It’s Never a Matter of Black or White

21 Aug 2012

I was in the studio of my oil painting artist friend the other day and she had a really sizeable bucket filled with oil paint tubes sitting beside her palette. Some of the tubes were so squeezed out and folded up that I wondered if there was anything still left in them. Others were plump and brand new, never been touched.

Sailboat, Solheimsviken by Marc Dalessio, 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Sailboat, Solheimsviken by Marc Dalessio, 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I noticed that the oil painting art tubes that were pristine happened to be several  tubes of black and white. I asked her about this and she said that using black and white is boring when it comes to trying to adjust color. Instead, she seems to use everything but black and white to get where she wants to go when putting oil on canvas.

I gave this comment a lot of thought, and it has become one of the oil painting lessons that I cling to. In the past, using black and white has really tripped me up. I would get to a point where I thought I could only adjust color with black or white, and I might end up getting the lighter or darker effect that I was looking for, but I always lost a little of the color I wanted as a result. When painting oil paintings, I need to remember that there are ways to get the color you want without black or white, and here are a few color combos that do just that.

For a rich, deep "black," try to mix sap green and dioxazine purple. Ultramarine blue plus burnt umber will also give you a vibrant black. Another combo is permanent rose and viridian, which has a purplish tinge to it that can be warmed up with Indian yellow.

Simone by Marc Dalessio, oil on linen, 1999.
Simone by Marc Dalessio, oil on linen, 1999.
To get lighter, try adding a bit of titanium buff and a tiny bit of Indian yellow or yellow ochre. You can also combine cadmium orange, cadmium scarlet, a bit of ultramarine blue to titanium white for a light mass.

For more oil painting lessons look to oil painting resources like Patricia Watwood's Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone and C.W. Mundy's Mastering the Dramatic Still Life. After seeing how they approach their oil painting art it will be no surprise why our video workshops are our customer favorites! See for yourself and enjoy!




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on 22 Aug 2012 7:42 AM

In the past year or so I've taken to using <a href="">perylene green</a> as "black". Used straight from the tube, mixed with blue or red. It's only when you add white that the green becomes really evident.

Papadan wrote
on 24 Aug 2012 3:10 PM

Your posts are always so informative, thank you for the ideas.