Black Power

two drawings with extensive use of black

two drawings with extensive use of black

Many artists and art tutors will tell you that it is a golden rule NOT to use black in drawings and paintings.  All darks should be made by colour mixing as it makes for a cleaner result.  Black can deaden colour.  Ugh!  Who’d want that?  But as dear old Doris Lusk told us at art school, (New Zealand artist and our drawing tutor in 1978; bless her heart and may she rest in peace), “Art rules are made to break”.   Amen to that!

I love blacks and I have a treasure trove of them.  In the two drawings above I have slathered on black with great force in some areas.  In other areas I have gently hinted with it.  Sometimes I use it as an underlay – used very lightly – so that the colour on top will be influenced by it.  For example black under a bright purple makes for a grape hue.

What do I use white for?  Certainly not for white areas.  My whitest whites are nothing more than untouched paper.  In the top drawing I wanted the orange/red of the lantern to pop so I began with a gentle coat of Holbein Artists’ Pencil Soft White before I put on any reds.  The white undercoat means that the colour placed on top, right from the start, has a different look than if it was being applied straight onto paper.  It encourages the colour to glow.

Funny but with pencils, white UNDER a colour will give a different effect to white OVER that same colour.  Try it for yourself.

I have recently come across a very strong black; so strong that it can still make its mark over layers of saturated colour.  But be warned it is permanent!  If you put it in the wrong place, nothing on earth will remove it.  It is called Staedtler Lumocolor Permanent: glasochrom 108 20-9.  My favourite black is Stabilo Softcolor 1500/750.  Next come the Holbein Artists’ Pencil Lamp Black OP 511 and Black OP510.  I don’t get much call to use either the Luminance or Polychromos blacks (the former is a little scratchy and the latter I find a bit insipid).  My favourite white is Holbein Soft White OP 501.

I love the drama of black – “Awesome Power” as they say on “The Simpsons “(“Mr Sparkle”).   If I can’t convince you that black has its place in pencil work, I’ll send you my address and you can post your unwanted black pencils to me.

NB: My computer died recently.  When my new one comes I will be able to photograph these two new drawings properly and upload them.  Till then I must use my I-phone to take photos which isn’t quite the same.

(ps: I did a lot more work on the bottom drawing after I photographed it for this blog post.  The lower right hand blue panels looked dirty so I took as much colour as I could off with a putty rubber and then carefully put ultramarine blue down.  Later in the week (hopefully) I will re-photograph and post.)



14 thoughts on “Black Power

  1. sherrytelle

    Love the blog, I agree there is a place for black i sometimes put black on top of a colour and find that works well for me. I need to find a source for Holbein pencils now!

  2. Barbara moore

    Great article Julie..I also love black, but have only Polychromos, which I use in conjunction with other shades to add depth. But I have added your suggested pencils to my wish list now. Thank you. Barbara

  3. anna warren portfolio

    Black has such power, it can destabilise, but it can also add intensity. With my graphic design hat on, if I want a really intense black to print well, it must have the other three colours (cyan, magenta and yellow) with it to make it sing, black alone is flat and insipid. I think this is what you are doing, not so much using black alone, but building the richness with the combination of colours. I have a Staedler Lumocolor non-permanent pencil that I have used in monochrome drawing for many years, it has a wonderful waxy intensity that is irresistible.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      “Black has such power…” you say, Anna, hence the title of my post! Thank you, Graphic Design Hat; that is interesting that when you want an intense black you need the other three colours to take part.
      Ahh – didn’t know about the Lumocolor non-permanent pencils.

  4. Beverly Reid

    Love your post Julie, both drawings are wonderful with the use of black! I agree black is a great color enhancer and has it’s place in any medium used I feel. I use it under green’s to make a lovely dark green, and as you say it’s really nice under purple as well. I also don’t use white color pencil for the whitest white’s, it’s never white enough for me so I use the white of the paper, it works for me. I love your tip about putting “a gentle coat of white” under a color to see it glow, I’m definitely going to try that!

  5. Jennifer Rose

    its good to know how to make black if you don’t have a solid black on its own to use but if you do have a black pencil, its worth using to save time lol but not overuse it. can be a very fine line between it working well and then wrecking a piece.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      I totally agree, Jennifer, that it can be a fine line between use and overuse of black. It has to be treated with care. But same can be said with mixing complementary colours. I made a mess of some areas of the bottom drawing by overuse of complements. Had to take off the colour with a putty rubber AFTER I photographed it for this post. Pushing boundaries sometimes means falling into the deep pit on the other side of the boundary fence!

  6. Robyn Varpins

    I agree with your perception of black…. it makes colours really pop in contrast, which creates great drama in painting. Black also does this with clothing, where black and colour together is vibrant. And stained glass uses black around every colour to enhance and clarify each colour. Your lanterns have all these qualities of drama and clarity and intensity, due to good old black

  7. occasionalartist

    What an interesting post Julie, your drawings are great, I am always amazed with how you manage to get so much detail into your backgrounds without overwhelming the subject, but here the power of black, clearly helped out. Seems I will need to check out some black pencils on your list. Karen

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Thanks for saying so, Karen. I’m embarking on another drawing now (another lantern with some neon as well) putting into practice the undercoating of white. I used to do this years ago then forgot about it. I only just remembered to undercoat in white for that top drawing in the photo. It all came back to me!


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