Saturday, April 22, 2017

Entry No. 1 - Are White and Black Colors?

-By Ron Lemen

Norman Rockwell

Hello again, it is Spectrum time.  Most of you readers will likely be attending so the reading will be light.  When my day to post falls upon an event as such, I will leave you with a definition or description of some interesting and often times neglected art concepts that either have little explanation to help define them, or that the meaning is often times confused by the “ill-informed” books, magazine articles and instructors.

Today’s topic involves paints that are used towards opaque representational art.

White and black are “color adjusters” and not colors.  THIS RULE COMES FROM THE REPRESENTATIONAL ART WORLD. 
*If you are a designer, you might consider white and black to be a part of a color family, simple and graphic.  

When getting down to basics as a painter, white, gray (white and black mixed), and black are tint, tone, and shade agents respectively for the colors on your palette.

The HSB color-sliders in Photoshop are a great technical example to show how white and black affect the colors we mix them with.

There are specialty colors or novelty colors made by all companies like Black Olive, or Buff White but should be avoided when learning how to paint with pigments that have a proven history of success.

A few common mistakes with White and Black:

-Thinking you shouldn’t use black as a hue on your palette as is often prescribed for some strange reason by many art instructors.

-Attempting to paint a full value picture without using white or black to paint it.  While it is true that you can use any paints that are light as a tinting pigment, if they are of a specific hue, the new mixture will be a combination of these two hues and not just a lighter version of what you may need.

-Mixing in too much white thinking that it will help lighten the color.

-Mixing too much black into a mixture thinking that it will just become a blacker version of the color you are using at the time.  

-Using black as a color and painting without mixing anything with it will cause the black areas to feel disconnected with the rest of the painting.

-Painting with White to lighten a color to show that it is lit.  Yes, this can be incorrect.  Light is associated with temperature, temperature is associated with color.   All light has a coloration to it, never purely white, therefore when altering a hue to give it the feeling of being lit by said light source the white alone cannot be used, and should rarely be used on its own.  Mix a hue into it that resembles the temperature of the light source and the color will feel more correct to the influence of the light source.

-Starting a canvas with light value colors or whites on a light to white surface.  Because the white matches the surface it might be forgotten that it was painted down, and the next layer of hue added with be drastically altered by the hidden white painted on the surface.

-Using any ole white or black to work with without the understanding that there are specialty whites and blacks and there are novelty whites and blacks, and then there are useful tried and true white and blacks that are considered benchmark standards in our painting industry.  Here are a few pigments worth investing in:

White Pigments

Titanium White – The most opaque pigment on the market is the ubiquitous mixing white across the pigment boards.  Very Powerful and you do not need very much to tint a hue.

Zinc White –  semi to very transparent, useful for mixing subtle colors and for glazing

Cremintz White – slightly transparent, less than Titanium and More than zinc

Lead White – One of the first good white paints that builds up very opaquely but when thinned is a very good turbid pigment usually favoring the cool temperatures/hues

Flake White – Semi Transparent, usually not made with real lead these days but has similar characteristics including its temperature and stiffness 

pulled from a white pigment test found
on a blog by Jonathan Linton

Black Pigments

Ivory Black – semi-transparent to transparent depending upon the brand.  Unmixed it is warm, add white to it and it cools off to a very chromatic blue direction

Lamp Black – Very transparent and the bluest of the black pigment family, very slow drying

Vine Black – or drop black is inferior by design, very blue in its body hue, and fugitive, semi to very transparent- not worth using most of the time but worth listing since most brands still sell it

Bone Black – just another name for Ivory Black but used by several companies

Mars Black – dense and opaque, the warmest of the black pigments, dries very fast

Blue Black – typically mixed using Ivory Black and Ultramarine Blue and is semi-transparent, good blue blacks are made with Cobalt blue, more neutral in the hue, and are very transparent

 Enjoy the weekend,
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.


  1. Thanks for the clarification! White ... it takes little of it to lighten another color, but it also takes very little of another color to contaminate white.

  2. I have been trying to paint traditional recently, using the Zorn Palette in gouache. I haven't been able to wrap my head around mixing colours though, and I wonder how the rules under "A few common mistakes" apply to that particular palette (specifically rules 3, 4, and 6). Wouldn't white and black be the only way to change the value, or am I forgetting to take the temperature of the resulting mixture into account?

  3. I didn't attend, but loved this post. Kinda makes it OK to not go.

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