Why This Black?

When deciding upon a black for your palette, think first how you want it to function … a color on its own? … a subtle dark to deepen a mixture? … great for mixing grays?

Knowing the differences between black pigments such as Ivory Black, Mars Black or Lamp Black will help you make the best choice.


ivory Mars Lamp Black

From left to right: Lamp Black, Ivory Black, and Mars Black. Each is tinted with Titanium White at top and with the warmer and more transparent Flake White at bottom.



Ivory Black – Subtle, Warm, Transparent

Because our Ivory Black is 100% Bone Black pigment, you will have great control when mixing because it is both transparent and nuanced in color strength. Best use is for mixing to create warm silvery grays with whites or infinite shades of delicate greens with a wide range of yellows.

The warm transparency of this delicate black will soften the brightness of modern opaque colors and give your painting a sense of believable space and intimacy. Ivory Black can nudge a luminous Mars Yellow into a mixture suggesting softly burnished gold, as shown below:


Ivory Mars Lamp Black

Imaged at top is Ivory Black with Mars Yellow on the left and Dutch Yellow on the right. Below Ivory is the Lamp Black mixing on the left with the same Mars Yellow, and on the right with the same Dutch Yellow.


Lamp Black – Intense, Cool, Powerful

As a pure Carbon Black pigment, our Lamp Black is extremely strong and cool in mixing. Expect cold steely grays with whites and a forceful black that can quickly take over in a mixture, but still have great emotional impact. (see the mixtures shown above)



Ivory Mars Lamp Black

Pure Mars Black, at top, with grays mixed from Titanium White and Mars Black, at bottom.


Mars Black – Lean and Opaque

Made from a vibrant Synthetic Iron Oxide pigment, our Mars Black is faster drying and more matte than the Ivory or Lamp Blacks. Here’s the black to use full strength or in an underpainting. Mars Black is also a great choice for easily mixing strong neutral grays with a Titanium White.



Ivory Mars Lamp Black

Payne’s Gray & Shale

Payne’s Gray and Shale are both mixtures that also make effective blacks on a palette, each cool in mixing and producing more colorful tints than just black alone. (imaged above)

Our Payne’s Gray is an intense blue-black mixture, semi-transparent, and delicate enough in mixing to use in a flesh tone.

Shale is the deepest of our chromatic grays and is also semi-transparent and easy to control in a mixture. This very dark maroon is a great choice for drawing with your brush as a near black that will not be too harsh against other passages or colors.

Shale deepens other cool colors without dulling them and with very little change in hue. It will even deepen an earth yellow without turning it green!

Ivory Mars Lamp Black

Shale shown at bottom, with Viridian at top on the left, and Yellow Ochre at top on the right. Across the midsection is the subtle shift in value that shading with our Shale makes possible.


Three very different Blacks and two unique mixtures. All offering practical options and a bit of magic for your palette. Which will you choose?










  1. I find your analyses of Vasari pigments most useful! I wonder if you would give a workshop on your pigments. I would be most happy to pay a registration fee for a 3 day workshop in color.

    • Gail Spiegel

      Hello Costanza,
      Thanks so much for the positive feedback! We demonstrate our colors daily at our New York City showroom where everyone is welcome. Instructors often bring students along for a more complete talk on color mixing… so if you can journey here, please stop by to discover all that great color can do.

  2. I look forward to your explainations and lessons on artists. You have the best products and give great information as well. Keep up the good work.

  3. I will be sharing this information with my students. Thanks so much for this information.

    • Gail Spiegel

      Hello Dot,
      That’s great, we are sincerely committed to maintaining the true standard for these colors so that painters can really see how different each of these blacks are and take advantage of their particular mixing characteristics. Thank you so much for your support of our colors!

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