Thursday, August 10, 2017

Watercolor Pigment Reviews: Oh PBk11, What Do We Do With You?

Daniel Smith's Lunar Black (PBk11) is a fascinating bluish-black pigment. Try putting a magnet under a pool of it—the iron filings that form the intense granulation in the dried color will react to it noticeably. And while this means that Lunar Black is excellent for any area involving black granulation, such as wet paved roads, wet rocks, and a lunar landscape, this also means that Lunar Black is a difficult color to use in many mixtures.

Lighter colors really expose the black granulation, often to an effect that's not always pleasant:

Pure Lemon Yellow (PY175) on the far left, and then successive mixes with Lunar Black.
A lavender mixture of two other colors, with added lunar black.

Lunar Black excels at adding grittiness in these and many other situations, certainly, but what else can it do?

PBk11 mixed with various other colors in varying concentrations.

In this chart, I've added Lunar Black to  Organic Vermilion (PR188), Quinacridone Rose (PV19), Quinacridone Purple (PV55), Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15), Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7), Indanthrone Blue (PB60), Yellow Ochre (PY43, W&N), "Burnt Sienna" (PR101, W&N), and my mix of smoky quartz (4 parts viridian, PG8, to 1 part quinacridone magenta, PR202).

The topmost row is roughly a 1:1 mix, followed below by less lunar black in the mix.

Strangely the best mix in the non-earth, non-gray colors here is with quinacridone rose—I suspect the same would hold of Phthalo Blue Green Shade due to the similar value (obviously not hue) shared between the two. Colors that tend towards darker values don't work as well, unless they are earth colors or otherwise highly neutralized.

I feel that the combination of a black that brings down saturation rapidly, combined with the finickiness of having enough iron filings in the mix to make any sort of impact, combined with the need for a color compatible with Lunar Black's black grit, makes Lunar Black a specialty color at best. If you need to spice up an earth tone you otherwise don't use yet like with Lunar Black, or if you work with a highly neutralized palette, then Lunar Black will work quite well.

But as a general-use black, Lunar Black doesn't cut it—although since mixing blacks is a common practice, this doesn't feel like a great loss for most palettes.

You can purchase Lunar Black on

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 Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.