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The magnetic go-to black. Also known as PB11, Mars black is a much used, uber dependable part of the artist palette due to its opacity, lightfastness and permanence. It’s a mineral pigment made from iron oxide (essentially hydrated ferric oxides). Iron oxide is a dense, heavy powder and works well in all sorts of media. Due to the iron particles in Mars black acrylic paint, it’s magnetic in bulk. Try holding a magnet next to a tube of Heavy Body and see.

History and Origin

Naturally, the pigment is named after Mars, the mythical god of war who is also associated with the metal, iron. The Mars family of pigments, which also includes Mars Yellow and Mars Violet, are all synthetic iron oxides. Mars black was developed in the 20th century as an alternative to natural black pigments. Up until then, blacks were derived from the powdered residue from burnt materials.

How does Mars black compare to other colors?

Mars black vs. ivory black? Mars Black vs. lamp black? Mars black vs. carbon black? How does it compare? Mars black pigment is the only one that’s not carbon-based – they all come from burning other substances. Along with carbon black, Mars black is the most opaque of the blacks. It also has greater tinting strength - a small amount of Mars Black will create a noticeably darker gray than the same amount of Ivory Black.

The Character of Mars black

It’s a dense, opaque pigment with a warm brown undertone. It’s a good choice if you need full coverage, to layer or block out. It’s a powerful pigment and a little goes a long way when mixing - its high tinting strength can easily overwhelm other colors. Because of this, some artists like to premix their tints to save time.

Not all artists like to use black from the tube or pot and prefer to mix their own. It’s totally personal, but the debate has been raging for decades. When Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent were painting together, Sargent was surprised by the lack of black in Monet’s kit. Monet reported “I gave him my colors, and he wanted black, and I told him ‘But I haven’t any.’ ‘Then I can’t paint’ he cried, ‘how do you do it?’”

Mars black in the Art World

Since it became available to the art world, Mars black paint has been used widely. Abstract expressionist Franz Kline used it very prominently for ones of his famous monochrome oil paintings - the 1959 piece, Mars Black and White.

Mars black can be found in Liquitex Heavy Body, Soft Body, Acrylic Gouache and Basics color.


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