No. 1 – the colors don’t dry very fast and remain a bit too gooey even hours after I stop using them; and because I mainly use them out and about and keep them in my bag, they move around in the box and get stuck to the lid;
No. 2 – there is no black color pan inside!!! And what do you do when life doesn’t give you a black color pan in your watercolor travel box? You effing mix that black yourself! And this takes us to the subject of my little blog post today: colored blacks. This time I’m in a for a longer article because I think some of you might find this info useful.
What are colored blacks, how to mixed them and why to use them? Keep on reading.
Colored blacks do not mean black mixed with colors but black mix out of colors. Yes, that’s right! “But is that even possible and how does it actually look on paper? It probably looks muddy.” Well, do you see the black in my two watercolor sketches? (I apologize for the crappy image quality!) That’s not black, it’s burnt umber mixed with ultramarine blue. Does it look muddy? It sure does on the mixing tray, but not in the painting. Why? Because colors are perceived by the human eye in relation to each other (also remember that watercolors dry a few shades darker). Eugene Delacroix famously said “I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will.” There’s an entire essay on color theory in that one sentence. Remember it!
You can mix blacks out of many colors, not just the ones I’ve used. Experiment with the darkest colors you have available on your palette. You’ll be amazed. But don’t expect to create the same black you get out of the tube, you’re not going to get it and you’re not aiming for it. Instead, focus on harmonizing it with the rest of your palette.
Now, WHY use colored blacks? Because they bring an extraordinary vibrancy, luminosity and realism to your painting. In nature, nothing is purely black. Pure blacks are only found where there is no light. Black is the absence of light, the absence of light means the absence of color. That pretty much means there’s nothing for you to paint there anyway. But under some sort of light conditions (even one candle burning in a dark room) the black will pick up on its color and also on the color of the objects around it (sometimes more, some times less, depending on the texture of the black object and on the texture of the objects around it). Shadows, coal, black forged iron, black leather, the night sky, they are not pure blacks, even if you can swear that that is what your eyes see. As artists we know that the eye is deceiving and we’re not meant to imitate what we see, we’re meant to make a conscious decision about how to create an illusion on paper/canvas/pixels and how to best represent the harmony of colors that we see around us.
Now, let me get things straight: if you love your black and the two of you can’t be parted, that’s not an artistic sin. Use it right and carefully and it will look good. But just remember that using pure black (on its own or mixed with other colors) lowers the chroma of your painting, while using colored blacks gives your painting a lively vibrancy and luminosity.