"I've been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colors was black." –Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Black can be rightly considered the first artist's color, if we are to judge by the evidence left us in the ancient cave paintings and drawings of the Neolithic peoples who lived in southern France more than 30,000 years ago. Charcoal from burnt twigs would have been a natural choice for these proto-artists, and although no one can say for sure whether they made drawings as an expression of art or for some other purpose, we are the beneficiaries of their graphic inspirations. While we have so many material choices available to us today for expressing ourselves in black and white, the finest artist's charcoal is still made essentially from burned twigs!
|Graphic by John Hulsey.|
There is much to read about all the other pigment colors out there, but less is found about the use of the color black. As the primary color in a painting, black can evoke strong emotions, often negative. Black is the color of mourning, and is used to describe disaster (black Friday), crime (blackmail) and bad character (black sheep). On the positive side, black can imply sophistication and power, (and is often the color of choice to wear to an art opening!)
Because the pigment black tends to be neutral to slightly warm, temperature-wise, it can be an important darkening agent when mixed with other pigments. Ivory black is semi-transparent and glossy. Mars black is not as black as Ivory, but has three times the tinting strength, is completely opaque and dries faster, but to a matte finish. Mixing black and yellow can make a wonderful rich range of warm greens. Black can be a marvelous counter-color to hot reds, and can visually cool those hot colors simply by proximity. Adding a bit of black to any other color (besides white), deepens that color and gives it weight and authority.
Edouard Manet, a contemporary of Renoir, famously contradicted him, stating, "Black is not a color." We can't agree. We first learned to draw with black charcoal, and in that act, connected with those cave drawings made all those tens of thousands of years ago by the first artists with their little burned twigs.
If you aren't scared of black, then check out our new eBook (also available in softcover edition), A Primer on Painting Nocturnes. Filled with examples of night paintings, technical tips, night palette colors and a step-by-step demonstration. Only available at: The Artist's Road.
–John and Ann