Painting with Black and White


Cops And Robbers  2012 Oil, Graphite on Canvas    48 x 48 inches         

Painting in black and white is so enjoyable to me. I don’t know why more people don’t do it.  Maybe it is because it seems almost impossible to photograph!  There is so much nuance that doesn’t seem to come through.  For one thing, silver pigment just reflects the light and shows up as almost white.  Silvery grey, which in person, to me, is this incredibly soft, gentle, warn grey is also illusive.  Blacks all come across as just black, when in reality there are so many. In this painting there is clear crisp black, rich charcoal black, actual charcoal color, graphite, graphite black, just to name a few.

About whites, I have decided recently to avoid titanium white unless I am okay with a white that has a definite yellow tinge.  It is great for a lot of paintings because it is so dense, but for black and white paintings it can be challenging.  I really like Cremnitz white - a combo of flake white and zinc white.  Old Holland makes a fabulous one, but it is s expensive, especially when you use a lot like I do.

For me though, sometimes b/w is the option for me.  Recently I painted a big painting from a tiny sketch that I knew needed to be in black and white.  Color would have detracted from the impact.  Or, more to the point, the color would have had to be red (to be true to my intent) and that would have been too much.


Blown Away  2013    Oil, Graphite, Ground Ochre on Canvas    48 x 60 inches

More about painting with black and white (05/11/2011): 

I have often started a painting by applying gesso, usually white to kind of get a feel of the canvas and give myself something to start with, to which I usually draw with some charcoal.  After having success with a painting called Fred Astaire, which I did entirely with white and black gesso and charcoal, I wanted to go a step farther, to turn up the volume as Ina Gartner says about her recipes.

With this painting I did the whole first step using the gessos (black and white) and charcoal and left it for about a week, to get unattached to it.


Then I went back and as Larry Poons suggested to me recently, I tried "to say good-bye the way I said hello".  Matter of fact, ever since he told me that, things have been really clicking for me.  

To move forward I decided to use more of the gessos and acrylic instead of my normal oil.  I really feel that with the combo of all the ingredients that I achieved an amazing amount of color.  I think my black and white process is not only turning out some really good paintings but is also really helping with the other paintings.  I often paint in black and white when I feel like jump-starting a transition.


Rock Garden  2011 Acrylic, Charcoal on Canvas   60 x 36 inches

To me, Rock Garden has a lot of subtlety and nuance. After I finished it I remember I sort of felt in shock a bit.  Not that I created it but that I was so not thinking that I really didn’t even really see it until I finished.   That’s how I aim to paint all the time, but it is way harder than it sounds. 

Around the same time I did a woman’s torso with the same technique:


Rain 2011 Acrylic, Charcoal on Canvas  30 x 30 inches

originally published: October 1, 2012


© Trixie Pitts 2009