Word of the Day: Achromatic

Learning new things in art is always fun, and today I came across the term achromatic color scheme. Now, for starters, that’s definitely a contradiction in terms, or what is known in popular parlance as an oxymoron. If something is achromatic it lacks color, so how can you have an achromatic color scheme?

Well, as my husband always says, if you look at things differently, things look different, so let’s look at achromatic from another angle. Basically, achromatic means black and white. Again, lacking in color.

Of course, we can get technical here and turn to the scientific use of achromatic. It refers to a specific type of lens that is designed to minimize chromatic aberration, and if that means anything to you, great. It means very little to me.

For purposes of art, achromatic refers to our basic black and white, with a few grays thrown in if we like. Or, getting “artsy” here, any neutral can be considered achromatic, so you could probably pair brown and white — or brown and tan, I suppose — and call that an achromatic color scheme.

How about black and brown? Tan and white? All those shades of gray? Call them achromatic if you will. For me, I’m keeping things simple and sticking to basic black and white. Those were the neutrals I chose this morning for an adventurous achromatic acrylic pouring.

My most recent pouring, you will recall, was a disaster. I’d tried using a split-complementary color scheme along with black, and I made a horrible, horrible mess with the colors. For that reason alone, the idea of working sans colors definitely appealed to me this morning.

So, I gathered up my supplies and got to work. Using a 10 x 10 stretched canvas and my inexpensive Apple Barrel craft acrylics, I first mixed a cup of thin white — a mixture of acrylic and water — and poured it on the canvas. I should have prepared more. It didn’t cover the entire canvas, but I moved on.

I prepared a cup of black acrylic and another cup of white. To each of these I added a bit of water, a bit of a flow medium, and after stirring them up, I added drops of silicone oil to each cup. Next I layered the two paints in my “extra white” cup. First, white, then black, then white, then black, then white.

Here came the moment of truth — quite literally. First, I carefully picked up the canvas and placed it over the top of the cup for my “dirty pour”. I flipped it all over, and then I began counting. This is something I only recently learned. It’s good to allow the cup to set untouched on the canvas for a full minute. Yep. I counted. Slowly. One. Two. Three. All the way up to a full sixty seconds. Then, holding my breath, I picked up the cup.

I was pleased — and maybe a bit surprised — at what I saw. I liked it a lot. As it happens with acrylic pouring, however, the design always moves and changes as I attempt to cover the canvas. In hopes of salvaging a lot of what I liked, I didn’t attempt to cover the entire square, but opted to keep the white as a sort of border.

For this pour, instead of using my butane torch for heat, I grabbed a blow dryer instead. I was very happy with the number of “cells” that formed.

The photograph doesn’t look like much. Cameras, I’ve learned, try to “average things out” — for wont of the correct technical term — so the whites look darker, and the blacks look lighter. The piece is actually quite eye-catching with its strong contrasts of black and white.

Now I want to do more of these stark black-and-white achromatic acrylic pourings. I want to play around with possibilities, layering the paints differently, pouring onto a black gessoed surface, and trying various pouring methods. With black and white, I don’t have to concern myself with how my colors will look together! That makes the pouring process quite simple.

I think I’ll also try an achromatic pouring with the addition of a metallic paint. I have a silver acrylic. I wonder how that would turn out. Or maybe gold would be interesting. Maybe a rose gold. Of course, that might be pushing it a bit beyond the boundaries of a true achromatic color scheme, but isn’t that what exploring art is all about?

For now, I’m quite happy with my morning in the studio, and I wish you could see what this stunning acrylic pour actually looks like. I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for it. Trust me, it’s very eye-catching.

Or, you might have fun trying an achromatic acrylic pouring of your own. It’s definitely simple. A bit of acrylic paints — fifty cents a bottle at Wal-Mart — a little acrylic flow medium, and a drop or two of silicone oil. WD-40 works well.

Give it a try! Colors are fun, but sometimes nothing is better than simple black and white.



  1. This idea is so much like two-color quilts. Doing a series of two-color pours as you describe would be fascinating! If I painted anymore, or did pouring………………not my thing, but I enjoy hearing about your experiments.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Acrylic pouring isn’t really my thing either LOL… so I’m having fun learning and playing. Most of my pourings are sad-looking, indeed. Using black and white was definitely much easier than working with colors. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 2-color quilt. That would be very interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice musings on the word. Someone suggested I display several of my black and white drawings on a wall, so I’ve been working on that but got a bit detoured thinking about monochromatic or mostly achromatic but with bits of neutral, so the project got complicated quickly, as things do

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve had fun playing with black and white in recent months, learning to “zentangle” and learning about “notan” studies. It was fun to use black and white for an acrylic pouring.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I could find a way to “over-ride” the camera’s attempts to gray everything out. The contrasts between the black and white is really lovely in the pouring.


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