The Color Black | Artists’ Pigments for Black Paint

Learn about the various artists’ pigments used to create the color black. Don’t hesitate to paint with black to achieve the richest, darkest values in your paintings. Choose from this list of black paint pigments provided by artist Koo Schadler.

By Koo Schadler

In Portrait of Lily with Zinnia(below), the black color in the dress and hat are unambiguous, arresting darks; the green background and red flower stand for the middles; and my niece’s fair skin and blond hair represent the light values. I used a natural Mars black pigment for the black.

the color black, artists' pigments, artist's pigments, artist pigments

Portrait of Lily with Zinnia (egg tempera on true gesso panel, 10-1/2 x 7-3⁄8) by Koo Schadler

Black pigments are derived from a variety of plant, animal and mineral sources. Many are historical (they have been in use for centuries), while others are modern (from the industrial revolution or later). The blacks in this list, all of which have been found in artwork, are arranged according to their composition.

I. Carbon-based Blacks

Char carbons: Derived from charred, organic substances that are heated, or carbonized; they tend to be opaque and have excellent hiding power—almond shell black, cherry pit black, coconut shell black, cork black, peach stone black, vine black, wood charcoal

Coke carbons: from substances that were in a liquid or plastic state before being heated; ivory and bone black fall within this category because the protein collagen softens before charring—bone black, Frankfort black (from wine lees), ivory black (Scroll down for additional information.)

Flame carbons: These blacks, originally gases, derive from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, i.e. soot—acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black

Crystalline carbons: A crystallized form of carbon—graphite

II. Mineral-based Blacks

Iron oxide blacks—Mars black (a synthesized iron oxide), magnetite (a naturally occurring iron oxide) Manganese oxide blacks—manganese oxide black, pyrolusite (naturally occurring manganese oxide mineral) Mixed metal blacks (spinel)—copper chromium iron oxide, copper chromium manganese oxide, iron titanate, Jacobsite

III. More About Ivory Black

Genuine ivory black was made traditionally from charred ivory scraps. It was esteemed as a particularly intense and fine black. Fortunately animal sources of ivory are now protected. If you see a contemporary tube of paint labeled “ivory black,” it’s most likely a variety of bone black, one with a finer particle size and enhanced carbon content. Pigment manufacturers who claim to produce a genuine ivory black should be able to name their sources. One such company is Natural Pigments (, a supplier of rare artists colors. They’ve acquired a stock of old mammoth ivory scraps from Siberia from which they are producing a genuine ivory black pigment.

Meet the Artist

A master painter of the Copley Society of Art in Boston and a board member of the Society of Tempera Painters, Koo Schadler teaches painting and old master design workshops throughout the United States and abroad. She makes her own egg tempera paints from powdered pigments and authored the book Egg Tempera Painting. Her website is

In the July/August issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Schadler explains how judicious use of the color black will strengthen your compositions in her article “Black: Queen of All Colors.” Click here for information about The Artist’s Magazine’s July/August digital issue, which explains how to paint with black for the most compelling visual impact.

Click here to learn about Nita Leland’s helpful video workshop on color.




Watch art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks

Online seminars for fine artists

Learn how to paint & how to draw with downloads, books, videos & more from North Light Shop

Subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine

Sign up for your Artist’s Network email newsletter & download a FREE issue of The Artist’s Magazine

You may also like these articles: