Have you ever painted a landscape entirely in one colour? Monochromatic painting is a great way to study value and shading, and it’s also a great warm-up for when you’re planning an important painting and you want to be sure you get the shadows right.

In this lesson, we’re going to do a thumbnail-sized painting of a hilltop at sunrise, and we’re only going to use purple. Feel free to use any colour because it’s only the values that matter in monochromatic painting.

Step 1: Sketch 

While sketching the scene, feel free to add details and fill in the black areas. The more work you can do before the permanent paint stage, the easier the process will be. Using a pencil at the beginning is also great for establishing texture on a grassy hillside like this. 

Step 2: A Soft Layer of Paint 

For this step, I took everything in the picture below the sky and put water on it. After that, I painted it with a very light layer of purple. You’ll establish contrast later on; for now, you’re focusing on getting an even wash over the entire area.

You can put more paint in darker areas, but remember we’re going to do most of the shading in layers. Repeat this step for the clouds. 

Step 3: Clouds and Shadows 

When the first layer is dry, you can start adding more depth. You can wet the surface again and blend the colour that way, or you can do what I like to do and use the side of the brush to blend the paint as you go. I think that method is easier to control than wet-on-wet. 

When painting the clouds, remember that there are multiple shapes within them, but they are still overall one mass. Clouds are different to paint every time because they change so much, but these winter clouds are like one big heavy blanket, so don’t leave any sharp lines between cloud shapes. 

Step 4: Hill Details

Use whatever blending method you like to make soft shadows along the hill as needed, and then you can start to show elements like stones and gaps in the snow with dark paint. For a softer, more distant effect, add the stones and grass while the previous layer is still wet. 

Step 5: Sharp Details 

Wait for the previous layer to be fully dry before adding sharp details with very little water in the paint. Experiment with textures to see what you like because you may prefer different types of lines. Brushstrokes and texture on small details like this are a bigger part of your art style than you think. 

You’ll notice I added a bit of dry brush painting to the clouds for texture. This is optional, but if you think you’ll like it, I recommend you try it! 

Step 6: Highlights 

Since there’s a city in the valley below, let’s add the lights with white gouache. Little rows and lines of white dots show the different city blocks, and solitary dots break up the monotony and add visual interest. Try to avoid creating a pattern, so you don't lose the spontaneous feel of this painting.

Now that it's done, you can take a step back and see what you think! Did you notice shading and value while painting more than usual? Do you like the colour you used, or is there another one you want to try next time? I chose purple because it felt wintery. I wonder what would happen if I used orange, or something else. 

Exercises like this are not just for beginners! I recommend doing something like this every so often, even if you have been drawing a long time. You will polish up your skills, and perhaps get ideas for some new work that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. 

For more lessons like this, you can subscribe to the Etchr email newsletter for exclusive updates! Also, be sure to share your art with us on social media. If you try this painting, we would love to see it! Happy painting! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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