If you’re self-taught, this blog will likely be of help to you in your artistic pursuit. I’ve been teaching art for more than 35 years, and I highly recommend to my students that they try to slow down and learn things gradually. This keeps the level of frustration down and the ability to hone the skills high.
Whenever a student wants to learn to paint or draw with a new medium, I have him or her start slowly, using a monotone palette. That’s why I start most students in graphite. It allows them to fully understand the use of lights, darks and form before delving into the confusion of color.
Even the Old Masters started their paintings this way, usually working out the lighting issues and contrasts in their art by using only gray tones. This technique, called grisaille, uses a palette that includes only a gray scale or brown color scheme. Color is then applied on top of the grisaille, or on a completely new canvas, after the kinks of the artwork have been worked out.
Regardless of the medium, I think monotone drawing or painting helps artists understand their materials. All art mediums have a “feel” to them that must be mastered before one can be proficient in them. Drawing in a single color simplifies the task, and helps an artist learn more completely. This approach gives an artist the practice he or she needs at a slower pace. Also, a completed monotone drawing or painting is very attractive. It’s a unique look that stands out on its own.
In this blog post I’ve included a few examples of using monotones. I did the step-by-step drawing of an egg in Prismacolor colored pencils. I used a light layering process to create the form. I used dark umber and sienna brown. The dark umber is a cooler color, which makes the shadowed areas recede. The sienna color is warmer, which makes the protruding areas advance. Remember this tip, (cool colors recede, warm colors come forward). Give the egg a try.
I created this drawing of my cowboy friend using just one pencil. It was done in a Verithin colored pencil, using just dark brown. The effect was rustic and unique, and I love the way the brown tones seem to enhance the masculine theme. Even though it’s just one color, it’s detailed and complete.
Painting in monotones can be fun and creative as well. I painted my portrait of Mark Twain (featured here) completely in Payne’s Gray and white oil paints. Payne’s Gray creates a wonderful blue-gray color when mixed with white. The effect is a cool, calming look that I love. This painting is still in progress, and I can’t wait to see what it’ll look like when it’s finished. I can totally see this in a black frame with matting that picks up the blue tones. (Yes, matting. This was painted on canvas paper, which can be matted and placed behind glass.)
So, the moral of this story is to slow down, and use the techniques of the Old Masters to hone your skills. Monotone art is a great way of doing this, and a striking way to depict your subject matter.
Edited by Cherie Haas, online editor of ArtistsNetwork.com
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!
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