Darkening a color
This question is pretty simple. I have been having trouble darkening my colors without using black and getting it grey/unsaturated. Is there a good way to make vibrant dark tones? I've heard never use black in a painting. Anyone care to comment on that too?
I use oils by the way. Thanks.
There are two basic strategies:
1: Darken colors with a darker value of the same or similar hue, or
2: Darken with black and then correct for hue and/or chroma shifts
So, say you are painting a lemon, for the shadows you can either use a brown like raw or burnt umber as your base (in terms of hue, browns are just low values of yellow or orange), or mix black into your yellow and then correct for the green shift by adding red. It's important to note that you can get the exact same results using either method. Remember, there is no magical tube of "dark" paint that you can universally use to mix shadows. Any mix is usually going to require fine tuning and adjustment with other colors.
If you really want to get deep in to this topic and got an urge to paint a ton of rectangels over and over again I could recommend purchasing...
The Elements of Color
by Johannes Itten
There are times when pure black works for a painting but if you use black paint from a tube without mixing it, it tends to look dull and lifeless.
One quick way of mixing a nice black is to use brown and blue.
Ultramarine is probably best, try mixing it with either Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, or Burnt Sienna for different tones of black.
Please scroll down to the section on "Mixing with Black" on this page for some discussion of what is happening and what you can do about it if you do use black, which as Elwell says involves correcting (1) for the excess loss of chroma and (2) for any hue shift.
Correction 1 involves adding some extra colourant of the same hue to the mix; correction 2, if needed, involves adding a different colour that will pull the hue back in the direction you want. Obviously you need to observe your subject carefully to know the precise hue and chroma you are aiming for.
Darkening yellowish colours by this method can be relatively tricky, so the method of using darker yellows instead can be more convenient, but you still need to fine tune the hue no matter what method you use.
There's no reason NOT to use black if black works for you. The reason teachers often say "don't use black" is because beginners tend to "add shading" by simply throwing black on everything without considering the actual colors of shadows, and I guess one way to wean them from that is to force them to mix darks without any black...
The "dull" look of straight-out-of-the-tube black can be because some blacks tend to be more matte than a lot of other colors, so if you have a painting with a lot of less matte colors and then throw some plain black in there, it stands out. Or sometimes plain black is just too black for a given situation, and it stands out.
I used to eschew black because I had a "don't-use-black" teacher for a while. But nowadays if I want actual black or certain shades of gray, I use black, because why spend a lot of time mixing black if I don't have to... But since my paintings tend towards highly colorful, I usually end up modifying the black with blue or red or both, otherwise it does get that dull look in comparison with everything else. For non-black dark areas I may or may not add black, or I may leave out the black and use a lot of other colors instead (most often ultramarine and alizarin crimson and burnt umber.) (And for a while it was dioxazine purple in everything, not that I'm recommending this. But hey, diox purple IS pretty dark and colorful if you go for that sort of thing...) It mostly depends what I feel like doing. The end result is probably close enough as makes no difference. :P
One more thing, beware the pseudo-impressionist technique of "darkening by adding the complement." It doesn't work, or rather, it works sometimes, but only in certian specific cases, and not for the reasons people think it does.
"the pseudo-impressionist technique of "darkening by adding the complement."
that always seem to result in whatever light being reflected being poo brown...
And adding purple to yellow gets pretty weird...
If I recall, when I tried the "add-the-complement" thing ages ago, I usually ended up adding so many other colors to fix the effect of adding the complement that I might as well have left the complement out to begin with.
I thought that the reason for adding the complement was to grey out the color, rather than darken it.
Doug, here are a couple of typical examples of the complement being recommended for darkening/shadows, including some of the usual confusions of concepts:
Also bear in mind that color in the abstract is not the same thing as paint. Paint is made of physical stuff, and that stuff has characteristics that make it more or less congenial when mixed with other stuff. The black pigments I've tried in oils are bastards -- they're either gray and matte or they're very poor dryers.
Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons
That is indeed where the confusion lies. It's talking about shadows but not necessarily darkening a color. There is a difference.
It still does lead to the same problem, people not looking at the color of actual shadows depending on lighting conditions. One either defaults to black or people think greying the color will lead to the correct result.
If you mix colors, especially high chroma colors, that are complements (or near complements), because the peaks in their spectra have little overlap, you will often get a mixture that is not only more neutral, but darker than either of the components. This is the principle behind "mixed black" recipes like sienna/ultramarine or alizarin/viridian. Unfortunately, because of the nature of physical pigments, the results are far too random and unpredictable to be made into some universal formula for mixing shadow colors (never mind the fact that the entire concept of which colors are complements depends on what color model you are using).
Because shadows tend to be less chromatic than lit areas, they may sometimes appear to contain the (visual) complement of the local color and/or the color of the light source due to simultaneous contrast. Whether and how much to emphasize this is an artistic decision.