Get to Know your Colors: Black

Hi friends! So in continuing this colors series, I’ve already covered white and gray, so the next logical color would be black! So let’s take a look at this darkest of dark non-color!

The Color Black

Black, like white, is a non-color.  In painting it is the result of all of the colors mixed together.  It is the single most noticeable color in any painting, and instantly draws attention to itself as no other color is as dark as black (similar to how white highlights are eye catching because they are the lightest).

Color Wheel Location

As you might have guessed, black is not on the color wheel as it is not actually a color. It can

The most common acrylic paint color of black is Mars black.
The most common acrylic paint color of black is Mars black.

be used alone in a painting to determine the absolute darkest areas and to draw attention to any area, but it can also be mixed into other colors to create dark variations of that color called shades (now you know where the phrase “shades of grey” comes from!).

Mixing Black

True black cannot actually be mixed, as it is very difficult to get the perfect ratio of all of the primary colors mixed together to get true pure black – you’ll usually just end up with some sort of very dark gray.  The most common black color purchased in a tube is Mars black, which is an extremely opaque black that completely covers anything underneath it.  it also has a high tinting strength, so be careful when making shades of a color.  Use very little black as it doesn’t take much to overpower a color.

There is a bit of a discrepancy in the art world as to whether pure black should be used in paintings at all.  Some feel that since the color is manufactured synthetically and is a pure non-color, it is a dead color, and adding it to a painting takes some of the life away from it.  These people feel that dark colors should only be mixed using the primaries, and however dark you can get them is the darkest that will be in your painting.  Because the resulting grey/black you get is made from real colors, the shadow color has more life in it.

My personal opinion is a bit of a mix of being for and against using tube black.  While I agree that mixing colors together to get the dark greyish muddy colors we want gives more life to the painting, they will never be as dark as true Mars black.  I like to use black sparingly in paintings, using the pure black from the tube only in certain small spots, and mixing the black through other colors as well as making shades of other colors to make all of my other shadowy hues.  I think this compromise allows a painting to retain the feeling of life and vibrancy while still achieving a few absolute dark spots for guiding the viewer’s eyes to the focal points.

The Psychology of Black

Elegant, authoritative black is the first choice for any handwritten works (and why we always sign our signatures in black ink!)
Elegant, authoritative black is the first choice for any handwritten works (and why we always sign our signatures in black ink!)

Black is the absorption of all colors, the absence of light, the opposite of white.  It allows us to cover our insecurities like our weight (black clothes make you look slimmer). It can be intimidating, as we don’t know what’s hiding in those dark shadows, so it radiates fear, but at the same time also creates a sense of authority.

Black can also be elegant and sexy, however, in the cases of the little black dress, or a black tie affair, the mysteriousness of black creates a sense of curiousness and intrigue in those looking at it.  Too much black, however, can look depressing and dark.  It is these reasons that black is commonly paired with white, as the purity and freshness of white offsets the overpowering black and creates a beautiful, elegant, sophisticated feel (like in a tuxedo!).

The key to using black is to use it in moderation.  Know where you want your darkest points to be and the mood you want to create, and be sure to offset the black with more vivid, life-filled colours to keep black from becoming too intimidating.

What are your thoughts on using black?? Let me know in a comment!

Further Reading

Here’s a few more articles I’ve written concerning black:

Using Black to Mix Green?

Pinspiration Monday: Colour Psychology

Thanks for reading, and till next time, keep creating!


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