Part 2 in the series of Painting Horses article. The original article can be found here on CMON, Painting Horses 1: Bay Techniques and Colors.
If you have not yet read it, I would like to suggest that you do so first. It describes at length several techniques which I mention here but for the sake of redundancy, I don't cover in depth. The basics you will find in the first article.
Apologies for the delay, life has been keeping me very busy! But I finally had a chance to sit down and write this.
Although the black horse is one of the four of the Apocalypse, painters don't have to regard it in abject horror. I've seen even the most seasoned veterans quail at the thought of painting a black horse and others who slap the paint on there, seal it and call it done with very little in the way of realism.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, and again, and again, find a real life reference photo of the horse you want to paint (this goes for drawing and sculpting too!). Once you start looking in detail, you'll start seeing something very important. It has been said there are no true black horses. In one sense I could agree with this but the problem lies in our definition of black.
If you define black as the Chaos Black in your paint pot, or the Lamp Black or Mars Black or the India Ink black....then no, there are no true black horses. But if you define black as a crow or raven, or someone's black hair, or the black in a dog's coat, then horses fall right in step. If you observe any black animal in sunlight you will see an amazing variety of colors. - blues, emerald green, purple, silver, brown, red, and more....and it's all black.
Here are two very lovely examples of black horses but right away you can see that they are very different. The first is what I call blue-black and the second is brown-black. But both are very much black horses, not dark bays.
And that is the crux of the matter. The reason why painting a black horse, to most people, is so difficult is they want to see that horse black like their paint. Unfortunately, that leaves them no where to go. When using true black paint, there is no way to shade it.
If you've ever seen the movie Princess Bride, you'll probably get my reference to Mostly-Black, it's like being mostly-dead. There's a difference between mostly-dead and all dead. If a person is all dead, then the only thing to do is go through their pockets and look for loose change. If you start with all black paint, you're not going to have any shading options.
So, go find yourself a photo of a black horse you want to paint - go on, I'll wait.
Okay, have you found it? Now, which color is it really? Is it like the first picture or the second?
To paint a blue-black horse you want to start with Black paint and mix in gray and a little dark blue. Basically, you want it dark enough that to look at it by itself, it really looks black. It's only when you get it next to real black paint that you can tell the difference. That's how I get my Mostly-Black paint.
If your reference horse is like the second one, with dark brown, again mix black paint with brown just like the first option - so dark you can't tell a difference until you get it next to the real thing.
This is a pretty bad work table pic of my knight but it illustrates the point of these two different mixes of black. The boots were painted with the brown version of mostly-black then highlighted with brown. The pants were painted with the blue-gray version of mostly-black then highlighted with gray. The difference is quite striking but to look at both of them in the paint pot, it's rather difficult to tell which one is which at first.
Okay, to recap, if you're painting something similar to the first horse, you have your gray mostly black mix and if the second, the brown mostly black mix.
For Blue-Black - You will want to use pure black for shading and a dark gray for highlighting. Depending on how much highlighting, you can make several lighter gray shades if you choose. But you will also want a highlight of dark blue - very thin ultramarine blue works nicely. You will also want a blue ink wash and a black glaze won't hurt either.
For Brown-Black - Again pure black for shading. Dark brown for highlighting and just like above, depending how much highlighting you want, you can make several lighter brown tints but stick with the reddish colored browns, not tan. Beasty Brown or Burnt Sienna type colors. Add to that a brown ink wash and a black glaze.
Following the painting techniques described in my first article and using wet-blending and acrylic retarder, shade the horses accordingly and follow with the appropriate washes. You will notice a striking difference when you apply the blue and brown washes. If they put too much blue or too much brown, feel free to go back over them with your base color Mostly-Black where needed.
Add your highlights, again following the techniques from the first article and if necessary, mute them with the black glaze. Keep following this progression and eventually you'll end up with something like this.
Or this one - larger scale, easier to see.
And also a larger scale, here's your brown-black.
It is up to you how dark or light you make the horse. And that's what's really nice about using these color combinations. Change just a little and you have a completely different horse. This makes it very useful for cavalry as you can achieve a wide variety. After you finish the coat color refer back to the first article and complete the other details such as the mane and tail, eyes and hooves, and so on. With a bit of practice, you should be able to knock out a black horse in no time flat. Happy painting!
If you have any questions, please post them and I will be happy to answer.