Black And White

In my journey as a painter, the last two years have been about taking stock of what I already knew and what skills I already had, determining how I wanted to improve them, and figuring out how to make the transition. Upon realizing how I wanted to advance, one item I wanted to address was- be more deliberate with my color and contrast.

Back in college, I remember being discouraged by my instructors to use black and white in paintings. “Black,” they would say, “is not a natural color; it is not found in nature (referring to observing every day color- specifically, shadows).” Black is a very powerful color, or absence of color. It is used to shade any given color and add depth to it, but if over-used (an easy pitfall), it darkens and muddies a painting. White was also discouraged because if used improperly, it gives a “chalky” appearance to the paint. Used befittingly, however, an artist has the ability to add tinting strength to a color; brightening that particular color. With these thoughts firmly impressed in my mind, I largely abstained from using either color in my work, until recently.

Making my transition into oil paints, I studied old masters and specifically, focused on the palette of The French Impressionists. In doing so, I realized that these artists employed both black and white in their work more than I was originally led to believe- the difference, and I believe the message my instructors were trying to tell me, is they never really used those colors exclusively by themselves. In other words, you would be hard pressed to find pure black or pure white in any of their paintings.

In permitting myself to begin using these colors again in my work, in addition to making adjustments in other colors of my palette (moving away from a traditional Impressionist palette, while finding my own), I believe my paintings are emerging with a higher-key palette. They are brighter and more vibrant than they were just a few years ago.

The paintings on the right illustrate this difference, with the work on top of an acrylic I completed around 2002 and the work below it, a more recent commissioned work, finished earlier this year. With the first painting, I used Burnt Umber and Payne's Gray instead of black as a shader, with very little white in the work. The result was an over-use of shading that makes the painting darker and heavier. With my new technique, the work demonstrates variations of dark and light without that heaviness. I am now on a very deliberate path of where I want to go with my work.