Part 2: Project 4: Exercise 4 – Monochrome


For this exercise you’ll work towards creating an image in a single colour – combining natural and man-made objects and contrasting materials. In the image below the student has used mackerel and a blue patterned plate. The mackerel shimmer with their fine, almost metallic surface; the ceramic plate shines in a different way that’s harder and colder. The forms that make up the composition are also interesting: three similar forms overlap onto the ‘frame’ of the plate below. The plate in turn sits on a plain band of pale blue that echoes the lighter tones of the fish, contrasting with a darker, more patterned background in the top third of the image. The main oval of the plate is very slightly off centre with a glimpse of another object coming in from the right margin. Think about this carefully and be adventurous in your choice of subject.

Select a medium that suits your subject. Are you aiming for detailed complexity of line or an expressive looseness of mark, for example? Ensure you’re able to create a range of tones for your chosen colour by practising in your sketchbook first. Work on approximately A3 size paper.

Lightly sketch the composition. Consider your viewpoint. If you were working on the subject below, for example, you’d probably need to sit in a slightly elevated position to get the best view of the fish. When drawing the plate you’d need to consider whether you wanted to draw the whole plate or allow the paper edge to cut into the plate.

Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 - course notes image
Student drawing

As you work, begin to build the colour up, looking at the way the light catches on the subject. Look at the tones that make up the surface of the objects. Look at the different kinds of texture and pattern. Consider how to capture detail, which tool to use and whether to work with a light or dark line or mark. Look at contrasts – for example the decoration on the plate as a contrast to the pattern on the fish’s body. Drawing a fish is very different from drawing a plate. The surface texture feels and looks very different.

When you’ve finished your drawing, be critical. Look at the subject again. See what you’ve managed to capture effectively and what hasn’t worked so well.


My composition is of a cutting of Yellow Archangel from our garden, green and silver variegated leaves, lying across a sketchbook of hand-made paper sitting on a book rest. The pen and ink set to the side is intended to indicate the story of the possibility of using this to sketch the foliage in the sketchbook. A bit convoluted perhaps, but it works for me:

Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 - Monochrome - sketchbook ideas
Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 – Monochrome – sketchbook ideas

I decided not to use any of the colours used for the sketchbook ideas as none seemed to me right for the subject – just a feeling. I can see why blue is a good colour for the fish on a plate drawing. I tried out a Dark Naples Yellow and a Burnt Ochre polychromos pencil and chose to go with the Naples Yellow as it seemed to me to capture an underlying match for all the objects:

Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 - Monochrome - colours
Dark Naples Yellow and Burnt Ochre

Deciding to use a Dark Naples Yellow pencil for the drawing I chose a sheet of 90gsm artist’s block paper to draw a slightly cropped version of idea sketch 2 from my sketchbook. Taking notice of the brief I wanted to introduce the wooden pen and ink well holder into the drawing from the right hand side and also let the paper edge cut off the lower part of the leading wooden leg of the book rest:

Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 - Monochrome - finished drawing
Part 2 Project 4 Exercise 4 – Monochrome – finished drawing

The composition is looking down onto the arrangement with the light source coming down from the top left. Having lightly sketched in the outline of the objects I then began working on building up the tones. I found it quite difficult to achieve the darker tones and shadows and had to go over these areas a number of times to build the colour. At the other end of the scale, achieving light tones was equally challenging and the mark making here is not solid but rather stroked and lets the white of the paper show through in patches.

I think I have achieved a silvery look to the variegated leaves and these contrast quite nicely with the intricate design of the sketchbook cover, which is actually a rich dark red with golden etched design, black corner tabs and spine. Because of the angle of viewing the book rest doesn’t show its other set of legs, which instead have to be imagined by the viewer. What there is shown of the book rest though is fairly solid and I think that the mark making here contrasts with the delicate leaves. The introduction of the truncated pen and ink well provides a suggestion of the intention to make a sketch of the cutting.

As a last note, my new Dark Naples Yellow pencil ended up a stub!

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
27 July 2015