Secrets for Using Black

Q. When I add black to darken my colors and to make shadows, my painting loses vibrancy and appears dull. What’s the secret to using black?

A. First of all, you can put whatever color you want on your palette. No rules, remember? Black is a convenient way to darken a color, but it has the effect of dirtying colors. When you’re not sure how to mix colors, you may use black for darkening everything. This tactic can leave your paintings looking flat. Look at the color chart I prepared on the next page. By adding black to each color, I deadened the colors.

Remember that black is seldom found in nature. Knowing how to make your own black by mixing colors will make your paintings richer. You can readily depict the darks found in nature by combining a color with its complement (for instance, red with green) or by mixing the primaries (red, blue and yellow) together. Viridian green and alizarin crimson make a beautiful black. Burnt sienna and ultramarine blue are another good combination. If you want the black to be warmer, add more of the warm color. If you want the black to be cooler, add more of the cooler component. In the two combinations I mentioned, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna are the warmer colors.

A professional artist for more than 15 years, Joel Popadics‘ work has appeared in many one-man shows, as well as in juried exhibitions at the National Academy of Design and the Salmagundi Club in New York City. He has a bachelor of fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now teaches at New Jersey’s Ridgewood Art Institute and the Ridgewood Community School, in addition to being a frequent workshop instructor. He lives in Wayne, New Jersey.

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