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Behind the Brush: My Monochromatic Painting Collection

Painting of Parisol in Paris All WetPainting of Cafe in the RainPainting of Une PromenadeView Full Monochromatic Paintings Collection

"I use Nature as a great teacher in how to paint light and shadow. Looking and seeing in the present can reveal amazing and rich experiences, which I hope to share with anyone looking at my painting."


When I first started painting, I saw a black-and-white photograph in a newspaper that intrigued me. It was of a man leaving a storefront with a heavy overcoat and fedora. I had been learning about underpainting, which is the paint you put on the canvas before the final paint. (For example, if I paint a field of green grass, I might paint it red first to set up a vibrancy to the canvas. Or I might paint it dark green first to give it depth.) I chose to paint the photograph in dark red first and then in black and white (with a small amount of greens, browns, and blues. I experimented and had fun with it. I really liked the finished piece. 

After finishing my first monochromatic painting, I realized there was a lot to be explored. I also found that there were some scenes, as I traveled about with my notebook and camera, that were just asking to be treated monochromatically. I did a series of rainy night-time city scenes of New York, New Bedford, Paris, and London. They were enthusiastically received.

The underpainting was an interesting challenge, as was the choice of warm or cold blacks, greys, and whites. I was not using complementary or opposite colors with the underpainting as I would with a full-color painting. I had to get a sense of how I wanted the painting to present itself. It could be bold and energetic or laid back and subtle.

There is a wide range of blacks, greys, and whites available both out of the tube or produced in a mix. I use ochres, yellows, and browns to produce a slightly warmer feeling. I use blues, greens, and purples to make a cooler scene. I have even used reds and pinks. All of these are pretty subtle, so that the overall effect is still monochromatic.

I had to ‘see’ and plan with much more attention to the values or intensity of light and dark in these paintings. If done well, monochromatic paintings can be powerful, sharp, and extremely vivid. They are a challenge but very rewarding.

When I go back to painting in color, I find that my sense of hue, value, saturation, and luminosity are greatly heightened, and it feels like I am trying on a new set of eyes. It is great fun. 


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