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More Black

In today’s segment on black or maybe more truthfully, today I learned, peach black isn’t a warm black. Who knew? Firstly, color has some oft discussed characteristics: hue, chroma, value, but less often mentioned is temperature. In color theory, temperature is relative to the color next to it, but it’s a warmer cooler concept. Colors are generally considered warm or cool, blue being cool and red being warm, but a deep transparent red like alizarin crimson is a cool red compared to a warm cadmium red.

Which brings up another category of characteristics, pigment classifications, like lightfastness, opacity, staining, etc.  pigment has another characteristic known as bias. Bias is sometimes determined by mixing white with a pigment or maybe just smearing the paint really thin on a white background so you can see if it starts leaning towards another color or maybe a different temperature.

All this just to get back to black. Well, maybe more tee up background first. Mixing black or white with another color is said to dull it or lower its chroma. Mixing white is said cool another color, and mixing it with black is said to warm a color. The point I’m getting at is that different black pigments have different biases.

All things being equal, if we were in theory to mix white pigment with black pigment we would get grey. Mixing any two colors together is considered greying. You have spectrum across the color wheel or color circle, with all of the prismatic colors around the perimeter. Prismatic, you know, the rainbow colors. Don’t get me wrong… it gets more involved, as we mix two complimentary colors together they mush up to a between the two colors called achromatic. As the mix leans a little more one way opposed to the other color, it’s called muted, then chromatic. All the way to one end or the other of the spectrum, the pure pigment, is called prismatic.

Anyway, black and white are not prismatic but are more like the north and South Pole on a color sphere with all the prismatic colors around the equator and some neutral grey at the center core. At least in theory.

Warm black and cool black: so black pigments have biases. Black spinel is supposedly unbiased. You would think intuitively that peach black would bias warm like peach. Yeah no.

Pigments are made from things like animals, vegetables, minerals, chemicals, but black is mostly made by burning things. I should mention that there are naturally occurring pigments like ground rocks or coal, and then there are synthetic pigments, think chemistry experiment. Most synthetics are stains that have to be adhered to some other particle. I digress.

Black paint is mostly burnt stuff… carbon. Ivory was very popular until it wasn’t. Now it’s bone black. These are made from burning things in the absence of oxygen so that they don’t combust completely or turn into ash. Which leads me to peach pits. Peach black is burnt peach pits and not a warm black. In fact,  it biases cool. You want warm black: cherry pits!

Transparent black: lamp black (soot). I should mention that Chinese ink is made from lamp black, tung oil (桐油), soybean oil, tea seed oil, or lard, or from wood such as pine. There are actually a lot of black paints, carbon nanotubes (absorbs 99% of light and looks like a real hole you could stick your hand in), mineral blacks (spinel is a rock), ivory black (bones), lamp black (petroleum), synthetic black (Mars, made from iron). Then there are what I will call the designer blacks, peach, cherry, grape, vine, Roman (not burnt Romans). There is a German black (also not burnt Germans). Apparently, poor man’s ultramarine blue is made from burnt cork.

For a compendium of black pigments check out the pigment database There are 35 blacks (listed). They have the abbreviation PBk and are numbered (PBk1 through PBk35)… the P stands for, you guessed it, pigment. Within any pigment designation, the world becomes a colorful brand name rabbit hole.

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