The Color Black: Morbid, Powerful, and Timeless

By admin in Art Tutorials > Color Theory

What is the meaning of the color black?

Black means a few different things, and almost all of them have negative connotations.

That’s because humankind instinctively fears darkness and anything that lurks in the night.

the color black in nature: swan lake

Black also represents another deep fear—being underground with no light to see by.

Because of these two associations, death, depression, and fear are all part of the color black.

Black also represents space–specifically outer space, and infinite space.

There’s a certain “mystery” to things that can’t be defined or seen, and the color black accentuates anything with those mysterious or indefinable qualities.

Black is also one of the boldest, most powerful colors–and the most intense against a contrasting white background. As a result, designers and advertisers will use black and white for maximum effect, regardless of the many other colors available.

Black and white photography still exists for much the same reason—it can be much more striking than a photograph in color.

The Color Black In Society

Beyond fashion, black is sometimes worn as a symbol of authority, like court judges in their long black robes.

In addition, having a black belt in almost any martial art shows expertise at a high level, if not the highest level possible.

More often than not, however, black is used to indicate things that are bad. “The black market” is one such term that describes stolen goods sold at reduced prices.

Blackmail also uses the word “black” to emphasize its negative qualities, and there are many more occurrences as well.

The bubonic plague, for instance—responsible for millions of deaths during the middle ages in Europe—was known as the Black Death or Black Plague.

Is black a “girl color” or “boy color?”

Black is not gender-specific. It is neither a “girl color” nor a “boy color.”

man and woman in black formal wear

When it comes to clothing, the color black is used equally by both males and females, and often for formal occasions—the timeless “little black dress” for women, and the traditional black tuxedo for men.

On the other hand, “gothic” or “goth” styles of clothing primarily use the color black because of its association with death.

Famous Black Paintings

Of course, there are a few minimalist black paintings I could mention (Reinhardt is the artist that comes to mind) but the very first painting I thought of was Picasso’s incredibly violent, black and white painting, Guernica.

This painting represents the horrors of war in general, and the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by Nazi Germany more specifically.

Keep in mind, in real life it’s a massive 11 feet tall by 23 feet wide.

Common Black Oil Paint Colors

Mars Black, Lamp Black, and Ivory Black are the most common black oil paints used today. Some artists also mix their own version of black by using dark blue paint and dark red paint. Read more about that in my article on mixing blacks and browns.

What pigments make the color black?

Most black pigments are natural pigments similar to graphite or coal, called amorphous carbon. In some cases, this black pigment is made from charred animal bones or burnt vegetative matter.

In fact, almost all black paint is made from some kind of burnt material with the notable exception being synthetic iron oxide, a more recently developed black pigment.

What type of color is black?

Black isn’t a primary, secondary, or tertiary color.

In fact, black isn’t on the artist’s color wheel and often isn’t considered a color at all. Instead, black appears when you bring any color to its darkest value (although that’s not always possible with oil paints, for example.)


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