7 Reasons to Paint in Monochrome

If painting in monochrome seems a strange thing to do given all the paint colours available to us, think for a moment about how beautiful and powerful black-and-white or sepia photographs can be. Likewise paintings done with black ink only. We don’t feel a lack of colour when we look at these, yet when thinking about painting with only one colour our instinct is often to feel that we’re missing out somehow.

Monochrome Figure Painting
Colour: burnt sienna mixed with Prussian blue to create a deep, rich brown.

Here are my seven reasons to painting in monochrome (do add your own thoughts in the comments section below):

  1. Only one colour to deal with, so you really get to know its characteristics and what it does (opacity, transparency, tinting strength).
  2. Helps you focus on tone without the distraction of colour. Reminds you that less is often more: tone is often the solution to a problematic painting rather than colour.
  3. Encourages patience and persistence (because you can’t distract the viewer with colour and have to fix things).
  4. No wasted paint from colour-mixing mistakes.
  5. You’ve only one brush to wash (unless you’ve used various sizes).
  6. You can add the art term “Grisaille” into your vocabulary.
  7. Gives you the chance to pretend you’re Rembrandt, working in dark moody browns.


  • Monochrome doesn’t mean it has to be a tube colour, you can mix a colour.
  • Consider using a coloured ground (in a light tone) rather than working on white.
  • Transparent pigments are more versatile than opaque for this.
  • Using the white of the canvas/paper gives a different result than adding white paint.
  • Zinc white is more transparent than titanium white (which is a very opaque pigment).

Discovering how much can be achieved with only one colour is a step on the journey to discovering the joys of working with a limited palette. Using fewer colours but ones that you know intimately will produce better paintings than using lots of colours. It adds a cohesion as the colours work with one another across the whole composition.

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