Black & White...
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Black is all colors combined. Black receives light, absorbs it. White is the absence of color. White reflects light. Black, added to color, "shades", or darkens the color hue. Hue is the color itself, for example, red. White added to color, "tints", or lightens the hue. Color hue can be taken to the darkest, or lightest value, adding black, or white, respectively, with every shade in between. How much black or white is in a color is color value.
Working with black and white alone is a great way to understand color value. Look at a color, and try to match the value of the color with just mixing black and white. For example, a bit of red mixed with a lot of white becomes a very pale pink. To match the color value of pale pink in black and white, the artist would add a bit of black to a fair amount of white until the artist has made a very pale grey to match the light pink value. In doing this, the artist begins to understand just how much white, or black, to use when mixing their own colors. Another fun experiment is to try and paint a color image, using liquid black ink on paper. Match all shades of the image's colors, but in shades of black down the lightest grey.
I’m not sure who said, “value does the work and color gets the credit,” but I think of it a lot when I’m painting. If a painting seems flat, it’s most likely because the color hues are all concentrated to the same value. What’s needed is more contrast. Contrast is the difference between darks and lights. More contrast equals a greater difference between the darkest colors and the lightest colors.
Contrast is where the drama is. Like in Film Noir, those stark whites, and deep, mysterious blacks create a tension that helps express the mood, and emotion of the shot. It’s the same in two-dimensional art (painting, drawing). Greater contrast creates a visual “push and pull” that becomes pleasing to the eye. Learn to create more contrast in your work, and you'll be learning to create more visually satisfying paintings.
Thank you for reading.