Is black a colour?


Happy new year from the art studio/gallery. Here’s hoping that you all have an amazing 2022 and that you may find time to join us here at the art school on an oil painting workshop or on Merrion Square for a chat and to view our latest collection of original oil paintings.

Since we broke for the Christmas holidays, we have been keeping the head down, working away on creating new workshops and paintings. For the workshops, we now have additional studies prepared on works by Constable, Van Gogh, Seago, Orpen, Leech, Swanzy, Cezanne and several Russian artists.

new to the painting workshops

Over the next few months, we will be adding more studies focusing particularly on colour mixing, landscapes, still life’s, seascapes and florals.

This month on our blog, we are taking a high-level beginner’s look at BLACK.

Black is a non-colour, used since prehistoric times in charcoal form and has been adopted around the globe and throughout the ages used to symbolise many things, from darkness and evil, to the LBD “the Little Black Dress” a worldwide fashion staple.

Black has been used by all the great artists including Manet, Goya, Turner and Van Gogh.

Renoir has been quoted as saying: –

“…I have been forty years discovering that the queen of all colours is black.” [1]

black used in oil paintings historically

It even had, Matisse [2] being quoted as saying: –

When I didn’t know what colour to put down, I put down blackBlack is a force: I used black as a ballast to simplify the construction …”

Mattise use of black

In 2014, we witnessed a dispute between two British artists, Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple on who had the blackest black. However, since then, MIT went on to develop a black which was blacker given that it absorbed 99.995% of light. [3]

In terms of BLACK and its absorption of other colours, it’s worth taking extra care at the start of your painting journey and your use of black.

Here at the art school, we generally start a beginner student on their first night with paintings using only Titanium White and Ivory Black. Over the following weeks, the beginner student progresses straight to painting in colour.

However, as they progress, we have discovered, that there is always a want or a need by some students to use ivory black straight from the tube. So, to curb this trend, we have added paintings that show the effects of using ivory black, neat, which is really to absorb/deaden the other colours used and the paintings overall as a whole.

Instead, we now encourage that students, depending on the painting situation, either: –

  • mix their own blacks (using for example a dark red, blue and/or orange (any raw or burnt umbers)); or
  • add a dark transparent colour to the ivory black paint (such as alizarin crimson, prussian or indigo blue, sap green or a burnt or raw umber etc.)

which should enhance rather than absorb the colours in the painting.


Generally, a shade is a colour to which black has been added.

Below, however, is a very quick guide to some of the most common blacks available on the market, including Ivory, Mars and Lamp Black.

The information below was extracted from K&M Evans Art Website *.


  • Chromatic Black (transparent & neutral)
  • Ivory Black (semi-transparent & slightly warm)
  • Mars Black (opaque & slightly warm)

MICHAEL HARDING (extra to the above)

  • Lamp Black (opaque & slightly warm bluish)
  • Vine Back

OLD HOLLAND (extra to the above)

  • Ivory Extra Black
  • Scheveningen Black

WINSOR & NEWTON – ARTIST (extra to the above)

  • Blue Black (semi-opaque)
  • Perylene Black (transparent with a green undertone)


arrangement in grey and black number 1

Arrangement in Grey and Black Number 1
James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)
(better known as Whistler’s Mother)

The Gray Tree Piet Mondrian

The Gray Tree
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

In our next few monthly blogs, we are going to delve into some of the key artist movements throughout the ages!!

Over the next few months, we are also gradually opening back up the art studio for workshops – if you would like to be kept informed as to the timetable and workshops on offer feel free to subscribe to our waiting list.

Until then stay safe and keep painting.

Emily McCormack

* As always, I am not affiliated with any brands, stores, or persons I may or may not mention and your use of any of these products, links and the like are your own risk and it’s up to you to do your research/homework before you use them. This is just my opinion and experience.

[1] accessed 17 January 2022

[2] Flam, D.J, Matisse on Art, [Matisse, Black is a Colour (1946)] (July 2011) (Online) accessed 17 January 2022

[3] Chambers, T [The Vantablack Controversy: Anish Kapoor vs. Stuart Semple] (January 2021) (Online) accessed 17 January 2022

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