Skip the black paint on your palette.

My palette has no black on it. It is also a light purple Rubbermaid lid. Don't ask.

Using black paint is lazy.

My painting palette never has black paint.

I don’t even own a tube of black paint.

If I want to make a “black” color, I will use alizarin crimson and phthalo green (watercolors) or a phthalo blue/payne’s gray mixed with a burnt sienna or violet (acrylics and oils).

Black is heavy and dulling, sucking the life out of a painting. I don’t care what the expressionists claimed: black killed expression and led to outlining the shapes and forms in a painting, give them a cheap and thoughtless way to say “I’m moody and dark and also don’t know how to make the foreground stand out from the background.”

In art school, a student was called out during a critique for what the instructor called the “abuse of white”. There was no contrast, but in some way, it bothered me much less than the heavy-handed use of black. Even though the contrast was low, the hues were rich. It reminded me of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Fa├žade, Sunlight.

If you’re using black to make dark colors, you don’t know enough about color theory.

If you’re using black to make things stand out from the background, you literally need to go back to the drawing board with a few pencils (3H, HB, 4B) and figure things out.

If you’re using black to express emotion and think it’s the best way to be dark and dramatic, give yellow ochre, phthalo green, and a touch of cadmium red a try and see if that doesn’t give you sallow, depressing, and sick color that ought to suffice.

Black, when added to any other color, immediately creates a flat and dull result, making it about 50 pounds heavier than the color surrounding it, and pulling all light in the room into its vast sucking vortex.

Black, when combined with the abuse of white, leads to hideous things like gray shadows everywhere. Shadows, if you bother to look at them, are just about never gray.

My first critique of a painting and an artist will be to measure the amount of black I see at work. “Too much black. She outlines everything.”

No matter how dark something is on any painting I’ve created, it’s never done with black. And, if you were to look deep into the dark areas, you’d start seeing rich color pushing back at you instead of some factory dye dump.

Check out a Disney animated film back before computer animation took over. You won’t see much black outlining. Darker versions of color were used to outline the animation, because black was too jarring and made for visual confusion.

I would rather you abuse the whites in your paint box than fall back on the darkest paint right out of the tube. Look towards light, not darkness.

Apply this to your life as well.


This blog post originally appeared on my blog on May 28, 2015.