Velvet Black

Black: the color of discretion and modesty. Of authority. Of sin and death. Velvet Black, the basis of all the black tints, my favorite kind of black—my favorite color. This particular black is not absolute, but it is foundational. There is still enough red, and not a complete degree of blackness, to be capable of subtracting other colors to create a warm or cool tint.

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours; Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts [© 1821 (see source material)] explains standards in addressing color as related to form and subject. The author, Patrick Syme, a flower painter from Edinburgh, basically worshipped Abraham Gottlob Werner—the mineralogist who created the lexicon on color that Syme published, who developed standards for addressing it.

The book itself presents cute, little color charts that people went crazy for in 2018 and posted all over Pinterest before they promptly forgot about it. For whatever reason, this Pinterest bit makes me resent the book. I’ve tried to work it out, tried to understand it, but it’s really not worth it. Let’s forget about this book for now, however significant it may be in the world of color.

There’s a mystical nature to black that’s also the basis of the way people did talk about color in the Biblical Hebrew. I think it was interesting that, while no language for individual colors existed—like red, blue, etc., until some time quite later, but color was referred to by the way it captured light or reflected it (among other ways).

The marvelous etrog!

This is why I like this kind of black—it captures the light rather than absorbing it into a tar-like abyss that reflects nothing back to the eye. This color makes linen kaftans look great—it makes cheap fabric look sort of OK. It gives me an air of discretion I’d otherwise lack if I were to wear some ridiculous pastel.

To mention that book once more, use the following recipe to make this black:

“No. 23. Velvet Black, is the characteristic colour of the Blacks; it is the color of black velvet.” W.

That’s not terrifically helpful, but after reading enough about color, and reading through all the previous descriptions of black in this particular book, I made the swatch in Illustrator.

Basically, all the other blacks use all the standard colors to give the black a different tint. So, if Velvet Black is the base, then it must be a neutral, capable of being able to be tinted with indigo as well as yellow, as well as emerald and brown and grey, and whatever else without cancelling those colors out

Color subtraction is four color process. If you use one color, it cancels out another. If two colors are mixed, two colors are canceled. In the case of Velvet Black, a black had to be created that would be able to be tinted with all other base colors without canceling the base color I added to make the black. Color subtraction is also a complicated issue in print color photography, and is the reason why people never follow through with their in-home color darkrooms.

Anyway, I created a kind-of red using magenta and yellow in almost the same percentages to effectively cancel out blue and green, but not enough to not create a reddish grey tint to the black. In the Jewish Encyclopedia, the term to describe this type in-between ashy color is yarak. So, if the light hits this black, the black will appear to be a warm neutral because of the yarak.

And also, the other black tints are based on the same color model and the physics of color subtraction using ash; using blue and blackish grey; using brown, yellow, and green; using brown and yellow; using carmine red and chestnut brown; and using indigo.

The combinations of these colors in each type of black creates a new color—brown, yellow, and green create an emerald-y forest green that gets cancelled out to the same percentage that the red and yellow create an ash that won’t eliminate the added tint.  

There’s also an equation for color subtraction with which one might amuse themselves.