Pocket Point – How To Make Black

Instead of pulling out a tube of black paint, which typically deadens colors, The Art Instructor recommends mixing black using two pigments in our set of 10 standard pigments.




This lesson comes up often because students forget how to make black. Try to notice when someone is mixing a very dark color and using the wrong pigments, most often purple and green, or sometimes the light blue with brown.

Usually a student will ask, “how do you make black again?”



1. Get a medium/small brush or ask to borrow the student’s brush. It’s very important that the brush is clean and dry.

2. Find a spot to mix on their palette and ask permission to show them on it.

3. Place about 60% clean and pure ultramarine blue in your mixing spot. Then add 40% clean burnt umber. You can also think of this as two parts of blue and 1 and one half parts of brown. Mix them thoroughly.

Our pigments use this ratio. You will need to discover the best ratio for whatever brand of paints you’re using. Different brands put more, or less, concentrated pigments into the tubes.


If the student is painting objects, they will need variations of black, which are dark gray tones.

1. Take a very tiny bit of white and mix it into half of the black, splitting the original color instead of destroying it.

2. Make another lighter gray if you like, by adding a touch more white to half of the first gray.

3. If your student is painting tree trunks, or other warm grays, show how to warm it up by 1. adding more brown to half of the gray, and then 2. make another color split mix with a tiny, (very tiny!) amount of yellow.

Blue grays can also be shown with a bit more blue added to some of one of your first grays. The full demo will create 5 satelite mixes around the original black, so make enough black to accomodate.



“Use two pigments: Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. So black is made from Dark Blue, and Dark Brown. You can remember this by the fact that black is dark – and also remembering that blue, brown, and black all begin with the letter B. If you draw two little Dark Bees you’ll remember this much, much easier!

Here’s how to mix them. Use about one and one half times more ultramarine blue than the burnt umber. Make sure your brush is super clean and super dry. Black won’t happen if there is anything else in the mix, even a bit of water. Then just mix all together and… it’s like magic! Actually it’s just science, but it works every time.

Here is how to make dark grays and modify them for either cool grays with some blue or warm grays with brown.”

Ultramarine Blue Acrylic Paint

Burnt Umber Acrylic Paint

Mixing and then splitting to gray by adding small amount of white.

Pocket Pointers

Learn these short mini-lessons that are needed "on the fly", whenever you have a student who needs some specific help.

About The Author

Dennas Davis

Dennas is the founder of Firstlight Arts Academy in Nashville, and also of The Art Instructor (formerly ArtSquish). He has been designing, painting, illustrating and teaching in various combinations since he learned how to hold a crayon. He is the illustrator of 24 children's books with over 5 million in print worldwide. See his paintings at http://dennasd.com

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