Black is one of the most interesting “colors” that you get in a set of paints because of its status as a true color. Whatever it is, black is a dominant part of a palette and can make a massive difference to our work. With so much debate around black and its uses, it is helpful to know what goes into the black paint we have and how to mix black paint ourselves.
In this guide, I want to explore black paint in a few different ways. First, I want to look at why there are differing opinions over using black in fine art. Then I will look at how to mix black paint to get around some of the related issues. Finally, I will discuss what goes into the pre-made black paint we love and other ways to make black tones.
How to Do it
There are two sides to making black paint. On one side, we have the mix of pigments that create various common paints used by artists. These can include carbons and natural minerals with either warm or cool underlying tones. But, they must still be dense enough to be black and not grey. On the other, there is the creation of a more natural black through color mixing. Some artists prefer the natural tones while others feel they aren’t a true black. These critics may prefer to work directly from the tube, while others say this detracts from a subject.
Is Black a Color?
Let’s start with that burning question that will influence how we approach making black paint. Black is not a color. It is a tone. We have just become used to calling it a color because it makes more sense in other situations. If you ask someone what color their car, shirt, or dog is, they will say black. They won’t say that it isn’t a color. The reality, however, is that black is what happens when all colors are absorbed but none are reflected back to us.
There is often the misconception that you can’t make black or white because they aren’t colors. However, the right use of pigments and the mixing of colors in art can produce a tone close to black. It may be a very dark blue or green, but it does enough to give the impression we need. Paint manufacturers have taken this use of pigments to the point of richly saturated paste with hardly any color reflection at all. There are mixed opinions on these deeper tones, so why is that?
Why is Store-Bought Black Paint So Problematic in Fine Art?
There is a difference of opinion about the use of pre-made black paint when working with acrylics, oils, and watercolor paints. On one side, there are those that love using it in more expressive or abstract work because of the depth of tone and the blocks created. Others find that it is too deep and unrealistic straight from the tube, but will still have it on hand to darken other pigments.
Then there is the complete opposite side that says that black shouldn’t be on a palette at all. You may have come across some art tutors that say this and will only accept blacks that you have made yourself.
If Black is Such a Negative “color” in Art, Why Are Designers Competing to Make The Darkest Black Possible?
Black is a tone that is sought after in fashion and design in a different way from art. We want that deep tone where no color is reflected at all, there is no sense of it being grey, and it is uniform throughout. Therefore, designers and scientists are fighting to create materials that reflect as little light as possible for the densest black they can get. Vantablack is a well-known example but not the darkest anymore.
How to Make Black With Paint Through Color Mixing
There are ways to create a tone that is a more natural-looking “black” that you can use for darker areas and shadows in a painting. All you need to learn what colors make black. Surprisingly, all you need to do is mix the primary colors together. It is a good idea to experiment with these darker tones when black isn’t appropriate and you can end up with a wide range of tones, even if you don’t do this exclusively in your work. It can offer a broader skillset where you can perhaps work with more natural tones in your oil painting and watercolors and synthetic blacks in acrylic.
Get Creative With Pigments and Ratios and See What Works
The best place to start is to just get a sketchbook and your primary colors and see what you can make. The truest blacks come when you have an equal mix of red, blue, and green. The tone of this will depend on the pigment. For example, scarlet, viridian, and ultramarine will provide something completely different from scarlet, leaf green, and phthalo blue.
Once you have a nice range of blacks with equal parts of color, you can see what happens when you add a little more of the red, blue, or yellow. This could take you closer to a brown, but will also adjust the warmth or coolness to change the mood of a piece. Keep a color chart where you annotate each tone with the pigments used. You can then refer back to this when planning a painting to know how to make black paint that is suitable for the subject.
Cant You Just Tone Down a Store-Bought Black Paint With Another Color?
You can try, but it isn’t the easiest approach. The great thing about making black paint with color mixing is that you are building up in darkness. You can adjust the tone and still get something attractive and soft, even if it resembles black. It is difficult to achieve this when working from the darkest point backward. The pigments in black paint have their limit. Again, this could be fine for creating interesting colors in modern and abstract work. But, it might look out of place in a sympathetic landscape.
Can You Use Paynes Grey or Titanium White to Soften Black Paint?
Payne’s Grey is a brilliant pigment for darkening other tones and adding shadow because you don’t get the deep void of a true black. But, when you add it to black paint, you are just making a dark grey that still doesn’t work that well in paintings. The same is true for Titanium White, where you need a lot to make a difference.
Using Store-Bought Black Paint Instead
Learning how to make black paint through color mixing is a great skill to have. But, that doesn’t mean that you need to throw out your tubes of black paint. After all, these tones are still helpful in darkening colors where necessary. The deep saturation and sense of a “void” can also work brilliantly for abstract work and blocking out shapes in geometrical art and other impressionist work.
Also, don’t forget that many renowned artists used these blacks in their work, potentially straight from the tube. Lowry is a prime example. He is famous for only ever using five paints in his work. They were lead white, ivory black, vermilion, Prussian blue, and yellow ochre. The result is a striking use of black tones and a unique style that captured the energy of Manchester.
How Do Common Store-Bought Paints Differ?
The three most common black paints are Ivory Black, Mars Black, and Lamp Black. Mars Black is a personal favorite for its density and neutral tone. It works well for that deeper void of color. Ivory black is a good choice if you want a warmer tone as there is more of a brown tint. Lamp Black goes the other way with a bluer tone.
Can You Use Charcoal to Make Black Paint?
One of the common ingredients for black tones in paint and art more generally is carbon. The dense material can create a truly black tone when used in various ways. Charcoal is a great example for drawing. But, you can also use charcoal to make a form of paint. All you need to do is grind it into a powder and add some water. You can then use it a bit like using ink. The less diluted the water is, the deeper the tone.
How to Make Black Paint
In the end, you have a choice over how to use black paint in your artwork. There is no right or wrong answer as both options have their merits. Artists that like to work from the tube for a saturated black are advised to consider the different options available and the tones that the various pigments create. Those that prefer color mixing for natural darker tones can play around with their own version of black paint and see what happens. Find what works best for your project and what you prefer.