Monday Motivator: Tone Deeper Than Black

Monsieur P painting

“… indigo with terra sienna, Prussian blue with burnt sienna actually produce much deeper tones even than pure black. What I sometimes think when I hear people saying ‘there is no black in nature’ is — there doesn’t have to be any black in paint either.”

— Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo van Gogh. June 1884

Talking to another local artist about the differences and similarities between our paintings, one thing that came up was her use of black. Often strongly as one of the final layers on a painting; thinly glazed in places, quite opaque in others. This layer is not mixed with colours, it’s embracing black as a pure colour. It’s striking and dramatic.

I tend to work with a mixed black, and to invite ‘happy accidents’ by not being meticulous in mixing the colours together so that occasionally I’ve suddenly got a bit of blue (or red or green or whatever else is in there), emerging beneath my brush or knife.

It’s a choice of style and working method. Neither is better. Explore both, feel which you prefer; it may even be it’s not an either/or for you.

3 Replies to “Monday Motivator: Tone Deeper Than Black”

  1. I almost never use pure black now, except for “silver” mixes when painting silver jewelry. When I want to paint deep shadows I use deep violet, deep blue or deep green or even permanent red deep, depending on colours nearby. However in my grisile painting destinated first for a project of Marion’s I used black for deepest values. ( and also for grafic design in one of my Melons series.( also painted for one of Marion’s projects.

  2. “Why to be afraid of the dark”?
    It probably dates back for childhood. A dark location (room, wood, sea bed, black cat, etc.) has always something disturbing. An old fear that is not psychologically solved. In fact, the fear of nothingness. So the black color in tube can become frightening. Quite the contrary, white is so peaceful, so clear, so pure: it evokes the main hue of the Paradise, the main clothes of God and angels… or more mundanely, the soothing color of milk, the color of walls reflecting the warmth of the sun, the color of snow brightening under the sun, the blossoming in the spring, the wedding dress… By the way, when I prepare my palette, I always begin by the white (then, yellow), never the black. A kind of… superstition?

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