The color black gets a bad rap among artists sometimes. Many artists won’t even have tubes of black paint in their paint boxes.
Why? Well, tubes of black pigment are often seen to be flat and lifeless. If used on their own they can make a painting seem dull. The black colors you see in nature and on objects in your surroundings often contain other colors to give them richness and depth.
So how do you achieve this rich black color? There are several different ways to make a beautiful black color with the paints you probably already have in your supplies.
In this post, I will show you how to make various beautiful blacks as well as how to enhance the color of the tubes of black you may already have.
What Colors Make Black Paint
Many people think black is black; there is no variation or depth. That is far from true. Various color combinations will give you different tones and shades of black as well as different color temperatures.
While it is true that the three primaries will give you a black hue, the many variations within these primaries will result in many different versions of black paint. Below I have outlined some possible combinations for you to try. Also, check out my blog post on color theory to understand how colors work together. You may also be interested to learn how to do a painting with just black and white paint using a technique called grisaille.
Mixing Black with Primary Colors
The easiest way to make black paint is to combine the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow in equal amounts. Lighter reds and blues will give you a lighter, almost brown color while darker reds and blues will give you a darker black.
Once you understand how to make a black from the primaries, you will be able to figure out how to make black from any two or three colors in your paint box. There are numerous paint color combinations that will give you various shades of black.
For example, if all you have are red and green paint you can still make black. Red is one of the primary colors. Green is a combination of blue and yellow. So you still have the three primaries, red, blue, and yellow, and can combine the green and red to make black paint.
However, your green and red must be a dark color in order to get black. Light green and red will just give you mud.
Some possible color mixes using primary colors:
Start by mixing equal parts of red and blue paint together. Mixing equal amounts of these two colors should give you a dark, rich purple. Now start adding in your yellow to neutralize the purple color. Continue adding small amounts of yellow until you are satisfied with your black color.
Transparent Red Oxide + Cerulean Blue + Alizarin Crimson
Mixing Black From Other Colors
You probably have many variations of blues, reds, and yellows in your painting supplies as well as greens, oranges, purples, and browns. Combinations of these paint colors will give you black but not all of them will be the black you want to achieve.
Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel and have a dark value will give you the darkest blacks. Lighter colors tend to make a brownish-black or a brown.
Here are several combinations of primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors you can use to achieve a satisfactory black for your painting.
Black From a Blue Base
Let’s start with Ultramarine Blue to get a nice dark black:
Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Umber = a dark rich, cool black. Probably the darkest black and my favorite black mix.
Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna = a warm black
Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Orange = a lighter black
Ultramarine Blue + Transparent Red Oxide
Phthalo Blue is also a good blue base for black:
Phthalo Blue + Cadmium Orange = complementary colors opposite each other on the color wheel. They cancel each other out and produce a lighter shade of brownish-black.
Phthalo Blue + Burnt Sienna
Black From a Green Base
Phthalo Green is probably the best green to start with to get a good black. It is a rich, dark green that will give you a nice dark base to start with.
Phthalo Green + Naphthol Red Light
Phthalo Green + Quinacridone Red. Both are transparent colors so make a nice transparent black.
Phthalo Green + Alizarin Crimson
Tubes of Black Paint
You probably have a tube or two of manufactured black in your supplies. Even if you prefer to mix your own black these tubes can still be useful and tweaked a bit to give you the black you want.
There are several different types of black paint you can buy and each is a little different in its opacity and color temperature.
Ivory Black or Bone Black is a warm brownish black that is semi-transparent. As the name implies, this pigment is made from charring animal bones.
Carbon Black is a cool, opaque black produced from burning coal or natural gas.
Lamp Black is a cool semi-opaque black and is also made from burning gas or oil.
Mars Black is a warm opaque black. Unlike the other blacks in this list, Mars black is a synthetic man-made pigment and not produced from organic material.
Enhancing Manufactured Black Paint
You can enhance the appearance of any of these manufactured blacks by adding another color to them. Because you are already starting off with quite a dark pigment, it may take a lot of color to change the appearance of the manufactured black.
The best thing to do is experiment with your black and the other colors you have, but here are some ideas to start off with.
To make your black a little cooler, and a cool color such as Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green, or Dioxazine Purple.
To make your black a little warmer, try adding a warm color such as Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Red, or Cadmium Orange. The orange tends to make black appear a little lighter so a good alternative if you don’t want to lighten the black with white.
For more information on which colors are warm and which colors are cool, see my post on warm and cool colors.
These tips will also work on your own chromatic black mixes. If you have mixed your black a little too warm or a little too cool, try adding a little more of the cool or warm colors above to change the color temperature.
Adding another color to your tube of black paint will also give that paint more depth and dimension. It won’t look quite so flat and dull.
Making Green From Black
Surprisingly, black can make a variety of greens when mixed with yellow, very useful for landscape paintings.
Try mixing black with a little lemon yellow to get a cool vibrant green. To get a warmer, more earthy green, try a little Cadmium Yellow Medium.
Again, it is best to experiment with the yellows you have to see what you can make. Experiment with not just the colors, but the amounts of yellow you add to get a range of values.
Making a Color Chart
It is a good idea to make a color chart for yourself when you are experimenting with mixing these colors. Each manufacturer has slightly different formulations for their paint and the colors you see on the computer screen are not always accurate.
Use some watercolor paper or heavy card stock to record your mixes. Laminate the paper and stick it on your studio wall or put it in a binder or file folder for future reference. It takes the guesswork out of mixing colors in the future.