When I was going thru art school and my teacher was instructing us on how to paint shadows and highlights I always assumed shadows were black and highlights were white. Hmm. Well, it’s simply not even close. When he instructed us to go out and buy the supplies for the class he gave us a list of colors and no where on this list was black. When I asked about the use of black paint and how we plan on darkening our colors he simply said this, “black isn’t a color found anywhere in nature, so we should never paint with it. If we must use a dark color we will mix it to achieve it so that there is color within our darks and shadows”. Well, as a student I was confused, but once we started painting it opened my eyes to the use of black and white.

WHITE. I never use white out of the tube. EVER. I will however use it to tint a color but never, NEVER paint with white directly on the canvas! A white dog isn’t pure white. A snow ball isn’t pure white. Think of it this way. The sun isn’t white, nor does it give off pure white light. It’s a warm color so when something is lit by the sun the highlights will be warm, but not pure white. The object is usually surrounded by other colors such as grass or trees, therefore, the reflected light that the object is picking up can’t be white either.

1. When painting a highlight on a person, pet or object, tint your colors with white but never paint something so white that it can’t be made whiter.
2. Highlights are warm and shadows are cool. When you use too much white it cools the shadows too much and starts to deaden the color. Keep some warmth to your highlights. You’ll see the difference.

BLACK. Shadows are black, pavement is black, the black dog is black……wrong. Sorry to be harsh, but lets face it, to the human eye you see black at first glance. Study a black lab for instance. The fur is shiny and black right? Well, put the dog outside in the sun. What colors do you see now? purples, blues, maybe warm yellow in the highlights? yes. most likely. Put the dog in the house and turn on your lamp. That bulb in the lamp is a warm yellow most likely much like the sun. So that shine on the coat of your dog most likely won’t be white. The fur will appear to be more dark or even black to you. Here is fun test on black. Close your eyes… don’t close them so tight it hurts but just close them what colors do you see? are they warm colors? Cool colors? a mix? I’m willing to bet you don’t see black. I’m not saying don’t ever paint anything black, but I will tell you to put some color in the  darks. Here are some tips.

Tips: When painting something you think is “black” test yourself and mix a black. Use burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. This way there is some color in your darks.
Another tip for using blacks is keep them transparent, lets some under painting come thru the darks to give them some color and life.

I could go on all day on this subject but for now, try these simple things and if you have any other questions feel free to comment below and I’ll be glad to answer any other questions you have!


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