Four Basic Tips For Making Monochrome / Black & White Art

2014 Artwork Monochrome art basic tips sketch

Although I’ve already written about why making art using just two colours (eg: black and white, without any grey) can be such a fun activity, I thought that I’d offer some more practical advice about the subject today.

This is mainly because, since I wrote my last article about this subject, I’ve had a bit more experience with making monochrome drawings – expect to see some examples on here from tomorrow evening onwards. In fact, here’s a preview of part of a picture you can expect to see on here in a couple of days’ time:

"City Rain (Preview)" By C. A. Brown  [The full picture will be posted here on the 18th and I've probably already posted it on DeviantART by now too]

“City Rain (Preview)” By C. A. Brown [The full picture will be posted here on the 18th and I’ve probably already posted it on DeviantART by now too]

I should also point out that this article will be focusing on making traditional art rather than digital art, although some of the tips here might stil be useful if you’re working digitally.

Anyway, because of my recent experiences with this type of art, I feel that I can at least offer a few basic tips that might come in handy. So, let’s get started:

1) Be prepared for a challenge: There’s something of a misconception that, because you’re not using anything other than black and white, monochrome art is an “easier” or “lazier” type of art to make. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my experience, monochrome art is often far more challenging and time-consuming to produce than colour or greyscale artwork. Why? Because not only do you have to include more fine detail (or at least the illusion of it), but you also have to pay much more careful attention to things like line width, contrast, hatching etc… (which I’ll explain more about later in this article) too.

Personally, I enjoy the added challenge that comes with making B&W art. But, I thought that I should warn you that it can be a much more difficult artform than you may have expected.

2) Black fill: Generally speaking, if you’re making B&W art, then there are probably going to be large areas of your picture that will need to be completely black (eg: shadows, night skies etc…).

Whilst you can fill these areas in with the pen that you’re using, I wouldn’t recommend doing this for two reasons – the first is that, if you’re using a good-quality non-refillable pen, then it will waste a lot of ink.

The second reason is that it’s very difficult and time-consuming to colour large black areas consistently if you’re just using a pen (since there will probably be gaps etc… unless you are extremely meticulous).

The way that I handle large areas of solid black is to make most of my B&W art on (fairly cheap) watercolour paper and then fill in the black areas using a black watercolour pencil and a wet paintbrush. Professional artists usually do this with India ink and a fine paintbrush, but since I’ve already got watercolour pencils – I use those instead.

Another very useful technique I use to avoid mistakes when using black paint is to draw a solid black 3-5mm border around any areas I plan to fill. Since even the finest paintbrush isn’t as precise or accurate as a pen, making a black border ensures that I don’t accidentally get black paint on any areas of the picture where it shouldn’t be.

3) Hatching and line width: Although you only have two colours to work with, your art doesn’t have to just consist of areas of solid colour. Although you can’t use grey in a B&W drawing, you can at least create the illusion of shaded areas by using a couple of simple techniques such as using lots of small dots, hatching and/or cross hatching.

In case you’ve never heard of “hatching” before, all it means is using lots of thin straight or curved lines going in one direction to create the illusion of shade. Like this:

A series of curved hatched lines - notice how almost all of them are pointing in the same direction.

A series of curved hatched lines – notice how almost all of them are pointing in the same direction.

If you need to make your shading darker, or to differentiate two shaded areas that are next to each other, then you can use a technique called “cross hatching”. All this means is that you use two or more sets of thin lines that are going in opposite directions to each other – like this:

The area on the right of this picture is cross hatched.

The area on the right of this picture is cross hatched.

Finally, another thing that you should use to your advantage is line width. If you need something in your picture to stand out or look closer to the foreground, then make sure that all of the important lines in it (or at least just the outline) are wider than the lines you use in the rest of your picture.

4) Contrast: One of the things that you need to pay constant attention to when you’re making a black & white drawing is contrast. In other words, each separate part of the picture should ideally be at least a slightly different shade or colour to the areas next to it.

This is because, if most of the picture is exactly the same shade or colour, then everything can “blend” into each other and look like a confusing mess. Making sure that each part of the picture is a slightly different shade to the parts next to it can help you to avoid this.

Likewise, you also need to look at your picture as a whole and make sure that there is a good balance of lighter and darker areas in it. This is because, even if you use subtly different shading for every part of your picture – if your entire picture looks too light or too dark, then it can still be confusing and visually unappealing when viewed at a distance.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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