Monday, 30 January 2012

Paint it Black, (or as dark as you dare)?

Ah, now then, using white as a touch up and 'cosmetic' application on watercolour is one thing but what about black? There are loads of black watercolour products out there with Lamp Black, Payne's Grey, Indigo and Neutral Tint all containing black pigments. So where to start?

Learned wisdom is, of course, to steer clear of ready mixed black paints as they have a chalky, sooty appearance when dry. Mixing your own dark shades for the job is best but care must be taken to avoid 'muddy', nondescript colours. My early colour chart for neutrals and mid-tones formed a good starting point before moving onto darker, more saturated colours.

Greys, Neutrals and Mid-Tones
Most mixed without the use of black pigments
Some addition of Payne's Grey was used in the four mixes to the
bottom right but these were less, 'colourful' than the other mixes

Here to help are some tips from the best:
  • Use a range of cool and warm yellows, blues and reds to mix black.
  • Always work layers and washes from light to dark, the darkest to be worked with a dry brush, 'stippling' technique to avoid lifting previous layers.
  • Combine Complementary Colours, e.g those opposite each other on the colour wheel, Red and Green, Yellow and Violet, Blue and Orange , (those closer to each other can also work well). Remember, the mix here is a Primary and Secondary colour.
  • Avoid using colours with black pigment. e.g Payne's Grey, Indigo, Neutral Tint or Sepia. 

These precious pearls of wisdom came from Paul Fennel SBA, Rosie Martin and Meriel Thurstan SWSBA. More top tips can be found at Artists and Illustrators: 20 Tips for Painting Better Botanicals 

Mixing blacks, using a range of cool and warm colours helped to
get a range of dark shades from blues to reds

The range of cool and warm Primary colours used

Pittosporum tenuifolium
Gaynor Dickeson captured this beautiful
watercolour study of
Pittosporum Tenuifolium
Now that I have some of the darker spectrum of shades, what to paint? Yet again, the garden has provided one or two subjects that will provide the challenge of painting 'black' in nature. Firstly, there is a rather splendid Pittosporum Tenuifolium that is about 8ft high with a glorious 'mop-head' on it. I love it, and although I can take no credit for it's shape or magnificent size I admire it greatly. Pittisporum's have fantastically curly grey-green leaves which I use in the house for adding foliage to flower arrangements. Later in the Summer, they can, if you are lucky produce tiny flowers. These flowers have the appearance of being a deep purply-black and the contrast between the leaves and flowers is just stunning. I would love to have a go at a composition including them, (just as soon as the flowers appear).     

Secondly is a slightly more obvious 'black' flower, Tulipa 'Queen of Night'. I started growing these a couple of years ago and they really do make a statement in the front of a border mixed with white and pale pink tulip varieties. I wasn't sure just how much of a black flower they would be but the deep, velvety reddish-purple-black is delicious. Mine are emerging now but have a way to go before I can enjoy their luscious, sensual velvetyness.

Coral Guest posted this stunning
example of Tulipa 'Queen of Night'
on her blog in 2008
Extraordinary depth of colour
and those highlights are just beautiful

When you start thinking about it there are loads of black flowers, fruits and of course, berries. One of my favourites is the berries that appear on the Tutsan, (Hypericum androsaemum). The gorgeously shiny berries go from green, to red, to black at the end of the season and add some welcome colour to the Autumn garden, and are great in flower arrangements. Bonus!

Turning red but they go black, trust me!



Rebecca said...

I adore Queen of the Night tulips. They are so dramatic. I really enjoyed reading about painting darks with watercolor and the advice that you passed along. Thank you. I'm beginning a colored pencil cherry illustration today and have some wonderfully rich dark undertones to layer in. I'm inspired after reading this... :)

Barbra Joan said...

I came to you via my blog .. and OMG ! I don't know where to start. from your color charts to your illustrations, and everything in between.. I will be putting my nose into it all !!
I'm not a botannical illustrator although I just recently tried HP paper, and that has opened up a whole new area.
I came by that after reading Julie Collins book.. and following some of her procedures. Thanks for the visit and I will be back .. BJ

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Hi Rebecca, I am so pleased you liked this post, and it was helpful. I don't ever want to sound preachy but like to pass on what I find.

Oh Barbra, thank you so much for your kind comments. I have only been blogging since August and have been quite overwhelmed by all the support. Glad you like my posts :)

Jessica Rosemary Shepherd said...

This is a brilliant post! I noticed this publication the other week and wished I had seen it ages ago, right at the start of my painting career. Coral guests tulip is a stunner isn't it?!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Hi Jess. I often did into A and I especially when they have a botanical article. Their online help guides are really handy too, especially the botanical ones!