04 October, 2010

Monday's Art Tip 5 - Alternatives to Black

Now, this tip applies to artists that use lines in their work (as I do with my illustrative style), as well as people looking to paint darks and shadows...

The background story - my mother, Diana Battle, is a very talented artist. She can paint beautifully in both oils and acrylics, and is also very confident in pastel and watercolour. The next two paintings (with their enlarged sections on the right) are by Mum.


She's always told me there's no need to use black straight out of the tube (in the actual painting, that is - it's still ok to use it as an underpainting or base colour).

She'll choose to use Paynes Grey (which is a very dark navy) or a dark mix of colours, but feels that black out of a tube, like Carbon or Mars Black, is too flat and uninteresting and unneccessary.

So the message is, that using a 'black-substitute colour' creates life in a painting, adding interest and movement.  Here are three black-substitutes that I use often, compared to black, on the bottom right.

Now this tip definitely applies to a realistic-style of painting like Mum's, but it's something I also remember when painting murals - like this recent one here...

At a glance the lines look black, but they're actually painted in Dioxazine Purple (which is my black-substitute of choice). Take a closer look.

Here's a pic of the bottle. I use A LOT of this colour.

And here's a painting I did years ago, where the lines are done in Ultramarine Blue.

In this next painting of proteas (done for a handbag, that's why half is upside down!) the shadows are deep greens and a mix of green with a touch of red (that's another tip - add the complementary colour (from directly opposite on the colour wheel) to darken a colour - ie. add a touch of red to your green and vice versa, add a little purple to your yellow, or blue to your orange... you'll be amazed at how much better it works rather than using a totally different colour from another tube).

I hope that's been interesting! If you're an artist, I'd love to hear about your experiments, and if you're an art-lover, you'll have something more to look for when you see an artwork that you love.

Next week I'm chatting a little about composition. I'm jumping a bit all over the place, but I didn't want to do all the pre-painting tips first. I wanted to give you ideas to use straight away. I certainly hope that is the case!

It's also your REALLY VERY LAST CHANCE to be included in my poppies painting giveaway. Just leave a comment on the Art Tip #3 post here, and I'll be doing the draw this afternoon. Good luck!


  1. Even though I'm really not a painter, I'm loving your tips and techniques!

  2. I love how simply you are teaching all of this.

  3. Yes, I love reading your tips too! If only because I'll look at paintings in a new light.

    I remember doing art in junior high school and having to paint etc. If I'd been given some of the tips that you're giving now, back then, I think I would have enjoyed art a lot more, and perhaps carried on with it.

  4. Anna, I too am really enjoying reading your tips. Unlike some of my family who are talented artists, I'm a very ordinary painter. That said, I am still keen to get the paints out and experimenting with the black substitutes!

  5. I'm amazed. It just goes to show that there is so much more to everybody else's specialty then one can imagine. Lovely to see where the talent comes from too. x

  6. This is a really interesting tip, especially the part about using the contrasting colour to darken a colour!

    I much prefer to use a charcoal black to an ink black in most cases. This applies to using Watercolour pencils or Inktense pencils as well as when painting.

    Love the Rosellas!

  7. Marissa10:37 am

    So interesting, as always. Thanks Anna.

    Your random number generator also got me thinking! Our extended family do Christmas draws for gifts so I was prompted to search for a "secret santa drawing site". Of course, the wonderful WWW delivered......www.namedrawing.com Thanks for the inspiration that got that job done!!


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