How to: Monochromatic Paint


Learning to create in monochrome is a major skill for most artists, and you may even be tested on this ability if you apply to art school. To paint in monochrome, it is essential that you learn how to utilize color and shade scale. Shade scales will allow you to understand and accurately use color values to create your monochrome painting. For a traditional monochrome painting, you will use only a single color of paint, and black and white shades to create different color values in your image. Robert Sherer is an example of an artist specializing in monochrome.

Things You'll Need

  • Paint
  • Brushes
  • Paper
  • Canvas
  • Decide what you want to paint and what color you will use. Ideally, you should let your subject matter influence your choice of color. For example, you might paint a sad little boy with blue.

  • Draw the image you want to paint on your canvas or paper.

  • Create a color scale. In this case your middle color, for example, will be blue with white on one side and black on the other side. On the white side, paint progressively lighter swatches of blue color until the color is pure white. Do the same on the opposite side for black. When you are done, you should have a line of color painted on a piece of paper. This line should start with white and then go slowly darkening through a variety of light blue shades until it reaches pure blue and then begins to darken to black. You can do this exact process with any color, but make sure it is a "pure" color, not a value (made by mixing white or black with a color).

  • Use your color scale to paint your image. This can be somewhat difficult to do depending on the complexity of the subject, but essentially you should use the lighter shades in areas that light strikes and the darker shades in the shadows. You should only rarely use the pure color, which will be very striking, so save it for important details or things that you want to highlight. The idea of your color scale is to help you mix the exact "value" so that you can paint it consistently every time. It will also help you see what values you need to paint with. For example, if you are painting a face in a light blue shade, you will use the light shade on one side to highlight that blue and the darker shade to shadow it. You can also skip values; for example, using a color two values away to make for a more striking effect. The closer the values are to each other, the more subtle the effect will be.

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  • Photo Credit monochrome rock image by Paul Moore from
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