The only thing more divisive than Democrats and Republicans is the artistic debate of whether to make black by mixing it or by squeezing it out of the tube!
Think I'm kidding? According to Google, there are 567 million results when you ask that question. Fortunately, if you're reading this, I will share the correct answer and save you a few million hours!
If you don't know me you're probably saying, "This guy is pretty pompous!" If you do know me you're saying, "He's definitely pompous but is probably right".
Before I get into the paint gospel according to Mike, I'll let tell you why this is a topic this week. Last Sunday I spotted a black bear while walking Lola in the park! We were probably twenty yards apart but every time I retell this story we get a few feet closer. As of this morning, we were nose-to-nose with what I think was a Grizzly bear! Within eight hours an adult student posted a video of a black bear not that far away from us.
That Tuesday a baby black bear was spotted in the bushes right outside my studio, right before class time! I decided to escort each child into the school for their safety mainly because I care for them as if they were my own children, but also I couldn't afford to lose another monthly tuition! Now while all this was going on with Mother Nature, the conversation as to what is better, to mix black using complementary colors or to use black right out of the tube came up at least three times in different classes. I'm not one for superstition but since this seems more than a coincidence, three black bear sightings, three black paint conversations, I for one wasn't ignoring it! Also, in my last column, I wrote about gray values and their importance in painting. So here I go...
I think using Black paint out of the tube is probably the more logical approach to mixing grays and for very dark areas on your painting. I use Ivory black pretty much exclusively because it's a great utility paint. I know it's cool in nature, so is Titanium White, so I know what to expect when I mix them with colors. If you want to see how cool black is, mix it with a cadmium yellow light and you'll see the wonderful range of greens you can mix. If I'm painting a portrait I would use a Flake White which is warm and perhaps a more neutral black.
Here are some arguments or benefits claimed by those in support of mixing for black, also known as “mixers"...
1. If I mix my blacks it's one less tube I have to buy....False!
Black is one of the cheapest pigments to buy and a lot of "mixers" use cadmium red or cobalt blue, pretty pricey stuff! Also, you'll probably use more paint trying to mix black than squeezing the preferred amount out of the tube.
2. My teacher in college would only let me use complementary colors to make Black....Bad advice!
If there's one thing that is a sure thing in history, its bad information and practices regarding paint materials, and we have museums around the world filled with badly cracked paintings to prove it. This is bad advice because it takes valuable time to mix gray values with two colors. You need to get it to a precise gray value and then add color depending on what you're doing with it. If I'm painting a red barn in shadow it's easier to find the correct gray value, then add the color. In the case of a barn in shadow, it's a good chance purple would work, red barn plus outdoor cool shadow equals purple. Like in real life, time is valuable and I'd rather be painting than mixing gray.
3. Some of the greatest painters had black on their palette, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Rembrandt. (Rembrandt used a pigment called bone black, which is similar to Ivory black, a term used because they used the burned tusks of Elephants). If it's good enough for the masters, it's good enough for me!
There is a place in painting to mix colors to get black. I will often adjust a dark color right on the canvas by adding the complementary color, but you should have a thorough understanding of the nature of the colors on your palette.
Besides being pompous, I'm a hypocrite too. When we start our virtual classes next week, I will have my young students start with just three colors and white. It will give them an understanding of what you can attain with just the three correct colors and equally why you need additional colors on the palette. They'll be making black with Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue. I hope they're not reading this!
By the way, my run in with wildlife continues. While walking Lola on Sunday in the same park, my friend went to toss her bottle in the garbage can only to be greeted by a raccoon at the bottom, frozen in fear! Fortunately, Wayne's finest was there in minutes, safely tipped the can over and the raccoon who was at least five feet high headed back into the woods.
The best part was that the Raccoon was practicing responsible Covid-19 guidelines by wearing a mask.