoid using black paint at all costs. Some even decry it as not being a real color. Which is somewhat ridiculous. If it wasn’t a color that would mean it didn’t reflect light and would be a sort of black hole of reality, sucking in light but reflecting nothing.

It is more accurate to say that black is a color that is extremely dark and extremely neutral. In a few minutes, I’m going to broadcast live (16 Jan 2019, 12:30 MT) on my Instagram feed where I will add green to a painting using black, cadmium yellow, and yellow ochre (and possibly some ultramarine blue). In the demo, it will become evident that black is a color and of use to the experienced painter.

So the dictum that black is not a color should be modified to black is a color that is best used after having some experience. If you would like to use black but feel you might not be experienced enough try using Chromatic Black from Gamblin colors. Remember, the color it looks like is the color it is. But the fact that Chromatic Black is a mixture of Quinacridone Red and Thalo Green helps novice painters to accept the neutrality of the color. If you have these two colors you can mix your own. You do not want your deep darks to be a complete balance between cool and warm. If it is it will appear to be a dead color, no matter what colors are combined to make a neutral hue.

Black with a touch of ultramarine blue is a beautiful color and is often sold as Payne’s Gray after the 18th-century British watercolorist William Payne. You should always bias your blacks so they are leaning to either the warm or cool side of the spectrum. I also suggest adding a hint of white to bring out the tonal beauty of the color. Also, remember that no dark color should occupy no more than 5% of an extremely dark range. Use those super darks for notes within your dark shapes.

With experience, dark colors of all kinds from Mars black to Ivory black can be handled well in your paintings.

Brad Teare –January 2019

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Updated: 16th December 2019
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