Monday, September 26, 2016

The Color Black

Woman with a Parasol - Claude Monet
Recently I found myself in conversation with a fellow artist about the color black and the manner that one popular instructor on the workshop circuit uses it. Rarely has there been a color who's use elicits so much debate! Throughout history there have been artists who have used it to beautiful effect.The impressionists on the other hand, tended to shy away from it, viewing it as the opposite of outdoor light which was their primary concern.

Laughing Cavalier - Frans Hals
Velazquez, Rembrandt, Hals, Manet, Degas,Sargent and Zorn all used black. Modern painters who include black on their palette are Jim Wilcox, Sherrie McGraw, Ned Meuller, Mitch Baird, and Kenn Backhaus.  Some of these artists use black with yellow to make greens. Some use it to make grays that they modify colors with. Some use it in place of blue. Artists who don't have black on their palette like Scott Christenson, Jim McVicker, Brian Blood, and Derek Penix, mix their black from the dark colors they use.

Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets - Edouard Manet
When I began painting, I had a much more extensive palette than I do now, including several earth colors, a violet, 3 blues, 2 or 3 reds,various greens and 2 yellows. I had black on my palette too for making greens. You wouldn't think I'd need it with all those blues and yellows! Over time my palette became smaller until it contained only 3 colors plus white. I worked for more than 2 years with that palette. A tried and true 3 color palette that contains black is an earth yellow, ivory black and a warm red. Personally I tend to avoid black. The simplicity and harmony of the palette is appealing but black's reputation for cracking is worrisome. I usually paint outdoors and my current palette has 1 or 2 blues, a violet, 2 reds and 2 yellows. Sometimes I'll add another red or substitute one red for another. Occasionally I'll add viridian green and cadmium orange. Sometimes I'll drop one of the yellows. 

 The Misses Vickers by John Singer Sargent
The particular colors you choose to put on your palette are really less important than the relationships between colors that you create in your painting. You'll find that there are also multiple ways that you can arrive at the same color, as the photos below show.

In this photo the inside greens were made with ivory black and either cadmium yellow lemon or cadmium yellow medium. The outside green patches were made with ultramarine blue, permanent red deep and either cadmium yellow lemon or medium. They took about a minute to mix. With a little more care the color match could have been made even more exact. Just for fun I've included another mixture that I'll use in place of tubed yellow ochre and golden ochre.

The mixture on the left is cadmium yellow medium and quinacridone violet. The one on the right is yellow ochre from the tube. You can vary the shade light to dark, yellow to golden depending on how much yellow or violet you use.
So, how about you? Do you have black in your line up of colors?

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