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What color IS that?

“You can have any color you want – so long as it is black.” ~ Henry Ford

Recently, a friend and fellow artist asked me which color black I was using after seeing an early draft of one of my paintings. She was admiring the richness and depth of the color. The truth is, while I do have several different tubes of “black” (and LOTS of other colors 😊) I rarely use them or any other color straight out of the tube. The blacks you see in my paintings are all mixes of some combination of colors. Colors are much more opulent and interesting when they are a actually a blend of varied colors. It gives the eye and the mind something to play with!

Black is an especially interesting “color”. It is, in fact, always a mixture of two opposing (or complementary) colors. Indeed, while white is generally perceived as the absence of color (a whole other topic for another day), black is really the combination of ALL colors except white. Scientifically, black and white are not considered colors because they do not have specific wavelengths in the visible spectrum.

The question for me, as an artist, is which are the right colors to include and in what ratios they should be mixed to best compliment the perceived effects I am trying to convey. Sometimes that means starting with a mix of red and green (which is actually a combination of blue and yellow) and then make it lean further toward green. Sometimes, it is blue and orange (actually red and yellow) and lean toward blue. It really depends on what I am trying to achieve. In a landscape, a greenish black is better for harmony and a reddish black is better for contrast to make it pop. Sometimes, as in a sea or sky, I want my black to lean toward blue (or orange) for the same reasons.

In hair or fur, black often leans toward blue or purple but it is also heavily influenced by the colors around the subject in the painting. In this dog’s fur, there is a lot of blue in the black colors because it would be reflecting from her surroundings.

One of the tricks of making a good painting is to factor all these things into your decisions in color. For the painting below, the green background color I used was not the color actually surrounding the dog in that moment of life (see the reference photo from which I started). So, I had to adjust the color mixes used to make the dog feel right within the setting I gave him.

"Oliver", a recent commission piece

Figuring all this out is a bit of the puzzle solving that makes painting so challenging and fascinating. I’m constantly asking myself now “what color IS that?” and “how would I mix it?” So, next time you see something black ask yourself “what color IS that, really?”

That’s it for today. I’m off to solve more color puzzles in my studio by doing some more painting!

Until next time,



What’s next?

Poster for 2022 CCAL Juried Show

I will be participating again this year in the Crooked Creek Art League's Annual Juried Show in March. This is a great event with wonderful artwork so I hope you'll get a chance to see it this year. I am working on some artwork for it now. Fingers crossed that at least one of my paintings will win a prize again this year!


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