Is black actually a colour?

Is black actually a colour?

Keeping it simple and straight to the point black is the absence of colour and is therefore not a colour.

A while back I was involved in a discussion with a group of artists over the use of black straight from the tube or mixing it yourself. Some artists were ‘die hard’ mix it yourself or you’re not a real artist types while others including myself are quite happy to break ‘old rules’ and use premixed black. I do mix my own sometimes but find that for the purest black I will use a tube black as it suits the purpose at the time. Today’s post however is about black as a so called colour, so why isn’t it a colour exactly? When there is no light, everything is black. You can test this out by going into a photographic dark room. There are no photons of light. In other words, there are no photons of colours. Black is the colour of objects that do not emit or reflect light in any part of the visible spectrum; they absorb all such frequencies of light. Although black is sometimes described as an "achromatic", or hue-less, colour, in practical terms it can be considered a colour, as used in expressions like ‘black cat’ or ‘black paint.’

Black is conservative, it goes well with almost any colour except those that are very dark like navy blue or dark purple. Black is considered to be mysterious, sexy, and sophisticated. Black, like other dark colours, can make a room appear to shrink in size and even a well-lit room looks dark with a lot of black. Black can make other colours appear brighter so it’s a good contrast to use when you want something to really stand out.

In most Western countries black is the colour of mourning. However it is both positive and negative when used for other purposes. Black, especially combined with orange is the colour of Halloween. In early Western movies the good guy wore white while the bad guy wore black and you still see this in some horror movies today, it’s the stigma of the colour.

If you want to create a feeling of elegance, sophistication, or perhaps a touch of mystery in your art, use the colour black. Dark charcoal grey and very dark brown can sometimes stand in for black just like it does in fashion.

You need to be careful using black with other very dark colours. It can work for some things, but if the colours are too similar they will blend together and create an uninteresting composition. Black is the ultimate dark colour and makes lighter colours like as yellow really stand out. Photographs often look brighter against a black background and often art shows like the Wellington Art Show use black screens to display the work on. It doesn’t work for all art obviously but it does give a nice backdrop to most. So much for the old white walls of gallery spaces!

    Shades of the colour black include – bone, ebony, jet, ink, lampblack, coal, carbon, charcoal, raven, mars, midnight, obsidian, onyx and sable.



    Finishing with a quote by Pierre-Auguste Renoir - "I've been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colours was black."

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    Posted: Tuesday 13 April 2010


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