Paint the Town Black... On Friday.

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Ansel Adams IU Home Game Comic by Karen Strum

Retailers eagerly await Black Friday because it is “often” the first day of the year that they turn a profit. Why black? When companies lose money, accountants use the term “in the red” to describe the negative sums. “In the red” comes from the color of ink that they use in their ledgers. Black Friday is thus named because it is when the ink turns from red to black. In honor of Black Friday, here's a look at how designers use black in marketing, fashion and fine art.

Black isn’t a primary, secondary, or tertiary color. In fact, black isn’t even on the artist’s color wheel and it isn’t considered a color at all. Instead, black appears when you bring ANY color to it’s darkest value. Mars Black, Lamp Black, and Ivory Black are the most common black oil paints on the market for fine artists. For print designers, Pantone offers a selection of inks in their catalog. Artists created the first five pigments nearly 40,000 years ago. One of which was black, it was created out of burnt charcoal. Because it is readily available, black paint and ink are economical.

In marketing, designers use black to portray sophistication, mystery, power and control. It is often used to sell high-end items with sleek packaging. Black is the color most commonly associated with elegance in Europe and the United States, followed by silver, gold, and white. Black can be used to draw attention in a subtle and reserved manner. Stores use it to effectively create sterile and institutionalized environments. Gucci and Adidas are two brands that employ black in their marketing.

In the 14th century, black was worn by royalty, the clergy, judges and government officials in Europe. By the 19th century it was the color worn by romantic poets, business people and statesmen. By the 20th century it was considered a high fashion color. The designer Karl Lagerfeld said when explaining why black was so popular "Black is the color that goes with everything. If you're wearing black, you're on sure ground."

The popularity of black in fine art over the years has ebbed and flowed. Impressionists tended to avoid it while American artists in the ’50s and ’60s returned to black with vengeance. Artists such as Frank Stella, Richard Serra and Ad Reinhardt were know for creating monochromatic black paintings. They proved that black is as nuanced a color as any other, capable of many permutations, tones, and textures.

“There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.”
-Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai
Black. Black. Black. Most fine artists never use straight black. Surprised? True blacks appear very deadening and harsh. Most artists end up mixing their own dark hues created from the rest of the color wheel. If you look at a painting you'll find shadows are rarely pure black, it is an illusion. Often they have cool or warm tints added to them. This is what makes black complex and capable of many tones.

Black and white photography, on the other hand, is popular for its timeless appeal. Many will argue that color can distract the viewer from the subject matter, while limiting the palette to black and white allows the viewer to concentrate on composition, texture and form. The days of Ansel Adams will be remembered and revered as a time of high-art photography, his imagery recalls a lost era of the craft.

Whether you are a designer, artist or photographer, at some point you will experiment with black. Maybe it will be a cosmetics ad, a charcoal portrait, a cocktail dress or a time lapse landscape. Make a statement. However you use black, whether on Black Friday or not, remember it is more than just a simple color.


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About the Author: Karen Strum is a Tampa Bay illustrator available for freelance projects. A unique cast of characters in her style can be designed for use in advertisements and materials for which you want something extra special. Karen's cartoons use retro imagery and vintage color palettes that add charm to every image she creates whether it is a comic, logo, diagram, book cover, or concept image. [Send an Email]


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