Painting in Black & White

Brownstone Shadows, Philadelphia, oil on panel, 8x10 in.

There is something very unique about painting in black and white with oil paints. I don’t miss working with color, I could easily work in black and white more often, however, there does not seem to be as much demand for works created in monochrome. I find it appealing the same way that black and white photographs seem to reveal more about the subject than those taken in color.

When working exclusively with values, your composition in its purest form really becomes apparent. You only have darks and lights with which to create balance and interest.  Working this way also forces your eye to really analyze the subtleties of the subject. The fewer value changes you have in your range, the more graphic your image will appear, the more you have, the more realistic, so you have a lot of options depending on the style in which you choose to paint.

I like to have a range of about 4 or 5 values. Sometimes, I think of my black and white images as layers in a silk screen, which creates a more graphic feel. I also don’t do a lot of blending, which also helps to reinforce the graphic qualities of my black and white work. Other artists, create soft, realistic blends–neither way is better than the other, they just produce completely different outcomes.

Experimenting with black and white techniques is a great way to improve your drawing skills and your ability to see values. For me, values are the underlying structure in every successful painting, without them, there is no depth.

This particular piece was created with Gamblin’s Torrit Gray, Ivory Black and Titanium white. For information about their 2011 Torrit Gray painting competition, visit



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