Good Question of the Week: Do you really use Ivory Black?
I get a lot of questions in my inbox and the blog comments these days, I think every so often I’ll post a few to the main page here, so everyone can benefit from the discussion.
S.T.: Marc, I just read your list of colors and am rather surprised to see black! Why not Indigo, or Payne’s Grey? Just curious and always interested in learning. Thanks.
Marc: So in fact, that is a great question. For that particular class supply list we’re discussing, I’m trying to keep the number of colors down to a minimum. It can seem like a lot for people to purchase in one go (though, really it’s not – painting is a cheap activity compared to almost anything else. Golf? Skiing? Drinking?!)
But other than that here’s my thing:
In my approach to watercolor I’m working larger-to-smaller, lighter-to-darker. (Like everyone I think?) By the time I get to the darkest dark parts of the image I am A: wanting to cover color that has gone down before, and B: doing very small embellishments. The darkest darks are usually done with a #0 or #2 round. So honestly – we are mostly talking about opaque-ish dots and dashes :) (See this old worksheet that I plan to update soon).
But, yes, you need a sturdy dark that does the job.
Sometimes, I’ll use Ivory Black. But just as often I’ll use a thick mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, or Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson.
Occasionally I’ll use a few special effects colors (that I didn’t call for in the basic color list) – Prussian Blue (my version of Indigo) and Shadow Green (Holbein). These are strong, dark, transparent pigments. Good alternatives IMO to Ultramarine, as a mix with a complement like Alizarin.
But when there is a true black going on – like a velvet dress, or raven hair – I’m quite willing to use liberal amounts of Ivory Black. I’ll even use black gouache (mixed into other watercolors) to be even *more* opaque.
RE: Payne’s Grey: In my (admittedly limited) experience, this is the one color that changes the most when it dries. Payne’s is always going lighter than I expected. Add to that the fact I work a lot ‘on the run’ – sketching in the field – carrying all my supplies all day – I’m always trying for the smallest possible kit that still gives me results. Thus – Mr. Payne’s Grey gets the boot.
Also, here’s a completely unrelated story about a bad experience with Payne’s Grey.