And also in Isaac Newton’s 17th-century colour wheel because they aren’t colours, so what are they?
Black and white are achromatic colours. Colour without colour. Black is a total absence of colour, but we can see it, and we often refer to the colour ‘black’. So it remains indisputable that black and white are present in our visual perception of the world, and they deserve their rightful place on the artist’s palette.
Mix black and white and you get shades of grey, add either of the two to a hue or ‘chromatic’ colour and it becomes tonal colour.
Artists exercise caution when using black because it absorbs light and can easily dull a painting. The colour black is visible because colours surrounding it reflect light and make it stand out.
Some say that we can see black paint because it isn’t pure black but rather a combination of colours, yet most of us agree that the colour black exists. The primary pigment in the colour ‘Carbon black’ or ‘Ivory black‘ is a charred organic material such as wood and bones. Traditionally finely ground elephant tusks were used to produce an extra-fine pigment. Thankfully it is no longer an ethical choice and iron oxide and animal bones that we would have otherwise discarded are now used to get this dark pigment.