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Monochromatic Colour

Working with monochromatic colour, doesn't just mean using black and white - far from it!

As I look back at my paintings over the years, I can see I've quite often favoured an essentially monochrome palette in many of my pieces, but I've usually added a touch of other colours.

There's a subtlety and depth that can be achieved in using a restricted palette which for me, allows the shapes and lines to have a stronger visual conversation, than if I'd used many different colours in the one painting.

Limiting colours is often cited as a good way to help artists pay closer attention to composition, contrast and other elements of art and design, without the visual distraction of lots of colours. It also presents us with a challenge, as we can't rely so much on using a variety of different hues to add impact to our work.

Using colour in a monochromatic way is also a highly effective way to create mood or atmosphere in an artwork. But that's blog post for another day!

Technically speaking, monochromatic colour schemes are limited to one hue (colour) and tones derived from that single colour. These tones can have a broad range of both value and saturation levels which can can be adjusted, when combined to varying degrees with admixtures.

For this exercise I chose a primary hue - blue, and made up swatches of paper by mixing both a warm blue - (Phthalo Blue) and a cool blue (Ultramarine) with admixtures of Payne's Grey, Burnt Umber and white for mixing chromatic greys.

There is a natural colour harmony that occurs when working this way and by intermixing my various colours, a seemingly never ending range of tones with different values and saturation levels was easy to produce, but you have to stop somewhere!

Monochromatic Colour Scheme - Blue
Monochromatic Colour Scheme - Blue

Having painted my swatches on bleed proof maker paper, I set about creating a collage in my sketchbook. I just used a regular matte medium for the gluing. Almost straight away, value and contrast became the focus of my attention, placing light values next to dark.

And just snipping away randomly at my swatches allowed me to consider differences in shape and how these might work together in the composition, which wasn't planned at all, it just evolved as I went along.

Interestingly this little exercise gave me a sneaky little opportunity to play around with an irregular edge to a composition, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

It also felt liberating to not think about the colour - which might sound a bit strange, but as I'd prepared the swatches as a separate and initial part of the exercise I found I was able to let go of 'colour thinking' and more freely consider other elements such as composition and contrast as I worked.

Filling a sketchbook with these collages, would provide a great reference for future paintings in terms of thinking about colour palettes I might explore.

It was very satisfying and pleasing to create, I could've kept going…maybe I will if I find myself in need of a creative diversion or some down time from bigger work on another day!

Monochromatic Sketchbook Collage - Blue
Monochromatic Sketchbook Collage - Blue

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'Colour Third Edition: A workshop for artists, designers' by David Hornung 2020

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