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  • Why All These Black Paints?

    Lamp, Ivory, Mars and Bone Black – What's the difference?

    There's nothing more confusing than going in an art shop, looking for what seems like the easiest thing in the world, simple black paint. Upon request we are faced with sometimes many different types of black and the question arises – why are there so many types when they all look the same? Which one should I choose?
    Be it subtle, there is a difference in all of these blacks. And here is the answer.

    Why Does it Matter?

    Choosing the “right” shade of black is more important than it seems. For the best results, your black should always have the same color temperature as the colours you are mixing it into.

    True black doesn't exist

    That's right, technically black and white are not colours, they are the absence of colour. Scientifically speaking, all colours are an expression of light; all objects reflect and absorb different wavelengths of light that we perceive as different colours. This way, when an object reflects nearly all light we see white and when it absorbs nearly all light we see black.

    To translate this to art, when we use black paint they are never truly black. The paint the got the closest to real black is the so-called Vantablack by artist Anish Kapoor, that absorbs so much light it makes 3D objects appear completely flat.

    Two identical sculptures, yet the one coloured with Vantablack appears 2D


    As you will see below, black pigment is one of the oldest pigments around, but it hasn't always been the favourite of artists. For impressionists, black was completely unheard of! Instead, they used dark greys, browns or blues.

    Blue Water Lilies (detail; 1916–19), Claude Monet

    Most Impressionists like Monet, believed that using black paint made the work flat, so they refrained from its use. Except, that's not always a problem and can lead to interesting effects like Edouard Manet's painting below.

    Luncheon on the Grass, Edouard Manet, 1863

    Types of Black Paint

    Mars Black/  (Iron) Oxide Black

    This pigment was named after the alchemical name of iron, Mars as it was traditionally made from iron oxide.  It's  a very opaque pigment, with a high tinting strength producing matte black with a warm brown undertone. Due to its strength it's really good for frescos, concrete tinting or for underpainting. Recommended to use with titanium white for good neutral greys

    Mars black is heavily featured on neoexpressionist Anself Kiefer's paintings.

    Nigredo-Morgenthau, 2012
    Emulsion and acrylic on photograph on canvas
    190.5 × 380.4 cm

    Ivory Black

    Ivory black is named after its traditional processing method, as it used to be made of roasted elephant tusks. It's a semi-transparent black with a slightly warm brown undertone. It's about three times weaker than Mars black. It's good for mixing greys and creating coloured shades.

    Lamp Black/ Carbon Black / Charcoal Black/ Vine Black

    This particular black has many names essentially meaning the same; traditionally, it was made by collecting the residual soot of oil lamps. It’s made of pure carbon, and is one of the oldest pigments. It’s a semi-opaque black with a cool blue undertone.

    Virgin and Child, Giovanni Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

    Since carbon absorbs light so well, it appears dark with infrared reflectography imaging, revealing artists' sketch under the painting.

    Bone Black

     Bone Black is made from animal bones. It has a warm undertone and is a semi-transparent pigment. This makes it excellent for glazing applications.

    Rembrandt, 1635 Portrait of Philips Lucasz
    "Studies of several paintings by Rembrandt using the technique of neutron activation autoradiography have shown the widespread use of the bone black in the initial wash-like sketch over the ground layer. Unusually, unmixed bone black pigment was used to paint the darkest parts of the clothing in the portrait of Phillips Lucasz. "

    Black or no black?

    There is no right or wrong when it comes to art-- as we've seen, artists throughout history to the present have used black pigments for different effects, or missed it out completely. Will you?


  • How to Make Your Own Paint

    Oil Paint Colour

    Now, after the  INTRODUCTION TO OIL PAINTthe next challenge is to try making your own!

    Oil paints are basically the mixture of pigments and oil. Their popularity is caused by their qualities to dry without changing shape and colour, as well as their archival properties, meaning that the oxidised oil binds the pigments, making it possible to keep the painting intact for hundreds of years.

    Making your own oil paint allows you to experiment with the consistency of the paint, as well as the colours. Pigments found in nature can even be used to create your own unique colours.

    What do I need to make your own Oil Paint:

    • mortar and pestle
    • muller and glass slab
    • palette knife
    • linseed oil ( cold-pressed, raw or unrefined)
    • refined beeswax
    • pigment(s)
    • paint tubes (optional)

    The Method

    First of all, you will make a small pile of pigment on the glass slab, and make a small gap in the middle. Pour a bit of oil there and start mixing with a palette knife or spatula. Don’t worry if it’s not easy to mix, and only add a small amount of oil at a time, as you want the mixture to have the smallest amount of oil as possible.

    Start grinding the mixture with the muller in a circular motion, spreading the mixture gradually on the slab. The idea is to try covering every pigment particle with the least possible amount of oil. From time to time, scrape the paint off of the muller and start grinding again, spreading the paint. Do this until the mixture reaches a ‘paint consistency’, as it varies from pigment to pigment.

    Fillers and Binders used in Oil Paint

    Fillers tend to be seen as not good, but they have certain advantages. (the only thing you don’t want is more filler than pigment in the paint!)

    Barium sulphate and aluminium hydroxide are two common extenders, which are used to increase the volume of the paint without altering the colour. (it’s advised not to add more than 25%, as it may effect the colour)

    Beeswax acts as an emulsifier that helps strengthen the bond between pigment and oil, as well as a thixotropic agent that keeps the pigments evenly distributed.

    Storing Oil Paint

    You can choose from storing the freshly made paint in a glass jar, or in pre-made paint tubes. The latter will have an open base with a plastic cap on the other end. You can put the paint in with a palette knife and when it’s filled, squeeze the paint in the cap side of the tube in order to get rid of air bubbles. Don’t overfill the tube, as you need to leave a bit so as to roll up the excess. You might want to use pliers to fold it over. When it’s done, label the tube with the media, pigment and date of manufacture.



  • The Mysterious Disappearance of Flake White

    Why Can't I Find Flake White?

    Flake white is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain in the art supplies world, so we thought we would explain to our customers why.

    The short and simple answer is that Flake White is made based on a lead white pigment.  Due to the toxicity of lead many companies have decided to stop producing the paint.  However in the UK and the EU lead white pigment is not actually illegal in ARTISTS paint as long as it is packaged in child proof containers, however it is illegal in other products.  The relatively low amounts required by this portion of industry has led to a decline in production of the pigment in general.  This means it is more difficult for companies producing the paint to obtain lead white and also more expensive, leading many to stop production altogether as the product becomes financially inviable.  The companies which do continue to produce it raise their prices as production cost increases.

    The alternatives available for artists who want flake white are fairly limited.  Zinc white and Titanium white have virtually replaced flake white in many paint ranges but both of these paints have fundamental differences.  Titanium white has a higher opacity and tinting strength which means it can overpower tints more easily than flake white.  Some artists also complain about its chalkiness when compared to flake white.  Zinc white is less opaque than either flake white or titanium white and is weaker in tinting strength.

    Companies like Windsor and Newton also produce substitutes such as  flake white hue.  This is not a genuine flake white but an equivalent such as cadmium red hue.  However given the rising costs of lead white and the difficulty in obtaining in it many artists will have to consider making the switch to one of these options sooner rather than later.


  • Creepy Crawlies: What’s In Your Paint?

    Do you know what makes the colour in your paint?

    When we are thinking about what art supplies we use, most of us don’t really think about where things like pigments come from.   In this modern age it is easy to assume that most pigments are manufactured in laboratories and that there is very little that synthetic production cannot do.   However you might be surprised by what gives your favourite colours, or pallet staples their distinct hue.  Understanding more about how your paint is made and where it comes from adds another dimension to your creative process, and it can also help when we are trying to understand why some materials cost so much, or are so hard to obtain.  We’ve put together a little article to give you some facts you may not have know before!

    Slimy Substances

    Tyrian purple is a dye produced from sea snails which can be traced back as far ass the 13thCentury BC. It is the dye often associated with Roman robes of state; the cost involved in the production meaning only the rich could wear it.  The production of this purple declined after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and was totally replaced in the late 19th Century by synthetic equivalents.


    Beetle Bugs

    Perhaps the most famous of these dyes/pigments is that produced from the Cochineal beetle, a small parasitic insect which lives on and off the prickly pear cactus.  Cochineal dyes are used in makeup and as food dyes as well as in paint.  The colour comes from the Carminic acid which the beetles produce to protect themselves from predators.  The beetles are harvested and then dried and crushed to produce a powder.  The use of these beetles is believed to have been developed by the Maya and Aztec and was then brought to Europe by the Spanish after Columbus landed in the Americas.  In the 19th century its use declined as synthetic dyes became more widely available offering an easier and cheaper alternative.  However as with some natural dyes cochineal has experienced a re-emergence as concern over toxicity of synthetic dyes has grown.  Cochineal is proved to be non-toxic and non- carcinogenic.  Today there are major production sites in Mexico, Guatemala and the Canary Islands.  The colour produced is considered to be stable, and it is one of the most resistant natural colours to time, light, oxidation and heat, even more so than many synthetic dyes.  If cochineal has been used in paint, carmine will be listed as one of the pigments.



    The Kermes insect which is found in oak scrub in the Mediterranean was an earlier equivalent for Europeans of the Cochineal beetle.  They also produce a brilliant red dye when treated in the same way as the Cochineal bugs (but based in the kermesic acid which they produce).  After the importation of the Cochineal from the Americas the use of the Kermes insect declined because although the colour produced is similar in intensity cochineal dye is 10 or 12 times more effective and stable than kermes dyes.


    Lac insects also produce a red dye which can be manipulated with mordents to produce a range of colour from violet to brown. The dye is used in natural fabric dye for wool, silk and sometimes leather. However it is the glassy resin which the insects coat themselves in whilst they mature from larvae which is their principal product.  Once processed this resin is made into shellac, the only commercial natural lacquer.  Shellac is used in varnishes, paint, printing ink and sealing wax amongst other non- art products.  The principal producers are India, Thailand and China, with smaller production lines in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

    So next time you reach for a product you might know a bit more about how it’s made!  Whilst some people are put off by the concept of these production methods it is worth bearing in mind that many of these natural dyes are actually safer for you than the things p

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