Alternatives to Black

Now, this tip applies to artists that use lines in their work (as I do with my illustrative style), as well as people looking to paint darks and shadows…

The background story – my mother, Diana Battle, is a very talented artist. She can paint beautifully in both oils and acrylics, and is also very confident in pastel and watercolour. The next two paintings (with their enlarged sections on the right) are by Mum.


She’s always told me there’s no need to use black straight out of the tube (in the actual painting, that is – it’s still ok to use it as an underpainting or base colour).


She’ll choose to use Paynes Grey (which is a very dark navy) or a dark mix of colours, but feels that black out of a tube, like Carbon or Mars Black, is too flat and uninteresting and unneccessary.

So the message is, that using a ‘black-substitute colour’ creates life in a painting, adding interest and movement.  Here are three black-substitutes that I use often, compared to black, on the bottom right.



Now this tip definitely applies to a realistic-style of painting like Mum’s, but it’s something I also remember when painting murals – like this one here…


At a glance the lines look black, but they’re actually painted in Dioxazine Purple (which is my black-substitute of choice). Take a closer look.


Here’s a pic of the bottle. I use A LOT of this colour.
In this next painting of proteas (done for a handbag, that’s why half is upside down!) the shadows are deep greens and a mix of green with a touch of red (that’s another tip – add the complementary colour (from directly opposite on the colour wheel) to darken a colour – ie. add a touch of red to your green and vice versa, add a little purple to your yellow, or blue to your orange… you’ll be amazed at how much better it works rather than using a totally different colour from another tube).
I hope that’s been interesting! I’d love to hear about your experiments, and if you’re an art-lover, you’ll have something more to look for when you see an artwork that you love.

About Anna Battle

I’m an artist, guide, mother and a very handy Art Friend! 

My life’s mission is to share the joy of drawing and painting.

In 2011 I started offering in-studio guided Paint Alongs, and my first online course, 15 Flowers, went live in 2015.

In 2016 my book, Painting Party, was published (it’s still available on Amazon).

I now offer online Paint Alongs and workshops so that you can reconnect to the creativity inside you. Gift yourself the time to paint, and the guidance you need to improve your skills and your confidence. 

I invite you to join me and see the world through the eyes of an artist!

If not now, when?