Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2012 Newsletter: Chromatic Black

Happy New Year!
For the next few months I’m going to explore the subject of color mixing. A couple of years ago I wrote about the color wheel, primary and secondary colors. Now I’d like to go a step further and delve into different color families.

In this  issue I’m covering chromatic black. Most teachers and art writers usually bad-mouth the use of black in a painting. You’ll hear that black is a dead color, creates holes in a painting and/or mixing it to darken another color only creates mud.

I don’t totally subscribe to these opinions, as I have used black in many of my paintings without a problematic  result. But then again, I use very little black to darken my other colors since black is so powerful. As you can see with the painting below, artist Paul Emsley used only two colors (Mars violet and blue black, plus white) to create this absolutely stunning portrait, entitled Michael Simpson.
Paul Emsley, Michael Simpson, Oil on board, 2007

As with so many things in art, the use of black is a heated topic. It started with Impressionists who refused to use pure black, but instead favored toning down colors with their complimentary colors  (the opposite colors on the color wheel). Renoir stated, “No shadow is black. It always has a color. Nature knows only colors … white and black are not colors.”  Thus the banishment of black. I agree with Renoir. Shadow is full of color, from cast shadow color to reflective. However, black still has its place--from creating a darker shade of a color to creating totally different colors because of its somewhat blue tint. For example, a spec of black to yellow will make a very nice olive green. However, what happens when you don’t have a black at the ready? Perhaps you’re out in the field painting or you’re painting with a friend who doesn't have black either. You may also want a soft gray, leaning toward blue or brown. Creating your own black will help you in both instances. So what is this black? Briefly, chromatic black is one which is created by mixing other colors, such as dark blues, green, red and/or earth colors to achieve a more "colorful" black. Generally, you can take an ultramarine blue and mix it with an earth color (umber, sienna) to create a chromatic black. I usually use ultramarine blue with burnt sienna, plus maybe a dash of yellow. When you add white to this mix you can create the most amazing grays. There are other formulas as well, like these:

Burnt Umber + Ultramarine Blue (warm)
Prussian Blue + Burnt Sienna
Pthalo Blue + Cadmium Red LIght
Pthalo Green + Alizarin Crimson
Phthalo Green and Quinacridone Red (Gamblin, local oil paint company offers this in tube form) All of these colors should be of equal amounts, then add one over the other depending on what temperature or color you like. Some will be of a bluish tint while others will be brownish. Experiment and enjoy. Next month, I’ll be covering what colors one can create using black straight from the tube.
Glastonbury Studios News
Classes begin the week of January 8th and end week of February 12 To pre-register for these classes, please email me at

Every Tuesday evening: Studio Drawing              7 pm to 9 pm 

Exploring Color Pencil
Supply list given at pre-registration. Colored pencil supplied. Six week session:. $70.00

Every Wednesday morning: Sketch’n on the Go!™ 10 am to Noon
Trying new media–pen and ink, oil pastels, colored pencil, plus more!
Supplies provided.. Six week session: $70.00.

New Class!
Every Wednesday afternoon:  Beginning Acrylics 1 pm to 3 pm Learn the basics to acrylic painting from color mixing to brush/knife technique. No experience necessary. Supply list given at pre-registration.Six week session: $70.00.

Every Thursday evening: Intermediate Acrylics    7 pm to 9 pm
Here’s your chance to continue your acrylic painting adventure. Each week we will tackle a different subject, using a different technique. Six week session: $70