4: Materials and Process Colour


Source: Wikipedia – Black

What is Black: Physics and Optics

Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence or complete absorption of light – the visual impression experienced when no visible light reaches the eye. Black is often used to represent darkness; it is the symbolic opposite of white (or brightness). Like white and grey, it is an achromatic colour, literally a colour without hue.

There are two superficially opposite but actually complementary descriptions of black. Black is the absorption of all colours of light, or an exhaustive combination of multiple colours of pigment. Pigments or dyes that absorb light rather than reflect it back to the eye “look black”. A black pigment can, however, result from a combination of several pigments that collectively absorb all colours. If appropriate proportions of three primary pigments are mixed, the result reflects so little light as to be called “black”.

Black is one of the four primary colours in the CMYK colour model, along with cyan, yellow, and magenta, used in colour printing to produce all the other colours.


Etymology and language

The English word black comes from Old English blæc (“black, dark”, also, “ink”), from Proto-Germanic *blakkaz (“burned”), from Proto-Indo-European *bhleg- (“to burn, gleam, shine, flash”), from base *bhel- (“to shine”), related to Old Saxon blak (“ink”), Old High German blach (“black”), Old Norse blakkr (“dark”), Dutch blaken (“to burn”), and Swedish bläck (“ink”). More distant cognates include Latin flagrare (“to blaze, glow, burn”), and Ancient Greek phlegein(“to burn, scorch”).

The Ancient Greeks sometimes used the same word to name different colours, if they had the same intensity. Kuanos’ could mean both dark blue and black.

The Ancient Romans had two words for black: ater was a flat, dull black, while niger was a brilliant, saturated black. Ater has vanished from the vocabulary, but niger was the source of the country name Nigeria the English word Negro and the word for “black” in most modern Romance languages (French: noir; Spanish and Portuguese: negro; Italian: nero ).

Old High German also had two words for black: swartz for dull black and blach for a luminous black. These are paralleled in Middle English by the terms swart for dull black and blaek for luminous black. Swart still survives as the word swarthy, while blaek became the modern English black.

Pigments, dyes, and inks


Different civilizations burned different plants, woods and animal products to produce their charcoal pigments, each of which produced a different tone. The charcoal would be ground and then mixed with animal fat to make the pigment.

  • Charcoal, red ochre and yellow ochre were the earliest pigments used by Neolithic people. The black lines of cave art were drawn with the tips of burnt torches made of a wood with resin.
  • Vine black was produced in Roman times by burning the cut branches of grapevines. It could also be produced by burning the remains of the crushed grapes, which were collected and dried in an oven. The finest vines produced a black with a bluish tinge the colour of indigo. Similar fine blacks were made by burning the pits of the peach, cherry or apricot. The powdered charcoal was then mixed with gum arabic or the yellow of an egg to make a paint.
  • Lamp black was used as a pigment for painting and frescoes. as a dye for fabrics, and in some societies for making tattoos. The 15th century Florentine painter Cennino Cennini described how it was made during the Renaissance: “… take a lamp full of linseed oil and fill the lamp with the oil and light the lamp. Then place it, lit, under a thoroughly clean pan and make sure that the flame from the lamp is two or three fingers from the bottom of the pan. The smoke that comes off the flame will hit the bottom of the pan and gather, becoming thick. Wait a bit. take the pan and brush this pigment (that is, this smoke) onto paper or into a pot with something. And it is not necessary to mull or grind it because it is a very fine pigment. Re-fill the lamp with the oil and put it under the pan like this several times and, in this way, make as much of it as is necessary.” This same pigment was used by Indian artists to paint the Ajanta Caves, and as dye in ancient Japan.
  • Ivory black, also known as bone char, was originally produced by burning ivory and mixing the resulting charcoal powder with oil. The colour is still made today, but ordinary animal bones are substituted for ivory.
  • Mars black is a black pigment made of synthetic iron oxides. It is commonly used in water-colors and oil painting. It takes its name from Mars, the god of war and patron of iron.
  •  The Inuit of Alaska used wood charcoal mixed with the blood of seals to paint masks and wooden objects.
  • The Polynesians burned coconuts to produce their pigment.


Black ink was traditionally used for writing, for the simple reason that black was the darkest colour and therefore provided the greatest contrast with white paper or parchment, making it the easiest colour to read. It became even more important in the 15th century, with the invention of printing

  • Chinese Ink: the first known inks were made by the Chinese, and date back to the 23rd century B.C. They used natural plant dyes and minerals such as graphite ground with water and applied with an ink brush. Early Chinese inks similar to the modern inkstick have been found dating to about 256 BC at the end of the Warring States period. They were produced from soot, usually produced by burning pine wood, mixed with animal glue. To make ink from an inkstick, the stick is continuously ground against an inkstone with a small quantity of water to produce a dark liquid which is then applied with an ink brush. Artists and calligraphists could vary the thickness of the resulting ink by reducing or increasing the intensity and time of ink grinding. These inks produced the delicate shading and subtle or dramatic effects of Chinese brush painting.
  • India ink (or Indian ink in British English) is a black ink once widely used for writing and printing and now more commonly used for drawing, especially when inking comic books and comic strips. The technique of making it probably came from China. India ink has been in use in India since at least the 4th century BC, where it was called masi. In India, the black color of the ink came from bone char, tar, pitch and other substances.
  • Ancient Romans had a black writing ink they called Atramentum librarium. Its name came from the Latin word atrare, which meant to make something black. (This was the same root as the English word atrocious.) It was usually made, like India ink, from soot, although one variety, called atrementum elaphantinum, was made by burning the ivory of elephants.
  • Iron gall ink (also known as iron gall nut ink or oak gall ink) was a purple-black or brown-black ink made from iron salts and tannic acids from gall nut. It was the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe, from about the 12th century to the 19th century, and remained in use well into the 20th century.
  • Printer’s ink was created out of soot, turpentine and walnut oil. The new ink made it possible to spread ideas to a mass audience through printed books, and to popularize art through black and white engravings and prints. 


  • Good-quality black dyes were not known until the middle of the 14th century. The most common early dyes were made from bark, roots or fruits of different trees; usually the walnut, chestnut, or certain oak trees. The blacks produced were often more gray, brown or bluish. The cloth had to be dyed several times to darken the colour. One solution used by dyers was add to the dye some iron filings, rich in iron oxide, which gave a deeper black. Another was to first dye the fabric dark blue, and then to dye it black.
  • A much richer and deeper black dye was eventually found made from the Oak apple or gall-nut. The gall-nut is a small round tumor which grows on oak and other varieties of trees. They range in size from 2–5 cm, and are caused by chemicals injected by the larva of certain kinds of gall wasp in the family Cynipidae.[37] The dye was very expensive; a great quantity of gall-nuts were needed for a very small amount of dye. The gall-nuts which made the best dye came from Poland, eastern Europe, the near east and North Africa. Beginning in about the 14th century, dye from gall-nuts was used for clothes of the kings and princes of Europe.[38]
  • Another important source of natural black dyes from the 17th century onwards was the logwood tree, or Haematoxylum campechianum, which also produced reddish and bluish dyes. It is a species of flowering tree in the legumefamily, Fabaceae, that is native to southern Mexico and northern Central America.[39] The modern nation of Belize grew from 17th century English logwood logging camps.
  • Since the mid-19th century, synthetic black dyes have largely replaced natural dyes. One of the important synthetic blacks is Nigrosin, a mixture of synthetic black dyes (CI 50415, Solvent black 5) made by heating a mixture of nitrobenzene, aniline and aniline hydrochloride in the presence of a copper or iron catalyst. Its main industrial uses are as a colourant for lacquers and varnishes and in marker-pen inks.


Eastern traditions

  • In many religious cultures, from India and Japan to Oceania and Mesoamerica, the world was created out of a primordial darkness.
  • In Hinduism, the goddess Kali, goddess of time and change, is portrayed with black or dark blue skin. wearing a necklace adorned with severed heads and hands. Her name means “The black one”. She destroys anger and passion according to Hindu mythology and her devotees are supposed to abstain from meat or intoxication.
  • In Islam, black, along with green, plays an important symbolic role. (see colours in Islamic cultures). Islam explicitly rejects the negative connotations that black has in religions like Christianity – for example as the colour of mourning. Black is the colour of the Black Standard, the banner that is said to have been carried by the soldiers of Muhammad. It is also used as a symbol in Shi’a Islam (heralding the advent of the Mahdi). From the 1990s, the Black Standard became the banner of several Islamic extremist, jihadist groups.

Western traditions

The colour black has a number of conflicting connotations. In Christian theology, black was the colour of the universe before God created light.  In the Bible the light of faith and Christianity is often contrasted with the darkness of ignorance and paganism. The devil is often called the “prince of darkness.

According to surveys in Europe and North America, it is the colour most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil, and elegance. In the Roman Empire, black became the colour of mourning, and over the centuries it was frequently associated with death, evil, witches and magic. On the other hand, in the 14th century, it began to be worn by royalty, the clergy, judges and government officials in much of Europe.Priests and pastors of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches commonly wear black, as do monks of the Benedictine Order, who consider it the colour of humility and penitence. It later became the colour worn by English romantic poets, businessmen and statesmen in the 19th century, and a high fashion colour in the 20th century.


Black was one of the first colours used by artists in neolithic cave paintings. The Lascaux Cave in France contains drawings of bulls and other animals drawn by paleolithic artists between 18,000 and 17,000 years ago. They began by using charcoal, and then made more vivid black pigments by burning bones or grinding a powder of manganese oxide.


For the ancient Egyptians, black had positive associations; being the colour of fertility and the rich black soil flooded by the Nile. It was the colour of Anubis, the god of the underworld, who took the form of a black jackal, and offered protection against evil to the dead.


For the ancient Greeks, black was also the colour of the underworld, separated from the world of the living by the river Acheron, whose water was black. Those who had committed the worst sins were sent to Tartarus, the deepest and darkest level. In the centre was the palace of Hades, the king of the underworld, where he was seated upon a black ebony throne.

Black was one of the most important colours used by ancient Greek artists. In the 6th century BC, they began making black-figure pottery and later red figure pottery, using a highly original technique. In black-figure pottery, the artist would paint figures with a glossy clay slip on a red clay pot. When the pot was fired, the figures painted with the slip would turn black, against a red background. Later they reversed the process, painting the spaces between the figures with slip. This created magnificent red figures against a glossy black background.


In the social hierarchy of ancient Rome, black was worn by craftsmen and artisans. The black they wore was not deep and rich; the vegetable dyes used to make black were not solid or lasting, so the blacks often turned out faded gray or brown.

In Latin, the word for black, ater and to darken, atere, were associated with cruelty, brutality and evil. They were the root of the English words “atrocious” and “atrocity”.

Black was also the Roman colour of death and mourning. In the 2nd century BC Roman magistrates began to wear a dark toga, called a toga pulla, to funeral ceremonies. Later, under the Empire, the family of the deceased also wore dark colours for a long period; then, after a banquet to mark the end of mourning, exchanged the black for a white toga. In Roman poetry, death was called the hora nigra, the black hour.

Germany and Scandinavia

The German and Scandinavian peoples worshipped their own goddess of the night, Nótt, who crossed the sky in a chariot drawn by a black horse. They also feared Hel, the goddess of the kingdom of the dead, whose skin was black on one side and red on the other. They also held sacred the crow. They believed that Odin, the king of the Nordic pantheon, had two black crows, Huginn and Muninn, who served as his agents, travelling the world for him, watching and listening.

Middle Ages

  • In the early Middle Ages, black was commonly associated with darkness and evil. In Medieval paintings, the devil was usually depicted as having human form, but with wings and black skin or hair.
  • Black  was worn by Benedictine monks as a sign of humility and penitence. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercians responded that black was the color of the devil, hell, “of death and sin,” while white represented “purity, innocence and all the virtues”.
  • Black symbolized both power and secrecy. The emblem of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany was a black eagle. Glossy black sable fur was the finest and most expensive fur in Europe and was imported from Russia and Poland and used to trim the robes and gowns of royalty. The black knight in the poetry of the Middle Ages was an enigmatic figure, hiding his identity, usually wrapped in secrecy.
  • Elegant black: In the 14th century high-quality black dyes began to arrive on the market, allowing garments of a deep, rich black. Magistrates and government officials began to wear black robes, as a sign of the importance and seriousness of their positions. The passage of sumptuary laws in some parts of Europe prohibited the wearing of costly clothes and certain colours by anyone except members of the nobility. The wealthy bankers and merchants of northern Italy responded by changing to black robes and gowns, made with the most expensive fabrics. The change to the more austere but elegant black was quickly picked up by the kings and nobility. It began in northern Italy, where the Duke of Milan and the Count of Savoy and the rulers of Mantua, Ferrara, Rimini and Urbino began to dress in black. It then spread to France, led by Louis I, Duke of Orleans, younger brother of King Charles VI of France. It moved to England at the end of the reign of King Richard II (1377–1399), where all the court began to wear black. In 1419–20, black became the color of the powerful Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. It moved to Spain, where it became the color of the Spanish Habsburgs, of Charles V and of his son, Philip II of Spain(1527–1598). European rulers saw it as the color of power, dignity, humility and temperance. By the end of the 16th century, it was the colour worn by almost all the monarchs of Europe and their courts.

16th and 17th centuries

Austerity: While black was the colour worn by the Catholic rulers of Europe, it was also the emblematic colour of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the Puritans in England and America. Jean Calvin, Melanchton and other Protestant theologians denounced the richly coloured and decorated interiors of Roman Catholic churches. They saw the colour red, worn by the Pope and his Cardinals, as the colour of luxury, sin, and human folly. In some northern European cities, mobs attacked churches and cathedrals, smashed the stained glass windows and defaced the statues and decoration. In Protestant doctrine, clothing was required to be sober, simple and discreet. Bright colours were banished and replaced by blacks, browns and greys; women and children were recommended to wear white. In the Protestant Netherlands, Rembrandt Van Rijn used this sober new palette of blacks and browns to create portraits whose faces emerged from the shadows expressing the deepest human emotions. European Catholics of all classes, like Protestants, eventually adopted a sober wardrobe that was mostly black, brown and gray.

Witchcraft: In the second part of the 17th century, Europe and America experienced an epidemic of fear of witchcraft. People widely believed that the devil appeared at midnight in a ceremony called a black mass or black sabbath, usually in the form of a black animal, often a goat, a dog, a wolf, a bear, a deer or a rooster, accompanied by their familiar spirits, black cats, serpents and other black creatures. This was the origin of the widespread superstition about black cats and other black animals. In Medieval Flanders, in a ceremony called Kattenstoet, black cats were thrown from the belfry of the Cloth Hall of Ypres to ward off witchcraft.

18th and 19th centuries

In the 18th century, during the European Age of Enlightenment, black receded as a fashion colour. Paris became the fashion capital, and pastels, blues, greens, yellow and white became the colours of the nobility and upper classes. But after the French Revolution, black again became the dominant colour.

Industrial revolution: Thanks to coal smoke, the buildings of the large cities of Europe and America gradually turned black. By 1846 the industrial area of the West Midlands of England was “commonly called ‘the Black Country’”. Charles Dickens and other writers described the dark streets and smoky skies of London, and they were vividly illustrated in the engravings of French artist Gustave Doré.

Melancholy was the dominant theme of romanticism. The novels of the period were filled with castles, ruins, dungeons, storms, and meetings at midnight. The leading poets of the movement were usually portrayed dressed in black, usually with a white shirt and open collar, and a scarf carelessly over their shoulder, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron helped create the enduring stereotype of the romantic poet.

Wealth: The invention of new, inexpensive synthetic black dyes and the industrialization of the textile industry meant that good-quality black clothes were available for the first time to the general population. In the 19th century gradually black became the most popular colour of business dress of the upper and middle classes in England, the Continent, and America.

Painting: Black dominated literature and fashion in the 19th century, and played a large role in painting.

  • James McNeil Whistler made the color the subject of his most famous painting, Arrangement in grey and black number one (1871), better known as Whistler’s Mother.
  • Some 19th-century French painters had a low opinion of black: “Reject black,” Paul Gauguin said, “and that mix of black and white they call gray. Nothing is black, nothing is gray.”
  • Édouard Manet used blacks for their strength and dramatic effect. Manet’s portrait of painter Berthe Morisot was a study in black which perfectly captured her spirit of independence. The black gave the painting power and immediacy; he even changed her eyes, which were green, to black to strengthen the effect. Henri Matisse quoted the French impressionist Pissarro telling him, “Manet is stronger than us all – he made light with black.”
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir used luminous blacks, especially in his portraits. When someone told him that black was not a color, Renoir replied: “What makes you think that? Black is the queen of colours. I always detested Prussian blue. I tried to replace black with a mixture of red and blue, I tried using cobalt blue or ultramarine, but I always came back to ivory black.”
  • Vincent van Gogh used black lines to outline many of the objects in his paintings, such as the bed in the famous painting of his bedroom. making them stand apart. His painting of black crows over a cornfield, painted shortly before he died, was particularly agitated and haunting.

In the late 19th century, black also became the colour of anarchism. (See political movements.)

In the 20th and 21st centuries

Political movements: 

In the 20th century, black was the colour of Italian and German fascism.

  • Anarchism: The symbols of anarchism was usually either a black flag or a black letter A. 
  • Fascism. The Blackshirts (Italian: camicie nere, ‘CCNN) were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II. The Blackshirts were officially known as the Voluntary Militia for National Security (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or MVSN). The emblem of the Italian fascists was a black flag with fasces, an axe in a bundle of sticks, an ancient Roman symbol of authority.
  • Nazism: Black was also adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. The black swastika was meant to symbolize the Aryan race. Black became the colour of the uniform of the SS, the Schutzstaffel or “defense corps”, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, and was worn by SS officers from 1932 until the end of World War II. The Nazis used a black triangle to symbolize anti-social elements.

Individuality and intellectual and social rebellion: in the 1950s, black came to be the colour of those who didn’t accept established norms and values.

  • Lesbianism: More recently the black triangle has been adopted as a symbol in lesbian culture and by disabled activists.
  • American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s was a struggle for the political equality of African Americans. It developed into the Black Power movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, and popularized the slogan “Black is Beautiful”.
  • Paris, it was worn by Left-Bank intellectuals and performers such as Juliette Greco
  • US: members of the Beat Movement in New York and San Francisco. Black leather jackets were worn by motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels and street gangs on the fringes of society in the United States. Black as a color of rebellion was celebrated in such films as The Wild One, with Marlon Brando.
  • UK: By the end of the 20th century, black was the emblematic colour of the punk subculture punk fashion, and the goth subculture. Goth fashion, which emerged in England in the 1980s, was inspired by Victorian era mourning dress.


  • Kasimir Malevich, a member of the Suprematist movement, created the Black Square in 1915, is widely considered the first purely abstract painting. He wrote, “The painted work is no longer simply the imitation of reality, but is this very reality … It is not a demonstration of ability, but the materialization of an idea.”
  • Henri Matisse. “When I didn’t know what colour to put down, I put down black,” he said in 1945. “Black is a force: I used black as ballast to simplify the construction … Since the impressionists it seems to have made continuous progress, taking a more and more important part in colour orchestration, comparable to that of the double bass as a solo instrument.”


Women’s fashion was revolutionized and simplified in 1926 by the French designer Coco Chanel, who published a drawing of a simple black dress in Vogue magazine. She famously said, “A woman needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm, a man she loves.” Other designers contributed to the trend of the little black dress. The Italian designer Gianni Versace said, “Black is the quintessence of simplicity and elegance,” and French designer Yves Saint Laurent said, “black is the liaison which connects art and fashion. One of the most famous black dresses of the century was designed by Hubert de Givenchy and was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.