Monochrome Painting and Grey Colors

A painting in monochrome or sepia can bring atmosphere and drama to a painting. But contrary to belief, a choice of colors can be used to achieve interesting lights and darks as opposed to reaching black and white paint. But what pigments can be used for a monochrome study?

Colors that Make up Black

Painting in Monochrome

Black can be createde by mixing all three primary colors magenta, yellow and cyan in equal measure. In pigments the colors permanent rose, pthalo blue and cadmium yellow (pale) closely resemble the colors used in printing ink. But other pigments can be used to produce a multitude of blacks and darks that using premixed black alone cannot achieve. Types of Black in Paint

There are several black pigments that are available from art shops, including ivory black, lamp black, mars black and perylene black. Dark grey colors can be used such as Payne’s grey, Davy’s grey and charcoal grey. Some blacks are slightly warmer or cooler than others, which indicate differentiation in color bias between the three primary colors.

But extra bias can be sought by adding another color to the black. Alizarin crimson and lamp black for instance results in a hot, sooty black that might be ideal for expressing the black embers of a furnace. Add a little ultramarine or cobalt blue, and the black will take on a blue-grey bias which might be used to suggest the bases of moonlit clouds.

White Pigment in Painting

Again, various white pigments can be found, such as titanium white, flake white, zinc white and lead white. Flake white is a little translucent and is often used for underpainting. Titanium is the most opaque of all and is therefore the white I use most often. Various greys such as Paynes’ grey, Davy’s grey and charcoal grey can be used if a particular grey is required throughout the painting.

Adding a little sepia to the monochrome colors will suggest an aged photograph effect. Burnt sienna and/or burnt umber can be used just as well. But painting in monochrome does not have to be restricted to using just black and white pigment, which in fact can rob the painting of depth. Introducing another color into the black and white will offer an interesting slant. My painting of the snow cap contains no black. I used titanium white, ultramarine and bunt umber for the darks.

How to Mix Black

Interesting blacks and dark hues can result by mixing certain colors. An uneven mix can result in various biases from ‘happy accidents’ which might be due to various balances between the pigments. Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna will bring about an interesting array of warm greys, sepias and blacks. Silver, cream and eggshell can be mixed for the lighter colors.

Interesting Grey Colors for Painting

Other pigment combinations can be used to create black and a multitude of greys. Permanent rose, pthalo blue and burnt umber can be used to bring about warm blacks, chintzy greys and violet-blues.

Cadmium red, ultramarine and burnt umber will bring about slate, deep indigo and crimson-black. Cobalt blue can be substituted for ultramarine or burnt sienna substituted for burnt umber.

Earth Colors and Blues

Monochromatic hues can be brought about by the use of earth colors and blues, with a little red if warm darks are sought after. Yellow can also be used, but this color already exists within the earth colors. Experimenting with different color combinations will create different types of dark colors and black, from warm to cool black, from warm highlights to cool highlights that include creams, indigo, slate and silver.

Articles on Colour Use

Build confidence in painting

How do I paint ethnic skin colors?

Instruction on wet into wet technique