Monochrome Painting Demonstration


You only need one colour to paint a picture. This is especially true in watercolour painting. With the simple addition of  varying amounts of water, a single pigment can produce a near infinite number of hues.

Painting in monochrome demonstrates the importance of tones (the level of darkness of a colour) and can significantly simplify the painting process by eliminating the often complicated  process of choosing and mixing colours.

For this example a chose a simple landscape of trees and hills. I enjoy painting winter landscapes and think that character full winter trees with their tangled branches and interesting shapes make great painting subjects.


1. Paper and Paint

Paper and Paint

I started this picture with a light pencil drawing on Saunders Waterford 200lb paper. As this is a small picture (21cm by 15cm) I could have just as well used 140lb paper but I have a growing stack of 200lb off-cuts that should be used.

For this picture I chose the colour Burnt Umber which gives you a wonderful coffee stain tone.

2. The Sky

The Sky

When I start a landscape painting I usually work from top to bottom (In this case that means starting with the sky) and from lighter tones to darker ones. The sky and clouds in particular can be important in setting the mood of a painting as well as directing the eye to or framing the subject of your picture. I dampened the upper half of the paper with a wash brush and then roughly suggested the cloud shapes. While the cloud wash was still wet I gave a hard edge to some of the clouds by gently lifting some of the pigment with a tissue.

When the sky was dry I painted the background hills over the lower cloud formation using the sable # 6 brush and for added interest I suggested a few rocky formations with the same brush.  


3.Background Trees Background Trees

I Kept the background trees faint and in the distance by minimising detail and using my lightest wash of burnt umber. I painted these trees using a #0 rigger (long thin brush). The indistinct upper branch formations were painted using the brush side on and the trunks were added using the fine point of the rigger.



4. Monochrome Landscape The Foreground

The focal point, the foreground tree was  described in the most detail with the fine rigger using the strongest dilution of Burnt umber. The increased strength of colour in the foreground tree and bush helps to push the indistinct tree clusters further back and accentuates the feeling of distance. I kept the foreground simple with a few broad washes applied with my #6 round sable brush. The meandering path helps draw the viewer in and also helps to suggest depth.


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