Black Is Beautiful

"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.
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

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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