Of course, I encountered this particular piece of received wisdom specifically in the form of advice saying to ignore it. While there's certainly value in trying to mix up your own blacks, you should also feel free to use the full range of pigments available. (I think it may also have originally applied to oil painting, with the point of the advice being that what might not have worked for oils may very well work for acrylics.) And, while artists may not encounter black much in the typical daytime landscape or still life, one place we do regularly encounter it is in the night sky. And since my very first painting was of a nighttime landscape, I picked up some black to paint the background.
In doing so, I discovered that the store sold not one, not two, but three different types of black. I picked one called Mars black essentially at random, on the basis that Mars was associated with iron, and iron oxide caused the colors of both Mars and Maunakea, but my interest was piqued. (Incidentally, Mars black is so-called precisely because of that association with iron, as its color comes from synthetic iron oxide particles.)
Perhaps half a year later, around January of this year, I came across a Kickstarter for what was being billed as the “mattest, blackest paint available to artist.” (Matte is just the opposite of glossy; a glossy black would still reflect a lot of light at certain angles, while a matte black would look much flatter and black from the same angle.) There's a bit of a backstory for this Kickstarter, going back to the invention of Vantablack in around 2014, a specially-grown film of carbon nanotubes that creates a black color that absorbs up to 99.96% of visible light incident on it. (For comparison, a typical black paint may only absorb ~95–97% of visible light.)
This was pretty cool, but then the company who created Vantablack licensed its use in art to a single person. This got some artists pretty upset, considering all the cool possibilities for something that black. One of them, a U.K. artist by the name of Stuart Semple, who'd been making his own pigments and art supplies for years as a side business, decided to make his own black paint that would be available for all artists. (I've mentioned his company, Culture Hustle, before, because that's where I got my glow-in-the-dark “Lit” paint.)
Anyway, Semple came up with a really nice, flat, matte, black paint called simply “Black,” then a few months later came up with an improved version called “Black 2.0.” These sold pretty well apparently, so he went back to the drawing board to come up with an even matter, flatter, blacker version (called, imaginatively enough, “Black 3.0”). This is where the Kickstarter comes in, as it was intended to fund an initial production run. I got interested enough to back it, and ended up with two bottles of Black 3.0 and a bottle of Black 2.0 as a bonus. (Interestingly, from what I can tell this Kickstarter is currently sitting at the ninth-highest funded campaign in the “Art” category.)
Oh, and somewhere along the line I picked up the two remaining black paints from the art store (ivory black and carbon black), so if you're keeping count I now have five different varieties of black paint. Last week I finally got around to comparing them with each other, by painting each of five 4×4 inch canvas panels a different black. Below are two pictures taken from different angles, showing all five pigments with the associated bottle or tube of paint.
|From left to right: carbon black, ivory black, Mars black, Black 2.0, and Black 3.0.|
Now, the pictures unfortunately don't really do justice to these different paints, but there are some subtle and not-so-subtle difference between them in person. For instance, carbon black, on the far left, is actually pretty glossy and shiny, certainly more so than any of the rest. (Carbon black is made of amorphous carbon—originally soot though it's manufactured now—and is probably one of the earliest pigments humans ever used.) On the far right, Black 3.0 is indeed the darkest, flattest, blackest (and newest!) of the blacks, and the rest fall in slightly different places between the two extremes. (Another interesting difference between them is how they feel: they tend to get rougher from left to right, to the point where I physically dislike the feel past about Mars black in the middle.)
Incidentally, if you're wondering what color black I used for the background of my various space pictures so far, I'm not sure. That's because I used Matisse Black Gesso to prepare the background, which doesn't say what the black pigment (or pigments) used was. I think it might be either Mars black or ivory black based on the general level of glossiness and look, but I haven't directly compared it to my fancy new paint swathes yet.
Anyway, welcome to the exciting wide world of black acrylic paint. I have an idea for that Black 3.0 which I'm excited to get to started on soon (hopefully I finish up my current large project this week so I can get to work on it), and I'll see what uses I can put the rest to in the future. Maybe some painting of black lava rock from Hawaii? We'll see! A hui hou!