The color black results from the absence or complete absorption of visible light. Unlike most colors, black is achromatic which means it doesn't have a hue.
Black is one of the earliest colors known to man and has become a symbol for different things across various cultures.
As an artist, it's important to understand the darkest color, how it's used in the past until today, what it means and the different emotions it evokes, as well as its different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of the Color Black
The color black was one of the first colors used in art. Prehistoric humans used black to depict images of bulls and other animals in cave paintings in Lascaux Cave in France. To make their paintings, prehistoric artists first used charcoal then burnt bones and manganese oxide powder to produce a darker pigment.
Black had an important meaning to the ancient Egyptians who associated the color with fertility, the rich black soil of the Nile, and the color of the god Anubis. The ancient Greeks also valued this dark color and used it on their pottery. Ancient Roman magistrates wore black or dark togas to funeral ceremonies.
In the Middle Ages, black was associated with darkness and evil. In paintings during this period, the Devil was often portrayed as a humanoid with black fur or skin and wings.
Benedictine monks wore black robes during the 12 and 13th centuries. It was also around this time that black ink from China was traditionally used for writing due to its darker color.
Black never really became a common color for wardrobe until the 14th century when better and darker black dyes were invented. Suddenly, magistrates and government officials began wearing the color as a sign of their importance and seriousness.
When printing became possible in the 15th century, printers used black ink made from soot, turpentine, and walnut oil. It was also around this time when nobles wore black sable fur imported from Russia and Poland.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, black became a prominent color for the rulers and the Protestant Reformation in Europe as well as the Puritans in England and America. Rembrandt used a somber palette of blacks and browns to depict figures emerging from the darkness expressing the deepest human emotions.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, black first receded as a color for fashion until after the French Revolution. Black also became the color for a different kind of revolution as coal and oil-fueled industrial machines slowly turned city buildings black. For the first time, the color became available, and quite popular, to the masses due to the invention and industrial manufacturing of inexpensive synthetic black dyes.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, black continued its popularity in art and fashion. By this time, it had also become an important color to various political and social organizations across the globe.
Black Colors: Psychology and Meaning
Artists have used black since prehistoric times. It isn't surprising then that black has become an important color in various cultures around the world.
What is surprising, though, are the different symbols and associations this color stands for.
As mentioned earlier, black is the color of mourning and bereavement in some countries, especially in the West. A tragic day, week, or month is often referred to as a "black day" (or week or month). In the financial world, the term refers to sudden drops in the stock market, such as the one in 1929 that marked the start of the Great Depression.
Another Western symbolism for the color black is its association with evil and darkness. This color is often linked to the Devil, witchcraft, and black magic. In the Book of Revelation, the first horseman, representing famine, is said to arrive on a black horse.
Black is also associated with power, law, authority, and solemnity. In many countries, black is often the color chosen by magistrates and government officials. It's also the usual color of fashion for formal and solemn occasions.
In recent times, black has become a symbol of functionality. Today, we often see black as the color of mystery, elegance, power, and sophistication as well as for sadness and anger.
Shades of Black
So, now that you know about the history and symbolism of the color black, let's move on to its various shades. A shade of black is always a pure black in itself while a tint of black is a neutral gray.
As of the writing of this article, there are currently 16 shades of the color black.
Here are just a few of them:
Ebony is a grayish olive green color. This variation of black was made to represent the color of the tropical hardwood of the same name.
As you may have guessed, it's made to represent the color of burnt wood.
Onyx is a greenish-black color. As the name suggests, onyx was made to represent the precious gem of the same name. Onyx was part of Crayola's specialty crayon set called "Gem Tones", introduced in 1994.
4. Black Olive
Black olive, or simply "olive", is a dark grayish olive green color.
Made to represent the color of black olives, this color was known as No. 6015, in the RAL color matching system, widely used in Europe.
5. Jet Black
Jet black, or simply "jet", is a pure black color. This color was made to represent the color of the mineraloid of the same name.
6. Charleston Green
Charleston green is characterized by its blackish green color.
This color originated after the American Civil War when the North provided black paint to the South for use in its reconstruction.
Licorice, also known as "light black", is another pure black color but with a lighter shade. As its name suggests, this color was made to represent licorice candy.
Modifying Black Acrylic Paints
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the color black and some of its shades, it's time to learn how to make some of your own. As artists, we usually look for the right shade of color to really make our painting pop.
In the case of the color black, you can use it to complement your brighter colors.
If you don't happen to have the exact shade you need, here's how you can modify your black acrylic paint to achieve your desired shade.
How to Create Warmer Shades of Black
To create a warmer shade of black, simply choose a warm shade of brown (like burnt umber) as a base then mix with black. The more brown you have, the warmer the black you're going to produce.
How to Create Cooler Black Shades
To make a cooler black, choose a blue base and mix it with black. Choosing the right shade of blue as a base affects the type of cold black you'll produce once you mix the two colors.
Muting Other Colors
If you've read some of the other articles in this series, you'll know that you can add black to mute other colors.