Wednesday, May 19, 2010

59 The problem with black

MANY painters avoid the use of black and prohibit it from the palettes of their students. Theoretically there is nothing wrong with black. After all–the color paint looks like is the color it is–regardless of the name on the label. So if I add black to yellow to get green there is absolutely nothing wrong with that provided the final color is the color combination I want.

In my recent painting Canal at Dusk, 30" x 30", I avoided using blacks in the deep shadows. Instead I opted to mix two extremely dark yet highly saturated colors, Alizarin Crimson Permanent and Thalo Green, to create my darks. Using two deep colors to create a black allowed me to bias the color mixture to get rich, vibrating hues of either warm or cool variations.

If you are painting in the field and you need a deep, dark color to quickly add to other pigments you might consider using Chromatic Black which is a combination of Thalo Green and Quinacridone Red. This mixture can be quickly made cool by adding viridian green or warm by adding alizarin crimson permanent (or any color you desire). Another favorite of mine for making black is Dioxazine Purple and Transparent Earth Yellow. This mixture, when applied half mixed, creates an exotic and rich color.

Black, like all other colors, will appear more vibrant if presented as broken color, or at least have elements of the basic components of other colors. For example a green will be more vibrant if it has flecks of blue and yellow sparkling through it. Just because an area in your painting is dark doesn't mean it shouldn't vibrate with broken color. And using half mixed, complementary colors will make this vibration easy and satisfying to accomplish.

Brad Teare © 2010


  1. The darks in the water really do have deep-pool life and depth. So many pure hues can well-up through, and glow beside, those un-blacks. I wonder if the beauty of those bottomless darks is partly due to the blues & greens all being up close, no distant atmosphere to make the cold colors become lighter. I think if the top part of the picture had been pushed further back , the shadowed canal would have lost that enchanting secret look. The landscape here where I live is very vertical, with towering redwood trees all around and always up close. The greens don't recede, which is hard to make believable in a painting. This canal picture shows that deep green foliage can be better placed in the middleground if the foreground has even darker un-black blues an violets.

  2. I use black, and many other artist (well known) used it too.

    It all depend of what you want to achieve.

    If I want something very dark and not glowing

    I use ivory black, otherwise I mix umber and ultramarine blue, or olive green and ... a pinch of black ;)

  3. Thanks Steve. The darks are really hard to see in this photo but they really do have a lot of color in them. If I make any adjustments it might be to darken the sky a bit with some ultramarine blue. It seems a bit too weak with the orange light being that intense.

    John, you are right, using black can be a great color choice. I like your color suggestions. Have you tried Dioxazine Purple and Transparent Earth Yellow? I also like Black Spinel. It is a bit expensive but very rich.


Thanks for your comments!


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