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  • Any issues with using pure Lamp Black (PBk6) with oils?ApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2019-01-10 16:20:52 ... Most recent comment 2019-01-11 04:25:07
    Art Conservation Topics Oil Paint Pigments Scientific Analysis

    ​Hi all,

    I was wondering if you had come across any issues with using Lamp Black (PBK6) in an allla-prima situation (no underpainting), when not mixed with other pigments or thinned with solvents? 

    I paint on ACM panels over a toothy clear gesso (silicia) which is much less absorbant than white gessos. I don't use zinc in my paints or in a primer/gesso.

    I use walnut oil to thin out my paint and I normally use Mars Black (PBk11) for my darkest blacks. I would like to try using Lamp Black instead as it should be a bit darker and have a longer drying time which I prefer.

    However I have read that it doesn't form very strong paint films and I am concerned that it would form a weak paint film when used on its own and may lead to cracking in the future?

    Has any studies found issues with Lamp Black in oil paintings when used in pure black areas?

    Thank you,

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Speaking from my own experience as a painter, Lamp Black is better used in mixtures than alone, especially with a film of significant thickness. This color is very slow drying and has a really high oil content. This alone can cause problems, especially if the priming is not very absorbent, and a skin forms over still-soft material underneath. The addition of a naturally siccative color like Raw Umber can help support drying without drastically altering color. 

    In terms of the apparent darkness of Lamp Black compared to Mars Black, some of that has to do with the optical effect of a high proportion of oil vehicle in the former. A good painting medium can serve to deepen the appearance of colors like Mars Black by increasing shine and light penetration.

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2019-01-10 19:06:51
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    I will respond with a more general answer than just the situation you describe. Probably lamp black is fine in the scenario you describe. However, we often see checking in the blacks in 19th century paintings, even in areas that contain no other layers or pigments. It is difficult to ascribe this to a specific pigment choice.

    Lamp black is a very stable pigment in water based media (although because of its oil nature it is initially difficult to incorporate into the water soluble binder, a bit of ethanol is helpful). It is perfectly lightfast in oily media as well.  Its issues are that it is a very poor drier in oil and it makes, like all of the carbon blacks, a weak oil film. It tends to be more oily and of a smaller particle size than the other carbon blacks which appears to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, it has been used for hundreds of years and has fared quite well.

    If it were me, I would use a more solid black (like mars) for all but final touches and the darkest darks in oil and reserve the final accents and deepest blacks for applications of lamp black. I understand that this is not an issue in your alla prima painting but just want to get this on record.

    Brian Baade
    2019-01-10 22:02:53
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Matthew, I missed your response. Thanks for your incite.


    Brian Baade
    2019-01-10 22:05:32
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Thank you both. That is helpful and informative. Does the very slow drying speed of Carbon Blacks and pigments like Titanium White correspond to a softer/weaker paint film then?

    Do you know if paintings by Carvaggio or his followers with large areas of black have more 'checking' or cracking?

    It sounds like it would be wiser to stick to Mars Black.

    2019-01-11 04:25:07

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