Monika Murray's
Artistic Affairs
My Art Blog
Copyright 2011 Monika Murray Art. All rights reserved.
Welcome to my art blog.  I hope you'll enjoy the journey
through the wonderful world of art history, oil painting and
other art related topics just as much as me.  I write these
articles to express my passion for art and also because I'm
a knowledge seeking individual and I love to learn more.
April 20, 2011

The Black Paint: Love it or Scrap it?
I’ve always been a believer that there is no right or wrong way of making art, just
a different way.  The stringent rules of how to paint, how to arrange
compositions, which colors to use, which colors to not use all create a tight
boundaries within which the artist should fit, no different than giving the child a
coloring book and telling her to fit within the lines.   Sometimes it simply kills
the creativity.  Same goes for the use of pure black in the paintings and how
supposedly artists should not use it.  I ask: why not?

Two days ago I attended annual Toronto Art Expo where hundreds of Canadian
and international artists displayed their work.  The range of artistic expression
was staggering and all the rules seemed to have vanished.  I’ve seen paintings
of women with super long necks, abstract art on cut up canvas,  super
chromatic paintings, very low chroma paintings and finally paintings with a lot of
black in them.  The wonderful thing about it was that they all had their own
different appeal and I never felt more inspired.

As a beginning oil painting artist my first trip to the art supply store was all
about purchasing oil paints to get me started.  Not knowing much about oil
painting I picked some simple colors (blue, green, red) and a big tube of white
and also that of black.  Like a lot of beginning artists my logic was telling me
that I will be needing black for darkening of colors.  To my utter surprise and
shock, soon after, I found out that supposedly a pure black paint is something
that artist should never put on their palette and I wondered why.  I was told that
the black pigment kills the color and should never ever be used for darkening
colors or in shadows.   In addition the artist should mix their own black paint,
and colors should be darkened with their complementaries.

The phenomenon actually goes back to Impressionist years and the
statements that Monet made about the use of pure black.  He maintained that
pure black "is the death of shadows" and that it dulls the colors.  It was believed
that he abandoned the use of pure black completely although now through the
use of modern science we find out that it's not true.  There is definitely some
black pigment in Monet paintings.  The stigma that attached itself to the pure
black paint survived however and sadly it’s still present till this day.

Through my own experience in oil painting I developed my own opinion on the
matter. I believe that the use of black is perfectly acceptable in the hands of an
artist that understands this pigment and what it's capable of.  The pure black
has tendency to lower the color’s chroma and give it duller appearance but if
that was the artist’s desired outcome then it’s perfectly fine.  It is also the
deepest, blackest black you can get and therefore in some situations it can be
a great tool when ultra dark black is needed.  More and more artists use it
intentionally and I think that it's perfectly fine.  It is up to artist to decide if they
want to use the pure black and if they choose to do so and get the result they
want than that’s all that matters.  What for one artist is an undesirable low
chroma color, for another might be just the thing they are looking for.  I know of
some artists that actually prefer to darken their colors with pure black because
it gives them deeper more desirable colors than if the color was mixed with
their complementary.  It really all is a matter of personal choice and definitely
something worth checking out.   So far, I have always used complementaries to
darken my colors but with such recent findings I might give pure black a second
look.  Notice however,  that I mention only secondary colors.  Addition of black
pigment to the primary colors such as yellow or magenta will result in hue shift
transforming yellow into green and shifting magenta towards blue.  Once
again, if that is your desired outcome then all the power to you.

Personally I have found use for both types of black: the pure black and also my
own chromatic black.  

Chromatic black is an oil paint mix that appears black but in fact does not
contain the black pigment.  It is the best way to get a range of wonderful grays
from cool to warm that will add richness to your painting.  There are probably as
many recipes for mixing chromatic black as there are artists but they all have
certain similarities.  I listed several recipes below.

  • Mixing basic complementary colors - Your darkest green with your
    darkest red
  • Prussian blue and Alizarin Crimson with addition of some earth color
    such as Burnt Umber
  • Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber
  • Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber and a touch of Alizarin Crimson
  • Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre
  • For rich, strong black equal parts of Thalo Green and Alizarin Crimson
  • Any combination of two deep, dark colors: one warm and one cool

I use chromatic black always when doing my grisaille underpaintings.  
Depending on which mix I use, it will give different hue once the white is mixed
into it.  Below is the example of Burnt Umber, Prussian Blue and Yellow Ochre
mix which I used recently in one of my underpaintings. As you can see, it gives
a blue hue:

Ultramarine Blue with Burnt Umber is another mix I use very often which
produces warmer grays.

When deciding which way you’re going to go, whether you will use the pure
black paint or mix your own, I cannot emphasize enough how important your
own research and studies are.  Don’t take anyone word for it, grab your palette,
grab the paints and the knife and mix, mix, mix.  See the colors first hand, what
you like to see in your paintings and what colors won’t work for you.  It really is
the best way to figure out and learn the colors for yourself.  In the beginning it's
good to have some theory behind you but in the end it’s your own hard work that
will bring you the desired results.

Cheers and Happy Painting!