Do you use black markers and colored pencils?
Would you be surprised to find out that I almost never use black?
My latest Copic Coloring Tips video at YouTube tells you the story about how I started not-using black.
There are a lot of benefits to tucking your black Copics and colored pencils into the back of your deepest desk drawer.
I’m a better artist today because I don’t use black!
If you’re looking to grow and mature as an artist and to develop a unique voice and style, banning the black could be a great move for you too!
Do you default to black?
You need to shade something?
Grab a black pencil!
Need to draw a line?
Find a black pen!
Want to color a dog’s nose, a witch’s hat, or create an invisible background?
Well stop lookin’ at me! Go get that Copic #100 and color it blacker than blackest black!
Everything I just said there would be a mistake.
Black markers, black pens, and especially black colored pencils are likely the biggest mistake you can make in realistic coloring.
The use of black often creates more problems than it solves.
Today, let’s talk about the dangers of uncapping your black marker.
1. You assume it’s black
What color is a black ebony wood? You know, the black piano keys and fine dark furniture?
No, this is not a stupid question. You want to say black, right?
Then you’d be wrong.
Weird! Ebony is actually dark brown.
It’s no surprise that you are surprised.
We all grew up coloring with the same small box of 8 crayons. When you were small, your parents and teachers read your books that were little more than “the apple is red, the ball is blue…”
Which means you’ve been brainwashed into making quick color assumptions.
You’ve been taught to cram every object in the world into one of 8 crayon categories.
But real color is never that simple.
Very few things that we call black are actually black.
Black Labradors are super dark brown. Black hair is deep brunette.
Add to that the fact that even if the object is painted or dyed a true black, we still don’t see it as pure black. The highlights on glossy black surfaces are usually some version of a deep warm or cool gray. And black can be dynamic, you’ll see blue, violet, or even red in black zones.
But grabbing a black marker ignores all of that beauty.
Black ink and black colored pencil pigment are a sad substitute for the glory of black.
Stop hiding the true nature of black with kindergarten color assumptions.
2. black draws attention
There’s a reason why black is used so much in graphics, Pop Art, and Op Art.
Black is visually arresting.
It’s bold, it’s loud, it’s an 800 pound gorilla beating on his chest.
By the way, that gorilla isn’t really black, right?
Black demands that you pay attention to it.
So what happens when you add little black details to your coloring project?
Suddenly, they’re not so little anymore. Black draws our eye and makes little things look bold, obvious, and special.
Black also adds visual weight.
You wouldn’t describe the background to my Luminous Lanterns project as “light and airy” would you?
Nope. It’s heavy.
Dark values weigh things down. Black is the heavy weight champion of all the darks!
In my Color Smart article on focal points, we experimented by coloring a ribbon black. Man oh man, that ribbon looked like it weighed a ton!
Be careful when adding black, it might throw off the balance in your composition and color palette!
3. The background that wasn’t
Inexperienced artists love to color their backgrounds black.
The idea is that “black is nothing”.
Which means that black should disappear and be completely inconsequential.
Except remember point #2 with the big, bad, black gorilla?
Your black background doesn’t fade into the distance the way you think it does.
Most of the time, black leaps forward and competes for attention with your focal point. Black is anything but invisible!
Black is not nothing. Black is the opposite of nothing.
Now I’m not saying you should never use black backgrounds.
I’m pointing out that a black background should be a conscious choice. A deliberate decision, not a cop-out because your brain was tired by the time you got around to adding a background.
There’s nothing more effective and striking than a beautiful black background.
But never underestimate what black is doing in the back.
Black is not invisible.
4. Black shows every flaw!
Does this marker make me look fat?
Well, maybe not fat but it’s definitely not hiding anything.
There’s this weird thing in Copics, the higher that last number on the cap is, the harder it is to get the color down smoothly.
So if you’re one of those people who tend to get streaky areas, black isn’t doing you any favors.
It’s not any better in colored pencils either.
Black colored pencils tend to be the most transparent pencils in the entire set.
That increased translucency can come back to bite you in the keister when you’re coloring large areas
You have more to do than just cover the paper. If you’re coloring with black, you’d better start juggling:
Cover the paper evenly! Keep your pressure constant! Never vary your stroke pattern!
As soon as you break the stroke— maybe your hand gets tired and you start coloring the opposite direction… or perhaps your soft circles slowly morph into soft circles… or if you start pressing a little harder…
Black will immediately tattle-tale on you!
Here’s the other thing about black colored pencils— black marinates on the paper differently than other pencils. I think black sinks deeper into the tooth than other colors. A few days later, your black doesn’t look black-black anymore. Use of black often leads to repeated refreshes and re-blackens. Who’s got time for that?
Black colored pencils are also one of the first pencils to bloom.
If you’re using a soft waxy style of pencil (and there’s nothing wrong with that) your pencils will age differently than harder pencils. Soft wax tends to separate and rise to the surface of your project days, weeks, or months later. This is called bloom or ghosting and it’s totally natural.
Pssstttt, they make lovely stuff called fixative which totally solves the bloom problem!
BUT if you forget to seal your project quickly, black will rat you out.
Every. Single. Freakin’. Time.
You know what? Black is a loud mouth.
He’s that guy you should never trust. Sure, he’s beautiful, but black will turn on you, blab your secrets, and make you feel stupid.
So beware. Watch your back. Watch your black.
5. blacker than black?
So, you just spent a lot of time base-coating a little black dog stamp with a black marker.
Now it’s time to shade that puppy!
Yep. That’s a problem, eh?
The use of black in Copic coloring leads to flat looking projects because how are you supposed to shade something that’s black?
You can’t get darker than Copic 100!
Dimensional, realistic coloring is the result of two processes: pushing the dark zones deeper and adding light to the high spots.
But coloring the dog black means you’re out of options. You can’t shade the dog’s neck, under his ears, or his cute little belly. All you can do is add some highlights and pray that it looks kinda-maybe-sorta dimensional.
Highlighting is only half of the job
So your puppy is 50% flatter than he should be.
Be careful when choosing your blending combinations for black objects. Leave yourself somewhere to go with the shade.
Don’t paint yourself into a corner by painting the dog black!
6. Premature Grays
Now I’m not the first to tell you that it’s hard to shade something blacker than black.
If you’ve been coloring for any length of time, you’ve likely figured this out already. The hard way.
This is why a lot of people start with gray markers. They figure they’ll start with the highlights and work their way towards black in the shade.
Sounds logical right?
Until you try it on someone’s hair.
I see cardmakers do this all the time. They’ve got a cute little girl stamp and “wouldn’t it be oh-so darling if she had black hair and green eyes?”
So you start with a Copic N4 in the highlight zone of the hair and work your way toward black.
And what do you get?
A little old lady.
A little old gray haired lady.
I’m not kidding. You just added about 400 years to your little girl because her hair looks gray.
Look, I know you think you colored black hair. But…
What you think and what we see are usually two different things.
If I’m walking past your card sitting there on grandma’s grand piano, unless you’ve stuck a post it note to the girl’s head with an arrow saying “this hair is supposed to be black”…
Well, we don’t know what you intended.
We only know what we see.
And we see gray hair. Not black.
7. Black is too strong for shade
This is a newbie problem.
At least in the colored pencil world. I don’t see many experienced pencil artists making this mistake.
Too often, an inexperienced colorer will look at an object and say “oh my, that needs more shading!”
So they’ll grab a black pencil and add more shade.
It’s a lot more shade. Far more than you need.
Shading with black seems like the correct thing to do.
Especially if you’ve ever taken a painting class where it’s perfectly acceptable and very common to add a touch of black or super dark gray to your paint mixture to tone it down and desaturate the color.
Heck, Bob Ross does it all the time!
But it doesn’t work that way for colored pencils.
Because you don’t mix colored pencils, you layer them. Colored pencil colors never actually blend together.
So nine times out of ten, if you shade with black, that black isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to sit right there on your project screaming “look at me, I’m sooooo black. Blackity-black-black-black!”
I’ve seen a few Copic tutorials that sneak black into the shade too. Like shading deep, dark blue jeans that start with a B99 and the colorer is desperate to squeeze the shade in somehow.
Now I’m not saying that there’s never a reason to shade with black but I’ve got to point out that it’s not a situation you’ll encounter more than a few times a year.
I teach several Copic classes every month and about the only time a black marker appears on the supply list is for Halloween.
Shade is almost never black. Stop assuming and start looking.
8. many art supplies are not real black!
Remember back in point #1 when I said that black is rather uncommon in nature?
It’s not just the appearance of black.
Actual black-black stuff we can use to draw and color is pretty rare too.
For paints, we have a few true black pigments but there’s the rub… we have black pigments.
Markers are not pigmented. Markers are dyes.
Many of the art supplies that say “black” on the label are actually mixtures of colors which look black-ish in combination.
They look black but they’re not made of black.
Inexpensive art supplies are usually black recipes too. Real black is expensive but green plus purple is cheap.
So it’s not unusual for someone to be coloring along and accidentally damage their black— either they hit it with the wrong marker or drag a white colored pencil over the black zone— and suddenly we’ve got strange bits of blue and pink seeping out of what was supposed to be black.
Black mixtures are fragile because it takes a lot of colorant to make a composite black look black. If you add extra stabilizer, you water down the potency of the color. Blacks, especially the cheap ones are unstable mixtures.
I’m willing to bet every single one of you has “shattered” a black Crayola Marker mark. Crayola black has a lot of purple in it!
That’s why I’m so skeptical when someone asks me “hey, have you tried the new Copic substitute that everyone’s raving about?”
Because “substitute” usually means “markers for people who won’t spend money on Copics”.
Have you ever noticed that? Copic substitutes are never more expensive than Copics. The only thing they try to improve is the price.
I don’t trust a cheap marker because I know they’re throwing all kinds of filler and junk into the ink to bring down the price point.
I barely trust a Copic black so I’m supposed to use cheap markers with confidence?
It’s one thing to accidentally oops on a kiddie marker project but for that to happen using a mid-grade art supply? That’s a punch in the gut.
So there you go.
8 reasons why I avoid using black in my artwork
Black isn’t terrible but it’s not easy either.
1. Black objects are rarely black
Think twice before coloring black bears and black labs.
2. Black draws attention
Black is bold and loud. It can throw off the balance of you composition and steal attention from the focal point.
3. Black backgrounds are not invisible
Just because you wanted it to disappear doesn’t mean we’re not looking at it anyway.
4. Black shows flaws
Coloring smoothly is hard enough without black making it harder!
5. It’s hard to shade something that’s already black
Until they invent a color that’s blacker than black.
6. Black highlights can give the impression of a gray object
You know you used black but we can’t tell that from your coloring!
7. Black is too strong for shade
It’s overkill in colored pencil and markers.
8. Art supplies may not be black
Don’t confuse black for “blackish”.
Are you ready to color soft glowing lights?
Introducing my new Luminous Lanterns class.
We’re working on how to create lots of glowing realism with strategic color placement. Sometimes the light is best on top but sometimes, it’s smarter to build up the glow below.
But first, let's start with the free stuff!
Watch the latest Coloring Tips on YouTube:
(Click the image above to watch the video at YouTube)
And… there's the Workshop class!
Luminous Lanterns is a challenge level for intermediates and advanced students.
The best thing about Marker Painting Workshops?
Workshops are NON-SEQUENTIAL!
Learn to incorporate real artistry into your coloring projects, one concept at a time. Every Workshop details a new method for enhancing realism, depth, and dimension.
Each class stands on its own as independent learning. You don't have to take six of my other classes to understand this lesson.
All of my Workshop classes are FOREVER ACCESS. Work at your own pace and repeat the project as many times as you'd like.
Come color with me. It's a ton of fun!
Products used in Luminous Lanterns:
(Contains affiliate links)
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