Monday, September 21

Mixing and Using the Color Black in your Paintings

Today’s Image
After the Storm
Acrylic on Panel
Copyright 2008

I like to blog, although not as much as I like to paint. That said, there’s always some art thing to blog about, and today it’s about the color black.

As you may not know, there is no color black in nature. What? How can that be? Surely, there’s black out there somewhere, in a shadow or something.

Nope. Depending on whether you’re talking light or pigment, black is either the absence of all light or the combination of all other colors. Actually, in theory, you can’t ever really mix a true black, but let’s not split hairs.

This discussion assumes, of course, that you not only use black in your paintings or other artwork but also that you mix your own blacks. That, after all, is what “real” artists do, right, rather than buying any of the blacks available off the shelf at your art supply store?

Why mix your own black(s) when you can buy a perfectly acceptable Mars or Ivory in either oil, acrylic, or watercolor? Well, for one thing, it will be a learning experience if nothing else. As an artist, there is always something more to learn, and mixing colors is an endless learning experience.

Basically, you mix black by mixing red and green. Red is one of the primary colors, and green, of course, comes from yellow and blue, the other two primaries. Sounds simple, and it is, but the variations you get, depending on the red and the green you mix, is almost astounding.

It’s hard to think of black as anything other than black, but there are more variations than you can imagine. Again, depending on the exact red and green you mix, you will get all sorts of “blacks.” They range from what I call a warm black, which contains more red and takes on a rich, deep, brownish tone, to a cold,cold blu-ish black. Any everything in between and beyond.

Why use black in your artwork? Remember, you’re not actually using a “real” pure black, but a variation of a very dark hue. Well, for one, you can use black to tone down or darken other colors; that is, to lower the value. When you add black to yellow, you get a very nice range of olive greens so useful in landscapes. Add black to orange and you get all sorts of browns.

But be careful! You may think adding black is the simplest, most expedient way to darken a color, but what happens sometimes is that you end up with just a dull, muddy mixture because the color you were adding black to is already a mixture of colors, and it just makes a mess. Maybe that’s why the Impressionists absolutely refused to use black in their paintings and just about shunned any artist who did.

You shouldn’t be afraid of using black in your artwork. Since black is so intense, it certainly can add a mood to your painting if that’s what you’re after. It’s a somber color, often associated with death, and can evoke an emotional response. It, or a color near it, was used effectively in chiaroscuro paintings —those with lots of contrast where people or objects appear out of deep shadows—during the Renaissance.

However, please don’t think of black as only an ominous or spooky color either. It can add drama or realism to your artwork, and is as natural as any other color. Today's Image is an acrylic painting of mine that uses near-black as a major element.

Experiment and discover something new for your palette.


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