4 Simple Mixing Formulas for Luminous Watercolor Blacks

Mixing deep, rich blacks is so easy when you use the right pigments. When we mix our own black hues instead of relying on tube blacks, we can infinitely vary the color temperatures and create luminous, deep colors.

Blackbird Painting

Tube blacks such as Ivory Black tend to be flat in tone and quite opaque, leaving our paintings looking dull.

Look at the variation of rich blacks I achieved in the crow above, and the depth of luminous back in the following three paintings of birds.

Blackbird painting Bird Painting Robin Painting

If you follow these easy mixing techniques, you’ll be able to achieve the richest, darkest and most luminous blacks possible.

Let’s get out our paints and practice mixing luminous, rich blacks.

For these exercises I used the following pigments by Daniel Smith:

  • Hansa Yellow Light – a cool lemony yellow
  • Quinacridone Rose – a cool magenta red
  • Phthalo Blue GS – a cool blue
  • New Gamboge – a warm golden yellow that leans toward orange
  • Transparent Pyrrol Orange – a true transparent warm red
  • French Ultramarine – a warm blue that leans toward red
  • Burnt Sienna – a warm brown that leans toward orange

For all of these exercises, we want to use full pigment load — nice, rich mixes of each pigment to create those deepest dark hues. Let’s get mixing!

Mixing a deep, dark, cool black

Primary Colors Mixing Black

For this easy black that leans toward the cooler spectrum, we’ll use almost equal parts Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Rose and Phthalo Blue GS. Here’s how:

  1. With a wet brush, pick up plenty of Phthalo Blue and make a nice pool of pigment on a mixing plate.
  2. Then, rinse your brush, pick up an equal amount of the Quinacridone Rose and mix them together to create a really deep, rich violet.
  3. Finally, rinse your brush and pick up plenty of the Hansa Yellow Light and begin to mix them all together.

You may need to adjust the amount of each paint to arrive at a true black. If it looks too yellow, add a tiny bit more blue and red. If it looks too blue, add a tiny bit more red and yellow. And if it looks too purple, add a tiny bit more yellow.

Keep working with your mix until you arrive at a black like the one in the photo above. This takes a little practice, but once you hit the right mix, it’s a little like color alchemy! You’ll end up with a truly luminous, cool black that’s transparent when washed out to gray.

A deepest dark warm black

Mixing Warm Watercolor Black

For this luscious black we are using New Gamboge, Transparent Pyrrol Orange and French Ultramarine Blue.

Using the same technique described above, mix your three paints in nearly equal amounts until you arrive at a black like the one in the photo above, adjusting the different pigments as necessary.

These three warm pigments create a very deep and transparent black that works well for the foreground of your paintings. You can use both warm and cool blacks together to create beautiful nuances of hue in your work!

A simpler mix

Easy Black Mixing Formula

For a very quick, easy, all-purpose black, mix equal amounts of Phthalo Blue GS and Transparent Pyrrol Orange. This combination is my very favorite for instant blacks and even deep, velvety grays with loads of luminosity and personality. Really a magical color combination!

A traditional mix

MIxing Brown and Blue for Black

Probably the most common two pigments for mixing luscious grays and true blacks are Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine Blue. These two pigments are a watercolorist’s power couple.

Once you’ve created your black, try adding a little more water to your mix to see the beautiful variations of gray that can made from these two basic pigments.

It’s easy to get rich and luminous blacks with our most basic split-primary mixing palette! Any questions? Just ask!

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