Sunday, December 8, 2013

Black in watercolor

Over the years I’ve heard commandments like “Don’t use white”, “Don’t paint in Venice” and even “Don’t paint boat sheds”. Similarly “Never use black” is the advice some salesmen give my students, planting indigo and sepia in their palms instead because “These won’t kill your painting”. It's just that both those colors are ready mixed and contain black, so they are not the solution if black is a problem. My own fad is “Only use single pigments” because mixing should be done by the painter, not by the manufacturer - and black is just as good as any. (Just don't use this advice as a commandment!) By the way, this is Dyrhólaey, "Doorway peninsula", in southern Iceland painted with lots of Ivory black and some Raw sienna, Burnt sienna and Ultramarine blue.

6 comments:

Federico Gemma said...

Fantastic work and fantastic black as well!

Oscar Solis said...

This is a beautiful piece.

Regarding the use of black, I've tended to stay away from it when it comes to using watercolors, but that's just a personal preference. Of course, I do use black ink, but my own style is based on washing colors onto pen and ink drawings.

Still, this whole business of not using black (or white) is nonsense. I'm happy to see you writing about it. My own feeling is whatever makes the final image work is okay.

Concetta Flore said...

I'm totally with you there!

Måns Sjöberg said...

Thanks for your comments!
Your choice of Cotman is interesting, Oscar, since so many painters avoid it. Like you say, whatever makes the final image work is okay. Or as we put it in Swedish: Ändamålet helgar medlen (The end justifies the means).

Oscar Solis said...

I use Cotman watercolor paint because it was an economic choice at the time, but I have to say I enjoy using them even now that I am working regularly and can afford to buy high end paints. I did test them as far as lightfastness. Where I live the sunlight is bright and really blasts any thing that comes it's way. The colors I use tested highly for lightfastness, so I stuck with them.

I also use Mameriblu but only the three primaries. I mix all my colors from those three.

I'm not a traditionalist. I use whatever will give me the results I want, including painting on bristol board and index card stock. I do use 100% rag watercolor paper when I want controlled washes. Whatever I use must be lightfast and, if paper, at least acid free. I suppose there's just something in me that doesn't want to follow the rules, so to speak :)

Måns Sjöberg said...


I used Cotman for a while when I was in my teens. Then I read a book that advocated artist's quality paints. I tried one of them, Rowney I think, and was struck by the pigment strength. I haven't tried Cotman since then but maybe I should. Your paintings are very inspiring, Oscar.