Physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1726) showed that colour itself is light and colour is not ‘in’ objects as previously believed. Instead, the surface of an object reflects some colours and absorbs others. Black pigments absorb all of the colours of light, thus being perceived as black. Black is therefore the absence of light.

Did you know?

Prehistorically, one of the first black pigments used was ‘carbon black’, made from charcoal, followed by ‘bone black’, which was made from burnt animal bones. Black pigments played a major role in realist paintings before Impressionism, and, although the Impressionists did not banish black altogether, they were inspired by the theory of complementary colours and were convinced that no shadow was actually black. Instead, the Impressionists painted shadows in dark shades of violet, in contrast to its complementary sunlight (yellow), resulting in bright and vivid scenes.

Investigate the history of pigments. What surprising or unusual stories can you discover?

Write a narrative poem about the life of your favourite colour.

Research vantablack – the blackest black pigment available today, its masking ability and how and why artists are using it in their works.