The color black

It’s a paradox.  Scientifically, black is empty of color, and white, the color of light, contains all the colors. But an artist wishing to paint the color black selects all of the darkest colors on his/her palette and mixes them together.  It’s a  delicate balance to keep one of the original colors from dominating, but done right, it creates black.  So there are two kinds of black–the kind that is devoid of color, and the kind that contains all the colors.

Lately, I have been talking about painting all the colors I can find in Caucasian skin.  “White” skin.  More accurately, light skin.  Today I have two new paintings of a “black” model.  More accurately, a really dark-skinned model.  Not my first really dark skin, by any means, but my first while consciously searching for more color in skin tones.  I honestly don’t know, as I put this blog together, whether being color-conscious has made any difference.

My very first portrait class, a few years ago, utilized a black model, but I don’t have a photo of that and besides, we don’t need to go back that far, surely.  Here is one I painted last fall or spring from a life drawing (so I was imagining the color):

Proud (Nude Seated on Pedestal)

From the looks of it, I used a lot of burnt sienna and ochre.

Here is a portrait from life done last spring:

Sabrin in the Gold Chair

Looks like I started with burnt umber.  Sabrin’s arm photographed grayer than the actual painting, so the color here is not quite as awful as it looks.  I used a lot of purple here.

Here is a head shot of the same model:

Girl in the Red Turban

I was in such a hurry–the model was very late to arrive, that my choice of colors here must have been pure instinct, based on what I saw.  Let it be acknowledged, however, that the model’s  skin was quite a dark brown, not caramel brown.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I posted this painting of Grace in the yellow chair, which I believe is my first live painting of her.  Apparently, I found some red in her.

A Nude Study in Brown, Mustard Yellow and Lime Green

All of that was done without much thought.  Some thought, just not as much as I have been wallowing in lately.  Gosh, I hope that’s a sign I am becoming a better artist–more time to wallow in thought.

I’m skipping over the next two–one because of the hot pink drape that I hated, and the other because I hated the whole thing (although I have not  yet destroyed it).  If you feel compelled to check it out, the hot pink drape was two weeks ago, and all-bad one here.

Finally, drum roll please, here are the two from last week:

The red hairband (Nude Reclining on Blue Stand)

Nude, On the brown leather sofa

I hope you can tell which was the earlier, because I tackled the second one with even more resolve to find colors other than brown.  One problem I have with the darker, brown base is that the color tends to gray down if you just add white, like that arm in Sabrin.  Lighter colors seem easier to keep pure.  No, that’s just an excuse.  The truth is, I couldn’t see any colors that were not variations of brown.  Mostly warm browns.  My model said other people have claimed that they see blue in her skin.  Not me.  Maybe some navy blue in the shadows.  Maybe some hint of sky blue in the highlights (as I found on the Girl in the Red Headdress).  Maybe purple in the shadows.  But no aquas, no greens.

I am loving the brown sofa painting, regardless of color issue–the pose and composition are very pleasing.  Almost lost the foot, but managed to rescue it by foreshortening the lower limb.  Also, I discovered, with my new eye (cataract removed two weeks ago), that the blue drape reflected the brown of Grace’s skin, which was kind of startling.  Note that the brown leather sofa is a match to the brown leather recliner.  If we keep this up,  you are going to become familiar with every piece of furniture in Adrienne and Heather’s studio.

Grace is back on deck this Tuesday.  Maybe I should start by drawing her figure in green or aqua, instead of burnt sienna, just to see what effect it has.   Not kidding.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester; at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the Epsom Public Library in Epsom; at the Bedford Public Library, in Bedford; at the law offices at 41 Brook St in Manchester; and at her studio by appointment.

7 responses to “The color black

  1. Oh, Aline, On the Brown Leather Sofa is the best yet. Before I came to your words about loving this one yourself, I had already said that in my mind. It is great!


  2. No paradox – scientific or otherwise – when you understand the PHYSICS of color. Every surface either absorbs or reflects light waves. The color we SEE is the color (or combination of colors) that are reflected back (NOT absorbed). A surface that appears black absorbs all light waves/energy – that is (one reason) why black cloth feels hot. A surface that appears white reflects ALL light waves, and they remain unseparated so that we can’t distinguish any color. So – technically, black DOES contain ALL colors (because they are absorbed) and we will see the blues or purples or reds as a result of surface irregularities that might let small amounts of certain wavelengths escape. Same principle applies to very pale shades of colors being absorbed in what is white. The entire industries that are responsible for producing pigments, dyes, paints, etc depend on understanding and applying the PHYSICS … and those rules are very different from what we generally learn about color mixing (principles of which are based on pre-made product). It CAN get confusing, but I think it’s easier to remember (if you really need to) when you think of black or white fabric in summer sun and which one gets hot!
    I still like the Girl in the Red Turban!


  3. You are producing some lovely work Aline. I really prefer the first of the latest two. I think it is because the brushwork is less fussy and overall it looks more assured.