Is anyone reading this old enough to remember when the old Kodak only took black and white pictures? Or when TV was only black and white? Have you ever seen a pencil study done in black and white?
What on earth does this have to do with painting? Well, these are examples of the most basic monochromatic color scheme. Monochromatic ... one color ... boring, huh? Far from it!
We have become so saturated with color that an adventure into a monochromatic world can be quite exciting.
And it doesn't have to be black and white. You can choose any tone you like. The French did it very well starting about 300 years ago when they began producing Toile de Jouy prints which were (usually pastoral) scenes put onto fabric and used for upholstry or window treatments. They are most often black, blue or dark red, but other colors are sometimes used. Wikipedia has a very good description of how toile originated and how it evolved.
Personally, I like darker tones and will usually choose an earth tone to work with. The idea is to use at least three values (see our article on value: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art57859.asp).
Darker values indicate areas that are in shadow, middle values are for the main body of objects and light values are used for highlights. Using a monochromatic color scheme can be more difficult that it sounds. Remember, you are only working with one color and tines (white added to the color) and tones (black or the compliment of a color added to darken the color). You can use as many values a you like, and it certainly can be interesting.
One good way to start is to take an old family snapshot that is in black and white and work from there. You need to study the values in the photo to determine where to use darker and lighter values. I will often print out pictures I may want to use for a painting in sepia tones instead of black and white since I like working in earth tones.
Or you might start with a simple still life; perhaps three apples on a table. You will get a feel for the use of the darks for shadows, etc. You can base in the apple with your medium value first, apply the shadow and blend it into the middle value so there is a soft line, indicating the apple's contour. A lighter value can be blended in where the light areas are and a shine mark, perhaps in pure white, can be added for extreme highlight where the strongest light reflection hits.
Do try a value study and enjoy yourself. You will learn lots from this excursion into the monochromatic world!
Be sure to visit our forum and let us know how it goes for you or ask questions about problems you have.
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