Black The color that is the lack of light and color
Black is often seen as ominous, of being absolute, mysterious, associated with the things of fear and death. It is often forgotten however that it is from the darkness that light comes, a fact not lost on artists following the Renaissance. Dramatically setting color and light against black backgrounds they made luminous masterpieces that amaze us still. Black also has the honor of being one of the first 3 colors ever used by humankind. Of the 3 (the others are red and yellow earth) blackened burnt wood was  available every morning from the night time fire, and since it is soft and already conveniently attached to sticks, it is highly likely that black was the very first color used by the earliest artists.

Lamp Black PBk 6   ASTM   l
Also called Carbon Black and Vegetable Black.
Chemical type and description
Carbon Black produced originally by burning vegetable oils, but these days by burning tar, creosote, naphthalene, or other petroleum products. Lamp Black is the oldest pigment made by a deliberate industrial process. It's origin presumably was after the development of oil lamps and by early Egyptian times was the black of choice as it was a more intense and pure black than charcoal, and is the black found in all Egyptian murals and tomb decorations. it 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. produces a very soft and brittle oil paint. While Lamp Black has a long and honorable history, most artists prefer either Ivory Black or the newer Mars Black for most purposes. It was the only black pigment that could be used in Fresco at one time, but even for that purpose Mars Black is superior.
Some types may be considered toxic. Do not breath dust.
Media suitability
Linseed oil,  Alkyd, Acrylic, Tempera, Encaustic,  Pastel, Chalk

Mars Black PBk 11   ASTM   l
Also called Iron Black, or Black Iron Oxide.
Chemical type and description
Inorganic synthetic iron oxide. Closely related chemically to the coloring agents in the naturally occurring red and yellow earths, Mars Black is nevertheless recent in origin, being developed early in the 20th century. It is normally the only black available in acrylics ranges because Ivory Black is is less successful in acrylic than oils, however oil painters could benefit from using this excellent pigment. It is the only major black pigment that is considered non-toxic, the only one that is a good drier, the only one safe to over paint because it is the only one that produces a hard fairly flexible oil paint, and is the only one that can be used in all media without reservation. It is dense and opaque with a warmish brown undertone.
Not considered toxic. Do not breath dust.
Media suitability
Linseed oil,  Alkyd, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gouache, Tempera, Encaustic, Fresco, Pastels, Chalk.

Ivory Black PBk 9   ASTM   l
Also called Bone Black
Chemical type and description
Inorganic synthetic carbon black and Calcium Phosphate. Bone Black was invented by the Romans as a general purpose black and for the best grades pure ivory was burned instead of ordinary animal bones. Thus it started with 2 separate names. True Ivory Black has a higher carbon content than Bone Black and is more intense. It is the deep velvety black found in the backgrounds of Rembrandt's portraits. It wasn't until the 19th century that artists allowed the application of the name to the ordinary Bone Black. The genuine pigment is still made in tiny quantities from Ivory harvested from animals that have died naturally but is almost as expensive as genuine Lapis Lazuli Ultramarine. These comments apply to both forms of Bone and Ivory Black. A very slow drier in oil, it should never be used in underpainting. It produces a soft and brittle oil paint.. It can never be used in Fresco as it effloresces. It is the work horse black for artists and until the development of Mars Black was the best black artists had for oil paint .
Is considered toxic. Do not breath dust.
Media suitability
Linseed oil,  Alkyd, Acrylic,  Tempera, Encaustic, Pastel, Chalk

Other blacks Mostly specialized or historic
Furnace Black also called Carbon Black
Almost pure carbon making a dense and intense black used in industrial coatings but less commonly for artist's paint due to a tendency to make 'streaky' tints. Produced by burning Natural Gas.

Vine Black also called Drop Black, Frankfort Black, Peach Black, Spanish Black, Blue Black.
Various blacks made by burning grape vines, cork and other woods or other vegetable products. Less pure and inferior to Lamp Black. Peach Black was reputed to be the best of a bad bunch. Not recommended. They all are bluish in undertone hence the common name from years past - Blue Black which was just a fancy name for Vine Black. Nowadays colors sold under the Blue Black name are usually mixtures of Ultramarine and Ivory Black.

Charcoal Black
Ground charcoal made from willow. Charcoal ground as a pigment makes a very poor paint pigment and has been replaced by modern substitutes.

Go to pigment main page

Go to White pigments

Go to Yellow pigments

Go to Orange pigments

Go to Brown pigments

Go to Red pigments

Go to Blue pigments

Go to Violet pigments

Go to Green pigments

Go to Historic pigments

Go to Inert pigments

Go to Iridescent and Metallic pigments

Go to Miscellaneous pigments

Alberti, L B,    On Painting    1435 (Penguin Classics)
Cellini, B,    The Life Of Benvenuto Cellini,    finished 1562 but not published until 1730 (Heron)
Cennini, C d'A,    The Craftsman's Handbook.    1437 (Dover)
Doerner, M,    The Materials Of The Artist And Their Use In Painting,    1921 (Harcourt Brace)
Eastlake, Sir C L,    Materials For A History Of Oil Painting,    1847 (Dover)
Feller, R L,    Artists Pigments    1986 (National Gallery Of Art / Cambridge University)
Gettens, R J, and Stout, G L,      Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia,      1942 (Dover)
Gottsegen, M D,    A Manual Of Painting Materials And Techniques,    1987 (Harper & Row)
Maire, F,    Colors: What They Are And What To Expect Of Them,    1910 (Drake)
Mayer, R,   The Artists Handbook Of Materials And Techniques,    fifth edition 1991  (Faber & Faber)
Merrifield, Mrs. M P,    Medieval And Renaissance Treatises On The Arts Of Painting    1849 (Dover)
Muther, R,    The History Of Painting From The Fourth Century To The Early Nineteenth Century,    1907 (Putnam)
Parkhurst, D B,    The Painter In Oil   1898 (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard)
Patton, T C,    Pigment Handbook,    1973 (Wiley)
Pliny, The Elder (Gaius Plinius),    Natural History,    77AD (Penguin Classics)
Taubs, F,    A Guide To Traditional And Modern Painting Methods,    1963 (Thames & Hudson)
Theophilus,   On Divers Arts,    1125 (Dover)
Various,    Encyclopedia Britannica,    fifteenth edition 1981  (Encyclopeadia Britannica, Inc)
Various,    Paint And Painting,   1982,  (Winsor & Newton / The Tate Gallery)
Various,    The Artist's Colourmen's Story,    1984 (Winsor & Newton)
Vasari, G,   The Lives Of The Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors And Architects,    1568 (Penguin Classics)

Internet Resources  |  imageContact  | image Frequently Asked Questionsimage