Easy One Color Painting How-to Guide
Learn how to create an easy one-color painting with washy and transparent acrylic layers in less than an hour, even if you are new to painting.
One of the best things I did for my painting was discovering and using glazes and washes for transparent layering!
If you’ve taken any of my courses/tutorials, you know I use these frequently to build textures and create depth and dimension with acrylic paints.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started with your one-color or monochromatic painting, such as:
What is a one-color painting?
Monochromatic means we’ll be painting with a single color in different shades. This means that a single color is depicted in different values and intensities. The color remains the same, but the elements that differ are the color’s brightness, lightness, darkness, or dullness.
Color can either have a dampening effect on your mood or a positive, uplifting impact on you!
The one-color painting will teach important art lessons in contrast, composition, and shape.
You will be challenged with a fun project by exploring monochrome in your artwork.
Why is my “washy and transparent” twist on a one-color painting important?
Acrylics are great. However, acrylics alone can be heavy, opaque, and lack the intended appeal when the application is more light, airy and vulnerable.
Layering with one-color glazes and washes gives us various handy painting techniques. However, if you are a painter unfamiliar with glazes and washes, you are in for a real treat. You can use them to create various painting effects, like adding the illusion of depth to an artwork. Illuminate color and fix issues!
One-color paintings help artists understand how light and colors can create shapes within a composition, hone your observation skills, aiding you in identifying colors in the future.
My experience working with students over the years has been that limiting the color palette to a single color can break through what’s been holding them back. I mean, who doesn’t want a new experience? More creative freedom.
What is the term "glaze?"
Glaze refers to a transparent layer made with a mixture using varying amounts of a transparent medium and small quantities of paint color.
What is the term "wash?"
A wash is a transparent layer made with varying amounts of water and small amounts of paint color. Washes are also called stains.
What is the term Grisaille?
The famous Old Masters often used a glazing technique called a grisaille (gres-a-elle), meaning grays. So the painting is created with a series of grays and a bit of white, but mostly all grays. Yet it looks layered and varied and not just, well, gray.
How to paint with a single color successfully?
There are many ways to create a one-color painting. Think of this one as an underpainting. An underpainting of grays or neutrals indicates where the darks and lights will be. This “gray” underpainting will allow you to concentrate on dark and light patterns and general composition concepts without thinking of color as you paint the facial features. The use of Grisaille is a great way to add the look of an Old Master’s realism.
We will create an easy one-color self-portrait painting in 8 steps. Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Prime your canvas with a TITANIUM WHITE.
I feel that this step is one of connecting to the canvas. It’s symbolic of me clearing my mind and dedicating myself to the experience.
Step 2: Select a reference image your one color painting.
You can find one online, sketch your own, or print the image I’ve provided in the supply list below.
Step 3: Trace the image.
Using the PRISMACOLOR Ebony pencil, trace the image and facial features. Turn the page over and color along the lines using the Prismacolor pencil. Be sure to lay a good amount of color on the paper so it will transfer dark enough to see the image on the canvas.
Step 4: Transfer the image.
Turn the page over and color along the lines using the Prismacolor pencil. Be sure to lay a good amount of color on the paper so it will transfer dark enough to see the image on the canvas.
Step 5: Mix the color variations of washes.
Mix five small portions of water and color separately to create different gradients. You can combine more as you work.
Step 6: Start your one color painting working from dark to light.
I usually begin by working on the face and features in a painterly fashion. Layering with washes using assorted brushes to bring the effect using various strengths of your washes according to your inspiration. Let go and go with YOUR flow.
Step 7: Add details to your painting.
Let your intuition, feelings, and senses be your guide. It’s fun painting layer by layer and sifting the face and its features as you go. Layer in small sections, giving sections a “pop.” Let the painting dry.
Step 8: When done, give it a layer of glazing "final" coat.
3/4 Satin glaze + 1/4 Gloss glaze + a little water (just a tablespoon or two). Mix well and apply over the entire dry painting with a flat brush. Let dry. Varnish. And walla! Your beautiful, easy one-color painting piece of artwork is ready to be hung or displayed!
Tips & Best Practices For One-Color Painting:
Being an abstract artist, I’ll frequently apply bright opaque areas of color as my underpainting. Then shift the tone and hue by glazing over those. This contemporary use of glazing has many advantages. Glazing can create shadows under forms for the illusion of 3D. It can also allow you to shift your lights and darks, changing a flat-colored form into the feeling of volume or 3D shape.
IF NOTHING ELSE…Take your focus off the outcome – this is not about painting a masterpiece. Stay in the painting experience.
One color paintings (or underpaintings) are the springboard for your next painting!
When your underpainting (one color painting) is dry, you can then apply glazes of color over the grays. You can even continue with colored washes! Enjoy your experience – there are no limits to what you can create!
In portraits - if I think the flesh tones are too yellow and want to fix it.
What do I do? Give up? Not a good idea. Start over? Wow, that’s time-consuming, so also not a good idea. An easy solution is to make a glaze mixture using the opposite color of yellow — violet — along with a large amount of a transparent medium. Apply this mixture thinly to create a transparent overlayer for an easy fix.
Want to use the acrylic glazes?
Working with acrylic glazes is also a great experience and a much slower process because you must let them DRY THOROUGHLY between layers (key!)
Supplies & Tools
You can try various brands, but here are links to my “go-to” supplies:
A reference image or self-portrait template
Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylic Paint, Titanium White
A small palette knife
Disposable plastic plate
Bowl of water (I use an empty large yogurt container)
Paper towels for blotting and cleaning
A canvas of your choice (8½” X 11″ or 9″ X 14″)
Table easel optional
Get started with your easy one-color painting today!
I’ve been empowered, encouraged, and discovered much about myself by combining art theory with practical exercises like this one to become more childlike. I’ve found the more childlike I become, the more my art improves.
There’s nothing like it. You can experience this freedom too!