Working In Monochrome

I keep reading and hearing things about how babies develop routines after a few months, and mothers go back to work, or work from home, or really just resume some kind of normalcy in their lives. I haven’t had that experience yet. Our son has had a three-week long sleep regression, which means he wakes several times night. Before that he was only napping for thirty minutes at a time, and I was attempting to sleep train him for a couple of weeks. When he’s awake, he’s awesome; but I’m not working on drawings or painting a commission while he’s up. Awake time is his time, he has to learn and move and he needs me.

My point in mentioning all of this is that because of my lack of sleep, or his lack of napping (which, knock on wood, is sort of working itself out) I’ve been still pushing myself to keep working. I’m learning, all the time, to adapt to what I have to work with. This means I make short, timed sketches and studies of things to keep my mind working but to also fine tune technique. I’ve always felt that with drawing and watercolor painting, if you take too much time off, it can be difficult to get going again—and when you do, you definitely don’t pick up where you left off.

I decided to do a small series on these 4”x6” Strathmore watercolor postcards I’ve had for years. It started with a sketch I made of a photograph, and then I continued the challenge. Working in monochrome shows the range of value of each color. It’s limiting, but also liberating for me. Typically, my drawings are very colorful; sometimes I find they end up that way whether or not I planned on it. I’ve noticed that I mix more colors together to create darker values—I suppose if I was a more learned artist, I would have already known that isn’t always necessary. Since making these, I feel like I’ve been able to work with less color and still achieve my desired highlights and shadows.


Wheat Stalk, Raw Umber, 10 minutes


Inspired by “Stranger Things”, Vandyke Brown, 10-15 minutes


Our dog Juice, Prussian Blue, 6 minutes


Icelandic Reindeer, Indian Red, 10-15 minutes


Cape Cod, Ultramarine Blue, 25 minutes


Staghorn Fern, Green Oxide, 20-25 minutes

The series also coincided with me getting a new set of Grumbacher watercolors. After working out these studies, I will say that I don’t really recommend this set for anything other than quick work. Layering new, wet color over dry pigment doesn’t yield great results, and the areas with more layered pigment end up chalky, almost like working thickly with guache; studies like these are great for testing new materials before taking the dive into a large commissioned piece.

I have so many ideas for complex illustrations. The ideas never stop when I have less work time. The equation is something like the less work time I have, the more ideas for new pieces come to me. I’ve started using the voice memo recorder on my phone (“Diane…”) to keep track of my ideas if I can’t get to my sketchbook to write them down or draw thumbnails. And I know the day will come when I have time for them. Right now I’m slowly plugging away on a large piece, while using smaller sketches like these as quick release of energy– exercises, even. I work at night, too, when our son is sleeping more soundly. But it’s important to rest, and not get so caught up in working. I need my energy for my son. This time I have with him is short, and I know it will fly by, and I want to enjoy it, giving him everything I’ve got. So I try to keep my daily work brief, easy and somewhat therapeutic. I’ll create my epic when the time is right.


2 comments on “Working In Monochrome

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