Two More Quick Tips For Making Monochrome Art

Well, although I’ve talked about making monochrome art before , I thought that I’d return to the topic briefly today.

This is mostly because, due to being busy with various things, some of this month’s upcoming daily art posts (and possibly comics) will contain monochrome art for time reasons (due to being somewhat busy at the time of writing). When you’ve had a bit of practice, switching to monochrome is one of the easiest ways to make reasonably good-looking art quickly. Like this:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size drawing will be posted here on the 20th August.

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

1) Detail matters more: Simply put, one of the reasons why monochrome art can look really impressive is because the lack of colours draws the audience’s attention to the details of the underlying drawing.

As such, detail matters a lot more. Of course, if you’ve got limited time, then there are lots of sneaky ways to give the impression that your monochrome art is more detailed than it actually is (eg: shrouding large parts of the picture in darkness, using a variety of different simple shading techniques, impressionistic details etc..).

In addition to this, you can also make the detail in your monochrome art stand out more by ensuring that there is a good mixture between blank, shaded and dark areas in your artwork. In other words, try to ensure that each type of area makes up at least 20% of the total surface area of your picture.

Another good rule (which I didn’t entirely follow in the drawing near the beginning of this article) is to try to ensure that no two blank, shaded or dark areas of the picture are next to each other – so that each part of the picture stands out in contrast to the surrounding area.

Here’s an example of this technique in a monochrome drawing of mine from 2014 (based on a photo I took in 2004). Although there are some shaded areas are close to each other, they either use different types of shading and/or are separated with thick black lines:

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown [2014]

But, even so, detail matters a lot more because the audience are going to notice it more.

2) Digital tools: I’m sure I’ve talked about some elements of this, but one reason why monochrome art is such a cool genre if you need to make good art in a hurry is that it’s a lot easier and quicker to use digital tools (after scanning or photographing your art).

One easy way to make digital copies of your monochrome art look suitably crisp (and to make any digital edits alterations stand out less) is to open the scanned or digitally-photographed copy of your monochrome art in pretty much any image editing program (if you don’t have one, then use this free open-source one) and look for the “brightness/contrast” option.

Once you’ve found it, lower the brightness and increase the contrast significantly (experiment until you get the levels right). This will make the black areas of your picture look suitably dark and the white areas look suitably bright. Whilst doing this with colour artwork will often result in some rather strange-looking results, it is a quick and easy way to make your monochrome art look clean and crisp.

Likewise, if your image editing program has a “hue/saturation/lightness” option, then lower the saturation to zero too. This will get rid of any colour artefacts that can turn up when digitising monochrome art, since lowering the saturation level to zero removes all colours from the picture (eg: if you try to do this with a colour image, then it will turn into a greyscale image).

Likewise, for time and consistency reasons, look for any selection tools and/or fill tools in your image editing program. You can use these to quickly fill large areas with black “ink” much more quickly and consistently than you can if you use physical paints or inks.

Seriously, all of the solid black areas in the preview picture near the beginning of this article were filled in digitally. If you don’t believe me, here’s a cropped (but otherwise unprocessed) scan of the actual physical drawing.

Yes, I could have filled these areas with paint or ink manually, but it was quicker and easier to do it digitally. Plus, notice how faded this picture looks – this is because I haven’t adjusted the brightness/contrast levels. Likewise, I messed up the proportions on the globe slightly in the original drawing, but was able to quickly and easily correct them in the final edited picture.

So, yes, when it comes to monochrome art, digital tools are not only useful, but they can also save you time and make any edits or alterations to your art a lot less noticeable (yes, you can make seamless alterations/edits to colour art, but it’s a little bit more complicated).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

Three Ways To Get Better At Drawing In Black And White (With Art Preview)

2015 Artwork Get Better At B&W Drawing article sketch

Although I’ve made greyscale drawings (with pencil shading) before and I’ve obviously drawn quite a few random doodles over the years, I only really got into making proper black and white drawings late last year.

Since then, it’s become one of my favourite artforms to work in. In fact, here’s a sneak peek at one of my upcoming B&W drawings that I’ll post here in a couple of weeks’ time:

"Chichester" By C. A. Brown

“Chichester” By C. A. Brown

But, this isn’t an article about why B&W ink drawings are awesome (I’ve already written one of those – ironically, I wrote it a couple of months before I really seriously got into using this artform).

No, it’s an article about how get better at drawing in black and white. I should probably point out that B&W drawing is one of those artforms that is “more difficult than it looks“. So, this article is aimed at people who are at more of an “intermediate” skill level (like myself) rather than at absolute beginners.

So, let’s get started…

1) Copy Photos: One of the best ways to really challenge yourself when you’re learning how to draw in black and white is to try to draw an accurate copy of a colour photograph in black and white. This might sound like a fairly simple exercise but it’s both more difficult and more educational than you might think.

Why? Because you’ll have to find ways to represent all of the subtle variations in texture, tone, lighting, colours etc… that there are in an average colour photograph using only two colours.

In other words, you’ll have to convert a realistic colour image into black and white, whilst still making it look like the original image. Kind of like this:

"Berlin Underpass 2004" Photo By C. A. Brown

“Berlin Underpass 2004” Photo By C. A. Brown

"Berlin Noir" By C. A. Brown (Based on the above photo)

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown (Based on the above photo)

Of course, the only way to make an accurate B&W copy of a colour photograph is to use a whole variety of different shading techniques (hatching, cross-hatching, dots etc…).

This means that you will have to pay especially close attention to the variations in brightness between different parts of the photo and work out how to represent these changes using all of the shading techniques that you know.

This is one of the best ways to learn how to draw in black and white for the simple reason that it makes you “think on your feet” and work out how to do various things whilst you’re actually drawing.

After all, you can sketch the outlines of everything in your photo in pencil before you start drawing, but when it comes to the shading – you’ll only really get one chance to do this in ink.

2) Look around: One of the best ways to learn how to draw in black and white is to look closely at other black and white drawings and to see what kind of shading techniques the artists used in these drawings. And then copy these techniques in your own art.

Yes, it’s perfectly ok. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s pretty obvious that there are no copyrights on basic shading techniques and simple texture patterns. So, if you see a B&W drawing where the artist has used a really cool technique, then don’t be afraid to use that technique yourself.

But you don’t just have to restrict yourself to drawings when it comes to learning new techniques – you’ll be surprised at how many basic B&W drawing techniques you can learn by just looking at random things and asking yourself “how can I represent this in black and white?

To give you an example of what I mean – an hour or two before I wrote this article, I was watching the special features on a “Babylon 5” DVD.

One of the creators of the show was being interviewed and, behind him, there was this wonderful textured green background made out of lots of little pyramids. I thought “I have to learn how to draw this” and, since my sketchbook was nearby, I drew a black and white copy of it:

It looks a bit like this.

It looks a bit like this.

I also quickly realised that it was a surprisingly easy texture to draw because all you have to do is make one diagonal half of each square black and make the other diagonal half white. After all, on the DVD I was watching, it was clear that one half of each pyramid was darker than the other half.

So, yes, you can learn a lot about drawing in black and white just from looking at things.

3) Take A Step Back: One thing that can be slightly difficult to learn about making B&W art is making sure that there is the right amount of contrast in your drawing.

If there are too many white areas in your drawing, it will look pale and washed out. If there are too many shaded areas, then the picture will just be one large grey blur and, if there are too many black areas, then it might be difficult to see what is going on in your picture.

The same is true on a smaller level too. If two areas of your picture are next to each other, then they should be different colours (eg: it’s ok to put a black area next to a white area, or a shaded area next to a black or white area. But, if you put two shaded areas next to each other, then they should be shaded in a different way from each other).

So, one of the best ways to check that there’s a good balance between white areas, shaded areas and black areas in your picture is to – quite literally- take a step back. If you look at your picture from a distance and you can still tell what it is from a glance, then you’ve got the right amount of contrast in your drawing. If it looks “wrong”, or it’s difficult to tell exactly what’s what, then it’s probably a good idea to make some changes to your drawing.

A more high-tech way to do the same thing is to scan or digitally photograph your drawing and then look at a thumbnail image of it on your computer. If it’s still recognisable in the thumbnail, then you’ve got the contrast levels right.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂