Project Friday: No Black Paint

September 25, 2015


Above: 6 x 6 inch page in a wirebound journal. Stonehenge gray paper. Rubberstamp ink (background) with gouache painting of a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. This is a page from my 2015 Fake Journal. I began with a very light pencil outline. It might even have been orange pencil. I mixed blacks using Dark Indigo (PB 60) and Burnt Sienna in the Schmincke Horadam Gouache line. I also used a bit of Titanium white for highlights. The text was a large rubber stamp wheel on which you could "set" short messages, and the numbers were an office stamp kit.

I never use black paint.* 

People ask me about this all the time. Then they give me a look that indicates they think I’m fibbing.

Look closely at my paintings. I may have black ink lines (sometimes light black ink lines), but no black paint.

The blacks in my paintings come from mixing complementary pairs.

Some pairs work better for this than others. Happily for me, my favorite blue (PB60, aka Indanthrone Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Anthraquinone Blue, Delft Blue…all depending on which line you’re looking at, but all PB60), when mixed with Burnt Sienna (ah, which is an open question as manufacturers use that color name for a variety of pigments; so experiment and find one that works for you) makes a wonderful range of dark neutrals. (Or what I like to think of as Malamute gray.)

Look at the Burnt Sienna these different brands come up with, and see what I mean!

With PB60 and Burnt Sienna you can make warm and cool neutrals. The variation is endless. 

Project Friday Instructions:

I encourage you to do some experiments this weekend with complementary pairs.

Find dark neutrals you can’t live without.

Find neutrals you can use for your shadows when working with an appropriate color family. (First select a color family you want to use and then get the neutrals you can out of it—yes this is beginning to sound a lot like color theory homework. Deal with it.)

Find neutrals that describe the fur or feather of your favorite friends. (Take some complementary pairs to the zoo or a farm, and sketch away.)

Find neutrals that allow you to work richly in a monochromatic mode. (Make your friends and family sit still long enough so that you can sketch them and paint them monochromatically.)

Don’t relegate this project to Friday. Go for it all weekend, and emerge on Monday with new solutions and a whole new vocabulary for black. A color vocabulary that draws the viewer in and rewards the effort of close, attentive viewing.

Start reading the pigment information on your watercolors. Knowing which pigments you have access to, which can work for you in this way, you’ll be able to put umph in your contrast issues too.

Leisure Reading That May Help You with Your Project Friday:

You can read more about this in "More Gouache on Gutenberg Paper" if you are thinking about skin tones.

You can read about how I might test a different blue here. (Though why would I want a different blue, right?) And here I look at different reds and browns mixed with blues.

Ask yourself if you're using the best orange for your purposes. (Check out these swatches.)

But wait, there's more (reddish browns and blues in the search for neutrals).

If you're new to mixing watercolors you might want to read my post about testing my Schmincke factory made pan watercolors.

Don't forget "near" neutrals. I've got a whole series of paintings of eggplants.

You get the idea. I spend a lot of time thinking about this. It's a ton of fun.

And Don't Forget—You can't paint neutrals if you can't see values, so try this—"Project Friday Squinting to See Values."

Let the experiments begin.

*Never, say never, OK, I get that. As soon as this posts, I'll probably find myself doing a series using some paint that is 90 percent carbon black. AH, well. But the day after that I will be back to mixing my neutrals, it's just so much more interesting.

  1. Reply

    I use mostly Daniel Smith Watercolors, and I like to mix their Indanthrone blue with their burnt umber to get black. I guess I’ll have to try using burnt sienna and see what I get with that.

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