Black: the new Black?

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  1. #1
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    Black: the new Black?

    Hi! I'm an illustration/communication arts student at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Just last semester I took a painting class with high hiGH HIGH concentration on color (as any painting class should be, I reckon) and one of the things I remember above all else was: "Don't use pure black for anything unless your last name is Seargent. It flattens out any image."

    That always got me thinking and until recently when, after a couple of months all that color talk caught up with me enough that I'm understanding more, I didn't have the presence of mind to ask this. Is this a standard or just an illustration based principle?

    The reason I ask is... well, to be honest- I see a lot of black floating around these forums, and not just in Black and White images. I saw something a while back that I couldn't help but to bring into photoshop and sample colors from, just to see where they were in terms of saturation and such. The image was astounding, with brilliant yellows and nice muted greens... and... black. Straight up in the red, all the way to the right and all the way at the bottom of the color selector, black as space, BLACK. I wish i had the image, because I do believe it worked well, but my little mind is still struggling to comprehend proper saturation, so what do i know?

    So what's the dealio? Black or no Black? After being taught not to use it I have started to use a VERY dark (not black!) somewhat saturated complementary color of the local color to create my darkest darks of figures. I like the impact of it, but It could always be darker.... dare I say... Blacker?

    Just a thought.

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  3. #2
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    Others know the chemistry better than I do, but a few things come immediately to mind...

    Black is relative. Whatever the very darkest pigment is in a picture, it will often seem black if its "close enough to black" that it might be black.

    Shadows are considered to be transparent. Black out of the tube tends to be opaque. So if you use opaque black for shadow you will get opaque shadows. Since the classical method of painting is "building up to the light areas" using oils, the light areas would be thick and reflective and the shadows would be thin and transparent. If both dark and light are opaque, that transition and contrast isn't accomplished. Also, opaque black paint might catch the light and ruin the dark of the dark area, because the paint is gloppy. Light areas are supposed to do that.

    Also, darks in a picture shouldn't be just any old darks. They should be in color scheme. So many artists suggest mixing darks from other colors to better control the color temperature. (also you can better control the transparency of the "black" by mixing transparent colors to obtain it.) India ink is actually a transparent warm dark. It isn't black per se.

    Also, much richer darks are obtained through transparent glazing (see Maxfield Parrish) than through pre-mixed black mud.

    Finally, black just sucks.

    kev

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  5. #3
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    the difficulty is in translating the truths kev has outlined, for the traditional media, into the digital....

    many rules of thumb go out the window...

    i think kev realy distilled well, when he mentioned temperature
    thats really something to keep in mind, and of course color harmony.


    to translate the traditional techniques, a digital artist needs to know, not only all his layer states and how they behave, but how they relate to color temp in a myriad of very different situations.

    as an aside: i think going back and forth between traditional media and the digital as often as possible throughout one's career is essential (time permitting)


    hope this isnt to scattered need coffee

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  6. #4
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    For me, mixing my own black (usually alizarin crimson/ phthalo blue/ trans red oxide) is much more effective than using black from a tube. For one thing, it lets me have one less color on my pallette, but more importantly, it eliminates the temptation to darken a color by adding black. Most black paint is actually a very dark blue, therefore, it will cool and gray down any color you add it to. But with a mixed black, it is easier to shift it between warm and cool. Mixing a nice gray without black was a bit of a challenge, but once I figured that out, I am much more satisfied with the warm and cool grays I can get. Like Kev said, black is relative, the darkest dark will appear to be black.

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  7. #5
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    Just last semester I took a painting class
    Who was the instructor?


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  8. #6
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    The rule of NO BLACK doesn't apply to art for reproduction, though the rule NO PURE BLACK does, no matter what argument you have for or against using black.

    If you are painting digitally for reproduction, you should be working in CMYK (but probably aren't because you're an idiot ) This way, you have tighter control over your color. Art that is basically a filled linear approach is most often created in black "line," so you want "clean" fill color, and if you are "painting," the color is cleanest if you create it from the CMYK palette with black added only as needed, so the ability to add or completely eliminate black as one of the fill colors is critical, because reproduction in CMYK will have a tendency to do a number of things to your art...

    1. It will look "dirty" when compared to your original unless a lot of manual negative correction is done. Eliminating most of the black completely from the lighter areas of your art corrects this. (Remember, an RGB piece translated to CMYK and uses to output negs will have at least some black in the yellow...think about that...eeEEEEeeeewwwwww...)

    2. Working in RGB and then converting to CMYK will often result in REALLY dirty art because "black" is created in the process, and so will appear within every color area you have to some degree. This is almost impossible to correct for.

    If you work in line art that is black, and multiply paint or fill your color, the transparent inks of printing will make your black line work look weak by comparison to surrounding color because the black is a single layer of color, while even a dull orange or bright green is at least two or three layers of transparent ink. This is the actual opposite to what happens in a traditional painting. The more layers, the stronger and deeper the color. With just black, you have garbage. The way to correct for this is to select all your black line art and specify it as a four-color mix like 100B+40C+40M+40Y. This not only makes your art "sing," but cuts down on trapping problems during press shifts--no white lines showing through.

    Keep in mind that when you discuss the use/non-use of black, you have to make it clear exactly what you're talking about. Traditional art as art, art for reproduction, or digital art for reproduction. All have different requirements for the use of black.

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  10. #7
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    heh. i'm still such a student I had no idea there was a difference. this is something that has never been introduced to me until just a second ago, and i find this extremely interesting.

    i can recall LAST week, going to kinkos to try and print out a "higher quality" print of a digital painting I had done for an assignment, and interestingly the print-outs always seem to produce a greater amount of "black" than i was seeing in my PSD file original. While i AM an idiot- i DO know to work in CMYK (one of my professors stresses this at like 6 times in a single class period... EVERY class period), but still find more "black".

    I didn't use black as a "Fill color" per se, however there was a very little amount of pure black in there, as it was commented on in a critique from yet another professor. the whole image turned out MUCH MUCH darker than I had anticipated when printed. Is this the result of using black- as said in the previous reply- It makes things darker regardless due to the reason you you just presented?

    originally I was referring to general color schemes. I've never really differentiated between "fine art" and "digital art" to use different kinds of color schemes (such as less "black" more "black") and would like if maybe this could be delved into a little bit more? AGAIN- digital or traditional, i always thought NO black was the rule- but more specifically i should have said excluding lineart (but i just got schooled on that by ilaekae! this is something that has never been presented to me and while i use very little inked line work i would like to thank you for that clarification).

    i appreciate your time and thank you for this help and any future help you can present to me on the matter.

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  11. #8
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    In oils, if you understand color mixing you can get the EXACT SAME RESULTS either using or not using black pigment. The only difference will be at the very bottom of the value scale, where no mixed black will ever be as dark as pure ivory black.


    Tristan Elwell
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  12. #9
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    This may just be a matter of opinion, or niggling, but Ivory Black has always seemed a bit grainy to me. Maybe it was the brand. Dunno.

    Regardless, I would agree that for reproduction there is no discernible difference because the miniscule optical mixing of particles versus the single particle of black in IB is not usually going to make it through the digital conversion process. But in real life, the addition of a touch of cadmium red dark seems to make black richer and more transparent without compromising value. And this mixture could be a truer black when going for certain effects requiring depth.

    Just sittin' here niggling.

    kev

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  13. #10
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    one time in class my model didn't show, so one of my ill classmates offered to model for us clothed. She was wearing a black shirt and i remember that upon mixing cad red with prussian blue i was able to attain a color almost indiscernible from my ivory black. by adding a hint of indian yellow I was able to warm the color and create something that was much more attractive for the darker part of her shirt, while making sure that the lighter values were always warmer, but they appeared a greener black than the shadows anyway and at a much higher value.

    Generally I try to warm my blacks. I work mostly digitally now, but i try to apply the same method by either "mixing" in painter, OR just simply selecting a very dark value with from a warmer color while trying to stay complimentary. For example, if my local color is yellow i try to select a darker color from the more red side of violet.

    IS THIS A GOOD PRACTICE?

    by saying color scheme i assume you're okay with me using complimentary colors of the local color, yes?

    thanks again guys. i'd like to maybe continue this discussion for a better understanding if you're in the mood.

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  14. #11
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    There's a world of difference between "don't use black unmixed" and "don't use black EVER." As I said, if you're mixing something that looks black, you're using black. It especially amuses me when people make a big deal about not using black, and then have payne's gray on their palette (which is primarily a mixture of ultramarine and ivory black). Learn to understand and control your materials, then you can make intelligent and appropriate decisions.


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