Detail from Blue Angel - oil on canvas - 24 x 36Many of my art books eschew the use of black or brown, saying it makes paint mixtures muddy. I disagree. Artists such as Rembrant, Caravaggio and Titian used black and brown in abundance. My color reference book: Color: a Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finley covers blacks and browns in the second chapter. What I found particularly intriguing is her statement '...the first paint was black and the first artist female'. Like I'd want to argue with that?
Plus anyone who understands even a smidgen of art history knows that early cave painters used charcoal made from lumps of burned wood or chunks of earthy substances mixed with animal fat or water to make brown paints.
So it makes sense that early 16th and 17th century painters used colors handed down through history, and that also must have been relatively inexpensive. They probably had plenty of charcoal available due to all the fireplaces they burned just to cook and keep warm. Rembrant's rich darks made from browns and blacks have a depth that no other artist (in my opinion) has managed to capture. The realistic flesh of Caravaggio and Titian indicate they modeled figures with layers of shadowy colors. My books on how to paint in the Old Master's style say they used blacks and browns to underpaint their figures.
I'm using brown and black in my painting Blue Angel, detail above, in which I've modeled the flesh and background with only three colors (all oils), Ivory Black, Burnt Umber and Flake White. So far I like the progress. My black is a Rembrandt (brand) Ivory Black, and the Burnt Umber and Flake White are both Winsor Newton (brand). Ironically, I'm painting like Rembrandt, using Rembrandt brand oil paints!
Thus, I plan to continue using blacks and browns in my paintings, in spite of what a lot of art books say. I'll go with Rembrandt, he obviously knew what he was doing!
See the finished version of Blue Angel.
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