How painting in black and white can improve your art

Painting in black and white can offer artists a number of benefits, says concept artist Charlie Bowater.

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

For concept artist Charlie Bowater, starting in B&W trains you to focus on the image as a whole

Painting in black and white is great. It completely cuts out having to think about colour to start with and instead you'll find yourself concentrating on elements such as composition, value, lighting and form.

These are arguably the more important steps. Of course, colour is a vital step, but the benefit of black and white is that you can focus on the image as a whole and resolve any glaring issues before you even get to that stage.

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Black and white is a great choice for thumbnails – doing this in colour seems to make things more complicated than they need to be. Just pick a few tones; mid-grey, dark grey/black and a highlight.

You can thumbnail pretty much anything with just a few simple values: characters, monsters, environments, vehicles. That's part of the beauty of black and white – it's so simple you can translate it to anything and it trains you to focus on the image as a whole, rather than worrying about colour, details and such-like.

Most of the time I opt for a black and white process, whenever I'm creating character designs for instance, so I'm going to use that as an example here.

I start out with a simple silhouette and then build up to a refined design. This technique also makes creating any variations on the character very simple too, because there's no need to worry about interfering with any colours you've painted.

01. Block party

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

First things first – I block out the character's basic silhouette. I always try and keep things fairly rough at this point and avoid going into any detail too soon.

Whether your character is a little kid or a hulking great giant, this is the time to focus on their shape and try and emphasise their character. Experiment with silhouettes until you find one you like.

02. Value yourself

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Once you've painted a shape that you're pretty happy with, it's time to start adding in some values. When doing this I don't tend to use any values that are too bright or too dark, I like to keep things subtle while I'm building up the shape.

I keep things pretty sketchy and gently add in some subtle shadows and highlights to find the structure of the body.

03. Brushes for details

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

I'm happy with the shape and structure so it's time to add in details. This is one of my favourite stages and I could happily detail characters all day long.

I start to add in those dark shadows and bright highlights to really bring out the form of the character. I stick with a fairly small soft brush, sketch in and then build up those details, refining as I go.

04. Vary those values

Remember to try and vary the values you're choosing. You can use bright white highlights right through to dark greys and black. If you just stick to the middle ground and only use grey it can make things look a little flat.

05. Build and build

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Painting in black and white means you can focus on the image as a whole and resolve any glaring issues before you get to the colour stage.

From here it's pretty simple to just keep building up the detail until you're ready to either go to colour or simply leave it as black and white.

Words: Charlie Bowater

Charlie lives in the northeast of England. She works as a concept artist for Atomhawk by day and is a doodler of everything else by night. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 100.

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