Sunday, February 16, 2020

Black without black

Depending on how you approach it, black is one of the easiest - and hardest - colors to paint on a model horse.

It's absolutely possible to paint a respectable black with craft acrylics. Thin them down with water and carefully apply several coats. Add details, seal and the horse is ready to show.
Bobbie Allen's 2017 NaMoPaiMo horse Antar, painted entirely with craft acrylics
The problems start when you try to do a little more than that. How do you "wake up" a black coat? What is the best way to add shading? How can do you make a basic black a lot less basic? These are questions I asked myself when I committed to painting my Zephyrus resin black for NaMoPaiMo.
As luck would have it, Melanie Miller also decided to paint a black horse this month. 
Mel is one of NaMoPaiMo's most dedicated mentors. Every year she chooses a new challenge for February, and then documents her painting process in words and photos. I knew that if I was willing to work on her schedule, I could spend my entire month copying learning from Mel.

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long. Here's Mel's day one post about planning her black horse: I grabbed some color swatches from a reference of a slightly sunburnt black horse. I will be mixing up chromatic blacks to use on my Turko, no tube blacks at all. I want his color to be as vibrant as possible, and tube blacks have a habit of falling flat. Looking at this, I'll mix up a couple main colors - a purple leaning darks/shadows color, and a red-orange leaning highlight/faded color, and then I can modify those as necessary for the variations.
The next day, she started painting.
Mel's horse in basecoat
Here's Mel's color recipes for her non-black black paints:

Purple toned black

  • 2 parts French Ultramarine
  • 1 part Quinacridone Magenta
  • 1 part Burnt Umber
Brown toned black
  • 2 + a smidge parts Burnt Umber
  • 2 parts French Ultramarine
  • 1 part Pyrrol Scarlet.
Neutral black
  • 2 parts French Ultramarine
  • 2 parts Burnt Umber
  • 1/4 part Pyrrol Scarlet 
The light grey highlight color is this mix neutral black with some titanium white
Mel's horse with multiple coats of oil
It was hard for me to imagine painting a black horse without black paint, but I was commuted. This month is all about learning from the best. I went to the Meininger and bought some paint.
This is so weird.
But look! It's working!
I still have a few coats to go before I can call his body color done, but I am already thrilled with my progress. Thank you so much, Mel. I can not overstate your contributions to NaMoPaiMo and Awesome Tribute.


  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Is this in oil paint?

    1. This is, but Fabian used similar color formulas with acrylics and got much the same effect.

  3. This is super cool to learn about! I may have to try this on my next black horse!