Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Should I use black?
There has been a school of thought that said black should be excluded from the palette. But a lot of great painters have used it. I do have black on my palette but I could live without it and I don't use a lot. Following are my thoughts on the subject.
The most common black is Ivory black but recently there have been a lot of favorable things said about mars black, a relatively new color. Mars colors are oxides of iron made by earthly industry and not actually of extraterrestrial origin. I have tried mars black and thought it was too inky and returned to the ivory black, but I may experiment with it more as it gets high marks for permanence. Ivory black is not an ideal color. It sucks up a lot of oil and can cause some problems in drying. But I like it and am used to it.
There are several arguments against the use of black. Less experienced painters like to make their shadow notes by adding black to the local color of the object they are painting. This is a dreadful practice.The shadow color is not a dark version of the lights, it is its own color and must be either observed or formulated on its own. Also painting your shadows with black precludes controlling the temperature of your shadow, and that's important. Black will make your shadows dead. Black kills luminosity. Teachers got so tired of seeing students do this that they insisted on removing black from the students palettes to force them to mix the colors of the shadows chromatically. If you are not an experienced painter I think this is certainly good advice.
There are a number of ways to make a DARK note. Viridian and alizirin makes squids ink. Burnt sienna and ultramarine makes a nice dark also. Red, yellow and blue, mixed together is the definition of black, it is the presence of all colors, white is the absence of color. (in pigments, light is a different game) so if you are using a three color palette that will make your darkest value.
I use black because it is handy, I think of it as just another pigment on my palette but it has an interesting property, it will drop the value of a color without affecting its temperature much. I also like to use a red hot version of black for my darkest accents. Black can be used to make a lot of grays but I always throw something else in there too so as not to have a dead color and to vary my different grays. I also like to sneak black into skies. The old masters often worked without a blue, they had few of them and they were expensive, If a landscape is warm as so many of the old ones are, by contrast a sky made with black will look blue by contrast. I often sneak black into my skies because it looks just slightly blue. I will "break " it very thinly over a sky I have painted with full color just to tone it down a bit.
Black can also be used to get a pearly look. There is a peculiar effect it has when mixed with white and used in a high key. I think Corot did a lot of that. Greens can also be mixed with black or other greens neutralized with it. It is always handy to have an additional way to make greens, particularly those that are not chartreuse and poisonous. Black tends to make olive colors.
So my advice is, unless you are an experienced painter learn to mix all of your colors from a chromatic palette. If you have built enough expertise to keep it in check and use black judiciously it is a handy pigment to have around.