When not even black is dark enough

I was just trying to color check the shadows from a piece of black cloth and realized the value from pure ivory black was to bright. But after adjust the lights in the room to solve my first problem, my titanium white couldn't match the highlights from the main subject - a white porcelain cup.

Is this a common problem?
How do I go from here? I find the only solution to find another, brighter piece of cloth than the black one I have. 


  • There are plenty of times where the blackest black we can mix is not dark enough.  Adjusting your lighting setup is one way to deal with it.  

    To clarify, are you saying that your titanium white isn't bright enough for the highlights now?  

    This is part of the world of painting.  Mark even mentions this in his course or a video somewhere.  If you are a beginner, I would recommend just matching and painting the darkest/brightest color you can that is as close as possible to the color you need, even if it's not technically the same.  We simply can't achieve the exact black or white all the time.

    However, as you become more confident and skilled, what good artists do is paint the rest of the painting darker to make the highlight stand out, or vice versa.  
  • Thank you for the response!

    Exactly, when I adapt the lights so I can match the darkest darks, I am no longer able to reach the brightest white with my titanium. But I solved it by change the black cloth to a light yellowish one. I have the whole range now!

    If somebody knows the video where Mark talks about the issue please post it (if it is on youtube) ! 
  • edited October 6
    I'm a little surprised you needed to change the black cloth. I wouldn't have. Ever. If you can take a photo of something, you can paint it.
    Almost nothing we ever paint is pure black, including black objects. As soon as you stand back, air is between you and the object and that reduces the intensity of the black, even in a relatively short distance. Then light is still reflecting from a black object, in your case folds of cloth or surfaces, and that creates form in different values. And when we paint in our darkest dark, even a mixed black like umber & ultramarine, the imagination plays a role and tells us it is dark.
    Also you're painting the 'tonal distance' to create tonal relationships, not necessarily copying the exact values you see. Knowing that your pure white is the lightest you can achieve - you save that for the highlights - which is often gleam of sunlight. Anything else must be less than that. So, often the values of everything are 'dimmed down' in tone to create space for that important impact that light hitting something has on us psychologically.
  • Due to the limitations of paint, having to make an editorial decision to compress the tonal values at the light or dark end of the overall scale is a traditional dilemma for the artist. Chose one, you can't chose both.
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