Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Do you use black?

Black is an old colour; amongst the oldest ones used in art in fact. Cavemen drew amazing scenes in caves with carbon (from burnt wood), together with earth colours like yellow and red earth.

I am not a big fan of black “out of the tube” and in fact, my palette does not generally bear any. I prefer to mix my black using Ultramarine blue, Crimson Alizarin and Phtalo Green in various proportions (depending on whether I want a cool or warm black) or to use substitutes such as Van Dick Brown. I have a few tubes of different black colours that I used sparingly. Because of this, I have not paid too much attention on how one black differs from another (which I started to investigate).

Rembrandt used Mars black and black was very present in old masters’ paintings, in particular from the Flemish school. So why black is today on many painters’… black list.

I believe there are historical, psychological and practical reasons to the lost popularity of black as a colour in painting (it is interesting to note that black retains a very strong presence is fashion or in electronic consumer products).

Looking at art history, the turning point is the late Impressionism period, but this is an over-generalisation to put all painters in the same pool. Edouard Manet used black to very good effect and others like Cezanne did to. Monet is often quoted to support the ban of black from the palette (in the same way earth colours became suspect). In fact, Monet used black (see
Monet’s palette) in the early stage of his career.

As far as symbolism is concerned, the colour black is associated in Western cultures with death and mourning. This probably contributed to its downfall.

On the practical side, mixing colours with black leads quickly to muddy or dull colours. Used as a pure colour, it can become overpowering. It is hard to use black sensibly and to good effect.

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Casey Klahn said...

Very good post. It awakens my interest in using some to add to my gray areas. Hmm.

Eddie Hudson said...

Hi, I'm working on a painting where the entire painting is nearly black. I think because of the admonition to avoid using black as taught in college, I was hesitant to use it. But I through it on the palette and mixed with an indigo blue and green umber, along with various amounts of yellow ochre and alizarian crimson. The desired effect was reached; a very dull flat color. Again, nearly every part is black or dark and it's working out fine. I'll continue using it, especially since, going out late one night and looking at a line of trees against the night sky, I realized there's little distinction between the two. I love the color!

Packing supplies said...

I'll carry on using it, particularly since, going out late one night and looking at a line of trees against the night sky, I feel there's little distinction between the two.