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
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 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.
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 🙂