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Monochromatic / Monochrome paintings

A monochromatic color scheme or monochrome painting limits you to just one color along with black and white. This scheme does not allow for conflicting colors, even the colors of the highlights are the same as the color of the subject you are painting, only lighter. With monochromatic color scheme, achieving color harmony is guaranteed, as only one color and its various light and dark values are used.

Using this simplified color plan to make an elementary statement about your subject is fun. Monochromatic paintings are most successful when you use a wide range of values that provide strong lights and darks. Painting with only a few close values can limit the visual impact. So, to avoid a bland look, add light and dark accents just as your would season a dish with salt and pepper. Bring your painting into focus by placing extreme value contrasts near the center of interest.

Example of when a monochromatic color scheme is used:

When the reference photo or scene has a limited color range such as a blue and white boat in blue water with white reflection, using Monochromatic color scheme naturally make sense. The painting can go from black to dark blue, to medium and light blue, and to white. To give the scene of depth, the colors progress from relatively warm blue in the foreground to cooler blue-gray and gray as they recede in the distance. The center of interest is the boat, where the largest area of temperature and value contrasts occurs.

Exercise - Monochromatic landscape

  1. Using a small, soft brush, mark out the painting with a thin solution of red. For example, use Alzarin Crimson.
  2. Using a large, round-ended hog bristle brush, lay in the sky by painting the background sky first followed by the shadow on the clouds. Then add the highlighted clouds in thick white. With a hog bristle bright, mix two tones for the land, using the paler on behind.
  3. Make the nearer hills stronger in tone. You will still need to keep a little white in the nearest land. This gives the paint its body. Finally add the trees, which are the darkest part and therefore have mainly red in them. Paint the road a pale pink. 

Exercise - Monochromatic sky

  1. Use a small, soft brush to mix a little Cobalt Blue and a lot of medium to create a watery color, and use this to  mark out y our clouds. Clouds become flatter and longer as they recede into the distance.
  2. Change to a large, round ended brush and on your palette mix blue with a little white and very little medium. Apply this mix from the top of the picture moving downwards. As you do so, add more white to the mix to make the sky lighter in the distance.
  3. Still using your large brush, mix a medium toned blue (rather like the color half way down the sky). Apply this on the undersides of the clouds. This will be the cloud shadow.
  4. Wipe your brush thoroughly on a rag and pick up a large amount of white. Lay the white paint on thickly with your brush to create the highlights on the clouds. Mix blue with a touch of white for the land.