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Fascination Black: Use of Acrylic Paints on a Dark Background

The darker the darkness, the brighter the light.

Black is the most elegant and complex of the colours. It is the absence of the light and at the same time it is made by all the chromatic colours.

Whilst in my previuos post I talked about the colour itself, here I would like to talk about how a black background such as a black canvas can effect our acrylic paints and give us the possibility to reach a particular effect on our paintings.

What is the difference between a white and a black canvas?

The main difference is the used primer. Whilst the white canvas are primed with white gesso, the cotton used for black canvas is primed with a black gesso primer.

In commerce there are ready-to-use black canvas but, if you only have white ones at home, you can use a black gesso primer (for example Liquitex, Pebeo, Golden Acrylics) on them to create your own dark canvas.

Behaviour of acrylic paints on black canvas

In order to understand what would have happen if I used a black canvas for my pourings, I decided to test different kinds of acrylic paints to see which ones could give me back the best results.

The products I used are:

  • Arteza acrylic paints (set of 60 colours) - colour codes starting with "A" - and Amsterdam Royal Talens - colour code starting with "A" and with and * after it.

  • Iridescent paints and DYNA acrylic paints by Pebeo

  • Pearlescent acrylic paints by Amsterdam Royal Talens

  • Liquitex Basic - colour code starting with "L"

Normal (absorption) acrylic paints

If you use standard acrylic paints, their hues tend to be absorbed by the black background.

Why is it so? The main reason is the fact that normal acrylic paints are made of absorption pigments whose main property is to absorb the light they get and give it back partially making us perceive a particular colour.

If this normal paints are used on a black background, the quantity of reflected light is dimished by the background itself and, according to their degree of transparency and/or opacity, we can have different outcomes:

  • transparent or semi-transparent paints such as phthalo blue, phthalo green or dioxazine violet, which let more light coming through, will become less bright and sometimes disappear because the reflected light will be also absorbed by the dark blackground.

  • semi-opaque or opaque paints such as white or other colours which contains in their composition white pigments, have on the contrary a better coverage strenght and will be more visible on the black surface.

Transparency and opacity of acrylic paints on black
Transparency and opacity of acrylic paints on black

Metallic (or iridescent) acrylic paints

Metallic (or iridescent) acrylic paints are metallic pigments based paints that can reflect the light when hit by it. Differently from the white paper, that can reflect a bigger quantity of light and lower the metallic effect, the black paper absorbs the light with no or a very low degree of reflection, so that the light reflected by the paint will appear stronger and the shimmering effect more vibrant.

Mixing chart of metallic paints
Mixing chart of metallic paints

Pearlescent (or interference) acrylic paints

Interference (or Pearlescent) paint is a type of acrylic paint that is based on titanium white coated MICA-Interference Powder and has the ability to shift the colour of the MICA when dried. Whilst on white paper the colour shifting effect is invisible, on the contrary we get the best result on black paper.

Pearlescent Acrylic Paints on black
Pearlescent Acrylic Paints on black

Another use for pearlescent paint is mix them to metallic paints to make them lighter without diminishing the shimmering property.

MICA-Pigments Powders and Chameleon Powders based acrylic paints.

Another kind of acrylic paints I tested is the one created on my own by mixing MICA-pigments powders (the ones you find on Amazon or the TLP) and chameleon pigments powders with an acrylic binder, a gloss acrylic varnish and distilled water.

Swatches Chameleon Powder
Swatches Chameleon Powders

DYNA (Dynamic) Acrylic Paints by Pebeo

DYNA (Dynamic) acrylic paints by Pebeo are made by both absorption pigments and MICA powders and have the ability to change the colour according to the way they are hit by the light.

On black background the paint will look more transparent because the absorbtion pigment is absorbed by the black. On the contrary, when hit by the light, the MICA powder contained in the paint will prevail and the result will be a bright metallic colour.

Dynamic (DYNA) Acrylic Paints by Pebeo on black
Dynamic (DYNA) Acrylic Paints by Pebeo on black

Neon, fluorescent and phosforescent paints

Neon and fluorescent paints are both semi-transparent/semi-opaque acrylic paints and according to the hue they can be more or less visible on a black background once dried if used pure. The only way to improve their coverage strenght would be to add a slightly quantity of white without completely change the hue to a pastel colour/tint.

In case of phosphorescent paints, created by mixing a phosphorescent gel with normal acrylic paint, the light will be completely absorbed by the dark background so that the gel won't be able to charge itself and give back the glow-in-the-dark effect.

Fluorescent and Phosphorescent Acrylic Paints on black
Fluorescent and Phosphorescent Acrylic Paints on black

What paint is best for black canvas?

In general each kind of paint with a shimmering effect such as metallic/iridescent, pearlescent and chamaleon paint and an opaque finish when dried works well on black backgrounds.

In other words, if we want to use acrylic paints on black we have at first to improve their coverage strenght and give them a shimmering look.

How can we do this? In the following section I will list some tricks.

Tips and Tricks to create opaque and shimmering acrylic paints

  1. Mixing of metallic/iridescent paints with normal acrylic paints. In this case the gold, the silver and the copper will give a shimmering effect but at the same time they will change the original hue of the normal paint. For example a gold mixed to blue will create a sort of green-gold, a silver will mute the blue and the copper will give back a sort of brownish blue.

  2. Mixing pearlescent acrylic paints with normal acrylic paints. In this case the MICA-coated titanium white contained in the pearlescent paint will improve the opacity of the normal acrylic paint and, at the same time, there will be a slightly change of the original hue according to the colour that the MICA is supposed to reflect when hit by the light. For example we can have a purple-red paint with a yellow metallic shimmer when mixed to a pearl yellow.

Final words

Metallic and pearlescent colours are wonderful, versatile and powerful effect acrylic paints.

As we saw, they are not only able to give back a shimmering effect alone on a dark background but they also enable us to create our own metallic paints .

Thank you for reading. If you like the post, leave a like, a comment and don't forget to follow my blog, Instagram and Threads and share the content on your social media.

I hope you enjoyed and until my next post I wish you a great and creative day!



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