Can you paint without black or white?

I was having a conversation with a painter friend who insists that you must have black on your palette which I disagreed with being a fan of Mark's methods but then the other question arose "Can you paint without white?"
I know there are methods and theories out there using yellow but I've always thought that was a bad idea.
We also discussed replacing the black with a neutral tint to make mixing a little easier.
Just putting these thoughts out there if someone wants to ponder them?  :)  


  • You can paint without white if you used a wipe out technique and thinned paint. Or if you used a lot of scumbling on a white surface to build up a painting (akin to using pencil/charcoal).
  • I don't use black but it's difficult to see how you could paint realism without white. If you used yellow everything would have a yellow cast and blue would end up green and red would become orange. The only way would be to use thinned down oils like watercolour and let the white canvas show through or scumble like @Richard_P said. But all that would be a pain and probably not very effective.
  • I never use black.  I do not even own a proper tube of any black.  Only an half a tube of students grade tube I was given 20 years ago...ivory black.  Can't ever remember having used it.

    I am a huge fan of Unbleached Titanium (Art Spectrum).  I often use it in instead of white, but so far, have always use a touch of titanium white as the highlight.    I think if your values suited, that this would work as a substitute at a pinch.
  • tassieguy said:
    or scumble like @Richard_P said. But all that would be a pain and probably not very effective.
    It's possible, but you need to be a Master..
  • When I want to paint something that is black I mix Burnt Umber and French Ultramarine as it allows me to adjust the warmth or coolness of the black.  But when I need to dull down something I previously mixed that is too bright, I use Italian Black Roman Earth to avoid trying to mix a neutral black.

  • You can mix a warm or cool neutral dark, but I can't see how you can avoid either a Titanium or a Lead White. And I consider both to be separate "colors" as their mixing properties are very different. Sometimes I have both on my active palette, along with a mixed warm "dark" and a cool "dark". Since I prefer subtle colors, I start with value and chroma strings ...then mix-in my hue(s)... creating my own "poor-man's Vasari Grays".

    Strong chroma is only needed for still lifes and botanicals. Outdoors the world is mostly subtle neutral hues with low chroma.
  • You can do a nocturn type picture I guess where the highest values are a mid grey (created with a colour mix without using white). But still, not sure how useful that would be..
  • edited May 2022
    Chuckle . . . Italian Black Roman Earth is neutral.  And Ivory black is the darkest blue there is.  That is why mixing neutrals with ivory black requires small bumps of yellow ocher to kill its blue bias as it is lightened with white.
    This black/no-black argument has been with us since I don't know when.  Two famous artists from a long time ago (can't remember names just now) were having this same discussion.  The first one  said, I can't paint with black on my palette.  The second one replied, I can't paint without it.  And that is the real answer.  If you learn to paint with it, you will learn to use it wisely.  If not, you will learn to create various mixing combination that produce a dark that will read as black.  Many of the old masters used black in place of blue.  Back in the day, blue (usually ultramarine) was very expensive.  And by then, most serious artists had learned the "relativity' of color . . . that is, depending on the context of the paint you're using, some of your colors will "change" when placed on your work.  This is especially true in painting portraits . . . against warm flesh colors, ivory black appears blue.  It was also often used as a stand in for blue clothing.
    There is an argument that mixing your black gives you the ability to put a bit of color, cool or warm, into your black.  And many argue that shadows and areas of dark values contain color . . . thus the the belief that mixing your black gives your more control  However, you can also cool or warm black by adding a bit of cool or warm to your mix. 
  • edited May 2022
    I'm not sure, but perhaps tube blacks are more useful in portraits than in landscapes. There is always colour in the shadows in a landscape. But I guess you could start with black for the darks and add colour, cool or warm, and white, to get the colour/value/chroma you're after. But that's not the way I learned from DMP. I've gotten used to making coloured blacks and using white with them to get greys of the value, color and chroma I'm after. But, as @broker12 says, you can do it either way and preference will be influenced by the method you learned. I doubt that there's a right or wrong way. 
  • tassie . . . Yes, I think black (ivory black in particular) is more useful in portraiture than in landscapes.  Its blue tendency helps cool too strident flesh colors.  You're also right in saying we tend toward the way we were taught.  Over the years, you get comfortable with certain mixes and return to them often.
  • walkowalko -
    edited May 2022
    Painting without black is easy.  Painting without white takes practice.  Substitute white with yellow.
  • If you colour match (perhaps easier in this case from photos or a screen) the darkest values you will only use ivory black (or another tubed black) for the very darkest values if necessary. Using black indiscriminately is the problem, like with excessive chroma, or too much white.
  • edited May 2022
    Yes, I think that's right, @Richard_P. Beginners who haven't leaned to see and mix colour often just use black and white indiscriminately to darken or lighten things. But that's a great way to end up with milk and mud. Like you say, you would only use pure black for the darkest of darks and if you use it elsewhere it would be modified with other pigments to get the value/colour/chroma you're after. 
  • I find naples yellow to be a really nice substitute for white, as it's really bright and clear so I often use it instead of titanium white for color mixing as it doesn't bring down the chroma like tw ;)
  • edited May 2022
    You can paint without black and white. Watch the first section of the video about limited palette. Obviously it needs some acquired skill. But can be done continuously esp on oil primed canvas.
    Types of LIMITED PALETTE | How to Use Limited Palette | CMYK, Mark Carder, RYB, Zorn Palette et al. - YouTube 
  • For those who never use black: Do you ever paint from a screen? I know many prefer paint their object from life or at least from a print but I have dificulties match the darks from a digital photo if I don´t use ivory black.
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