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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dark Secrets about Black, the Color Artists Fear

(black background on this oil painting) "Sandhill Crane" 
A myriad of artists on LinkedIn argued over, under and around the use of the color black. Most were taught not to use black at all, but to mix their own shades from other colors.
Renoir called black “the queen of all colors.” Black is loved. It is feared. Most artists prefer mixing their own black rather than using it straight from the tube. Color combinations such as yellow and purple or other premixed combinations and Payne's gray are more subtle. 
According to one of my favorite artists, Robert Genn, “black works as a darkener because it’s near chromal neutrality does not sully the color it grays. While scorned on a few snooty palettes, black is the loyal friend that helps make other colors look more brilliant than they are. Wise artists do not say derogatory things about black.”

(black background) "Sunshine" oil on canvas
Here’s the real scoop (according to Genn):
1.       "Lamp black is a pure carbon pigment made by burning oils and collecting the soot from flues. It's one of the oldest manufactured pigments.

2.      Ivory black, originally made from burning real ivory, is now a bone byproduct of the slaughterhouse.

3.      Mars black is an iron-oxide product that in many ways is more stable than the other blacks. It does not effloresce, maintains total integrity in oil and water-based media and, to my knowledge, is the only paint that's magnetic."

(I used Payne's gray and a light purple in the highlights) "With These Hands--Love" 24 x 18 mixed media
Genn continues: “Give black a chance. A challenge is to work with only black and white for a day. After a week one begins to feel the brilliance of black. As seasoned artists have found out, if it works in black and white, it works.

“Try the method of grisaille--a monochrome painting executed in shades of gray. Used as an under-painting, grisaille was first popularized by the Northern Renaissance artists. These days, using bright white grounds and a range of grays, full value can be had by glazing with acrylics or other media. In painting, black is mother of learning.”


I did my own grisaille mini-paintings in a class on portraiture. I was amazed with the results at how life-like the models and forms appeared. It’s a great way to learn about value and shading.

(I had more difficulty with this one in the class. You can see it's not as fresh and loose as the first one)
“Timid souls use Payne’s Gray” Genn wrote. I gulped as I read this since Payne’s is my color of choice. 

Well, this timid artist is going to “break out.” I’m going to test the waters and use more black. If Genn is right, Mars black seems like the better choice.

"India Rising -- the Lost"  24 x 18 mixed media on canvas (I used Ivory black and Payne's gray)