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For artists, like me, who lean to the Caravaggistic in lighting, the phenomenon of the perfect "black" for a mood-setter within a painting, can be a bit of a pigment puzzler. While many artists have a favorite black as part of their palette, I purposefully pass by the black section of the paint tube world—perhaps it's the loyal watercolorist in me—but I just don't accept the idea that black is simply #000000—zero color. In my book, black is as rich and full as any other color, and as deeply reflective as white can be.
In 2006 while working on the concept for my first truly tenebristically lit painting, A Lamp Unto My Feet (picture below), I found myself checking out copious works on color theory from the library, hunting opinions from the Renaissance to the present for "the perfect black"--the ideal pigment to envelop the viewer in a richly darkened background. I didn't want a glossy black, or a matte black, or a non-colorfast black, or a brittle black--the list goes on. After much reading, however, I still felt wary of one cure-all black pigment. The result: The genesis of a Studio secret:
Mix equal parts raw umber and Payne's gray, and you'll have a deliciously lush "black" every time—"perfect" for base coats of black, such as that which I needed for A Lamp Unto My Feet. (This particular mixture is pictured, above, from the time in 2010 when I was painting Go Forth To Meet The Bridegroom.)
Even this blend, however, isn't complete on its own. True to form, my father provided the other part of the "perfect black" recipe: glaze, glaze, glaze. No black is truly perfect at our Studio without glazes of pure color—usually based on the other elements in the painting, but often comprising transparent glazes of ultramarine blue, quinacridone rose, or olive green—and generally all three. Tried for years in painting after painting, it's a tried and true recipe--my own "perfect black" ever since.
A Lamp Unto My Feet by Elspeth Young; All Rights Reserved