Thursday, September 18, 2008

Paint It Black: Black Pigment Series, Part 1

Following a series on white pigments, I was curious and decided to explore the characteristics of black pigments. Once I started digging, I found this subject to be extremely fascinating and was amazed to find out so much more than I expected. I collected this information from multiple Internet sources, but discrepancies are possible. If you have something to add, or even challenge, leave a comment. We can all learn from others' expertise.

Did you know that black was one of the first three colors ever used by humankind, along with red and yellow earth? Black was first made with burnt wood, and since it was readily available from the nightly fires and was already in a stick form, it is likely that it was the first color ever used!

Carbon Black is the generic term used for any black pigment made from charring natural elements such as wood (Carbon Black), bone or ivory (Bone Black & Ivory Black), lamp oil (Lamp Black) and grape vines (Vine Black).

I'm going to describe four common groups of black pigments:
1) Lamp Black
2) Mars Black and Iron Black
3) Ivory Black and Bone Black
4) Vine Black

So, let's get started.

LAMP BLACK was originally produced by collecting soot, also known as lampblack, from oil lamps. In early Egyptian times, it was the black of choice. It was a more intense and pure black than charcoal. This is the black you will see in Egyptian murals and tomb decorations.

Lamp Black is one of the slowest drying pigments in oil and should never be used underneath other colors unless mixed with a fast drier such as Umber. It produces a very soft, but brittle oil paint. While Lamp Black has a long and honorable history, most artists prefer either Ivory Black or the newer Mars Black.

Some types may be considered toxic. Lamp black can be brittle, therefore not having as much longevity. Depending on your preference, the slow drying time can be considered an advantage or drawback.

Tomorrow--Ivory Black: Black Pigment Series, Part 2

credit: paintmaking.com, wikipedia, real color wheel


Melissa and Emmitt said...

hi peggi
what a great post!
i love the history on where these pigments came from.
i smile as i think back to my days as a custom framer when people would say "just put a black mat on it." :) they had no idea there would be at least 12 blacks to choose from.

redchair said...

Hi Peggi,
This is interesting. Black is always such a focus for us as artist: to much –to little?
I remember some of this from college but check out what I found:

Blue was once obtained from the leaves of the indigo plant. (cool)

Cuttlefish (squid) ink supplied sepia. (weird)

Indian yellow was originally made from the urine of camels force-fed on mango leaves. (Yuk!)


Peggi Habets said...

Melissa, don't you just love being a paint nerd? I do! I love to watch my husband's eyes glaze over when I go on and on about paint pigments.

Wait until you read the 4th post about Vine Black. I thought it was so cool! Gotta go now and get my camel urine...I mean yellow paint. (I just hope the camels LIKED mango.)

Paploo said...

You should make your reference to a series on whites a link so that I can read that series too (without looking through the whole history of postings). I'm a big of a pigment nerd and enjoy reading about pigments, their properties, and where they came from.

I also might suggest that as part of your pigment series, you look at Alizarin Crimson (PR 83), its awful lightfastness, and the lightfast alternatives.

Peggi Habets said...

Thanks for the suggestion! Hadn't thought about the posts getting lost. I went back and labeled them (white pigment) as well as well as the black pigments so they are easier to find. When I get a few minutes I'll include links.