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Ivory Black vs. Mars Black

Photo by Dids from Pexels

In this months 'Paint with Debs' this question arose so it got me thinking about black...

Which cast me back to the start of my paint journey using watercolour.  We were told never to use black (or white for that matter!).  'It is always good to mix your blacks' resounds in my ears from all the watercolour teachers and books I have read. 

So as a self-taught acrylic artist I still like to use chromatic blacks.  If you're wondering what a chromatic black is, it just means one that has been created using other colours.  My go to chromatic mix is Ultramarine Blue + a brown, often Burnt Umber but there are many others, I'll cover this topic in another blog post.

'Ok Debs but you're waffling, so back to the original question!'

Why use black at all?

Ok, so this isn't the original question but a very relevant one.  Well sometimes it just seems like a good idea.  With acrylic and oil we often work dark to light and in, for example, the horse and rider painting there is a black silhouette...

I looked at this photograph and it seemed to call for black. When creating silhouettes or abstract paintings as above I often think it well - just works!

'We are now getting to the original question. Honest!'

So are there other reasons to use black.  I'm sure there are many but the one I have noted quite recently is this...

Believe it or not its a great colour to mix with yellow to create... wait for it - green!  Last term we were painting water with rocks.  The rocks had moss on them and I loved what one of my students had mixed, a moss green for the rocks.  When I asked how she had mixed it she had used yellow + black. 

So the answer to 'Why use black at all?' is 'Why not?'.  If the situation calls for it, then use it!

Are there any dangers in using black?

Aaaah, now you are asking.  And I would say yes.  When using black in your paintings they can look flat. You want your shadow areas to be alive, full of dark nuances of colour. 

So how do we remedy this?  Simply add some colour to your black.  In the Bald Eagle painting I have used Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Rose in the background as well as black.  It was painted as a complete underlayer and the Bald Eagle painted on top.  A pic of him here shows the darks are adding to the feather depth, note I mixed a chromatic black for his pupil.  Did I need to?  Not sure, but I think it works.

'Ok. Then back to the original question...'

Ivory Black vs. Mars Black

We've established its ok to use black or at least in acrylic and oil paintings.  Let's now look at which black and what are the differences.  Mars Black is my go to black, it is opaque.  This is because I only use black in certain circumstances and usually when I want to either cover completely, as in a silhouette, or underneath, as a ground (background) colour.

Ivory black (not now made of ivory by the way) is more transparent so this would help when you are mixing colours so that the black doesn't overpower.  At least this is my understanding.

So Mars black is opaque and provides great coverage.  Ivory black is more transparent. It's more suitable for subtle mixing and glazing, although Mars black will glaze.

Final question - but I have a different black?

There are lots of blacks. Carbon Black, Lamp Black are two names you may come across. I think that when looking at any black you have to consider these things.  Is it opaque or more transparent?  You can tell by seeing what the coverage is.  The other thing to consider is what colour do they lean towards so e.g. carbon and lamp black are more bluey.  Just try yours out.