1. Home

The Art Tutor and the Chromatic Black

Why mixing and using chromatic black is preferable to using black from a tube.

By

Jim Meaders Painting

"Shadow Rides", oil on canvas, 24x30". This painting was done using chromatic black and the resulting grays.

© Jim Meaders

The list of colors my painting students take to the art supply store does not include black. Instead, they learn to make a rich, deep color that appears to be black, known as chromatic black. It’s one of the first things I teach in my Painting 1 course after introducing the ‘split-primary’ color wheel.

How to Mix Chromatic Black

The more common way of creating a chromatic black is by mixing ultramarine blue with an earth color, but I teach my students a different mixture that gives an even richer, deeper ‘black’. It’s done by by mixing equal parts of Prussian blue, alizarin crimson, and an earth color (my favorite is burnt sienna, but burnt umber, raw sienna, and raw umber work as well).

When this chromatic black is added to white you get some of the most beautiful grays imaginable. If these grays are too blue for you, simply add a little more of the earth color to the original mixture, which will make the grays look more gray.

Create a Color Chart

I have a chart I made that shows what each chromatic black and the resulting grays looks like. For example:
  • Prussian + Alizarin + Burnt Sienna = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)
  • Prussian + Alizarin + Burnt Umber = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)
  • Prussian + Alizarin + Raw Umber = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)

Varying the amount of white added to these mixes creates several values of gray.

An expanded version of my chart includes mixtures using Indian red, Venetian red, and Van Dyke brown. You get a different set of grays depending on which 'brown' you mix in with the Prussian and Alizarin.

Use Chromatic Black to Darken Other Colors

Mixing small amounts of your chromatic black into your colors will darken them without ‘killing’ the color like regular black would do. I tell my students that Prussian blue and alizarin crimson are ‘magic colors’. In my experience, most painting teachers don't include these colors on their lists of required colors, but once students discover all the possibilities of using these colors they never go back.

About the Artist: Jim Meaders has taught a variety of art courses and workshops for more than 25 years. Jim says his own work is an effort to draw the viewer into the subject matter of the painting through a different viewpoint and to leave them with a new sense of perceptiveness.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.