Colorful Thoughts: Black!

This is part of a series.  Check out previous posts on purple, blue, yellowredorange, and brown! (I know I skipped green – it’s my favorite, so I’m saving it for last.)

Black, like red, can be different things to different people.  (We’re not even getting in to the “absence of color” vs. “all colors” argument.)  Let’s talk about it first in the context of clothing.

Black can be austere, especially when worn unbroken by other colors.  It is a favorite color of priests, puritans, and widows.  In this form, black is a symbol of sacrifice and loss.  Priests and puritans made sacrifices to separate themselves from the world, and their clothing demonstrates it by the color.  Widows have lost a loved one, and (at least in Western culture) black signifies mourning, a time to focus on that loss.

Black is also mysterious. It reminds people of night, when it’s harder for us to see and things that are unfamiliar happen.  Ninjas and thieves wear black as camouflage for their nocturnal activities.  This is also where black gets its sexy flavor.  A woman in a black dress and veil could be in mourning; she could also be a mysterious (and by extension, sexy) stranger.

Because of its relationship with sacrifice, death, and darkness, things that most people fear, black has also become synonymous with sinister.  (Disney hasn’t helped this.  Some of their scariest villains are associated with black: Ursula the sea witch, Jafar, and Maleficent all dressed in black, albeit with differing accent colors.)  Many children’s villains are black; it makes it easier for them to identify “the bad guy.”  Westerns, too, like to make use of black clothing to signify to the audience who is the antagonist.

In magic black is often associated with something dark and sinister, sometimes related to death, which is where we get the phrase “black magic.”  Magic users in black don’t have to be evil, though.  Groups of wizards can use black the same way that priests do, to symbolize sacrifice and identify themselves as separate from the world.

When it comes to individual coloration, black can be used many ways.  Dark skin is often given to exotic characters in fantasy, probably because it wasn’t commonly seen in medieval Europe.  Dark hair or eyes, especially paired with fair skin, can give a mysterious/sexy quality or a sinister feel, depending on how it is used.

As an author, you can either use people’s typical perceptions of the color black in a way they will anticipate or against expectation.  In Dragon Pendant, the black dragons are smart, unwilling to conform, and the only one we meet is pretty much evil.  In the movie How to Train Your Dragon, the main dragon is black.  He’s scary at first, but his character changes as we learn more about him.  Dress a character all in black to make her mysterious or even scary, and you can either carry her on in this fashion or reveal her as a sweetheart who really just likes the color black.  As always, you are the author, it is your call.  🙂


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deshipley
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 18:07:56

    One of my characters has a love affair with black and its dark connotations. (He’s kinda melodramatic, that way.)

    I recall being most suprised to hear that the Japanese once (or, in some cases, still do?) considered teeth inked black to beautiful. It may have been in Japan, also, where white was considered the color of mourning. (Correct me if I’m wrong, people who know better! I might possibly be thinking of another country/culture.)

    Fascinating how a single color can mean totally opposite things to different folks.


    • Leigh Townsend
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 19:17:08

      White is considered the color of burial (and mourning) in several Asian countries. Brides there traditionally wear red, not white. (Next week I’m planning to do white, so this may come up again…)

      I agree, it is very intriguing how one color means different things to different cultures and even different individuals!


  2. Trackback: Colorful Thoughts: White! « Butterflies and Dragons
  3. Trackback: Colorful Thoughts: Green! « Butterflies and Dragons

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