Using Black and White

This will be a personal challenge for me!

“The most colorful thing in the world is black and white, it contains all colors and at the same time excludes all.”


This is an area I really do not have much experience in, while yes, I use black and white for line art, tonal studies and inktober. I find with black and white my work does not look finished yet, that’s not to say that I have that view on all B&W art, I actually find something timeless and elegant about others work, B&W can easily be Gothic and haunting, also yet also at times be bold with a statement.

I actually envy artists that only use black and white, as I find it incredibility scary, because there less places to hide! For example is some mistake in illustrations can be hidden by a slash of colour and with black and white it is harder, sometimes what people think is simple is actually a lot harder. The foundations really need to be strong, have to visually catch attention to your piece by being clever.

I would think the main negatives of using just black and white being things like it would be harder to convey emotions, will seem cold, easy to loose detail and overwork.

Then there is me, a person who really loves colour, My world specks in color better than words. It has a very emotional impact on me as well, I like to add this emotion in my illustrations, for example my normal teals and blue to me are safe, warm and almost like a comfort blanket. If you see me use more grey/blue and dark colours my mood is taking a drive and in its contrast if I’m using yellow and oranges in my art you know I’m feeling brave, maybe even have that summer feeling. Many may see black and white as a void when talk about colours and emotion, when actually I feel it to be very impactful emotionally if used right, example you have white that is pure, calm and at peace and then the black that could be seen as darkness, trapped and depression.

These are my thoughts before starting this exercise, would this exercise change and open my mind more when comes to B&W and the emotions involved!

This is the first exercise that I’m not sure how to start, normally I have something that gives me a starting point in terms of inspiration. I collected a “mood board” on pininterest, trying to pay attention to solid shapes and avoiding anything sketchy, line heavy or too tonal.

OCA B&W spider
Spider graph of ideas
Lotte Reiniger
Jan Pienkowski

I found a couple of artists/illustrators as inspiration I liked to help me for this. The first source of inspiration in the form of a film director, I just love the work of Lotte Reiniger.
Lotte Reiniger. She mainly creates these work of art via shadow puppets, is this something I could explore in the form of this technique or at a later date?

I had at one point in the exercise “history of Illustration” picked up on the works of Jan Pienkowski. Could this be a direction that I could explore to see exercise can evolve into this kind of style?

Being very aware silhouette art can be “flat” that it was to choose just these two artists I wouldn’t be allowing myself the freedom of discovery. Therefore I set about finding another artist that I feel has a bit more depth and movement to their illustrations. Maybe explore a middle ground between these.

Eric Drommer

I liked a piece by Eric Drommer who is award-winning graphic novelist, painter, and frequent cover artist for The New Yorker, while many of his pieces are Black and White with another colour he does have a few purely Black and White.

I started to put together a Pinterest board based on the sea, I was looking for images that had a strong background, middle ground and foreground, the sun light/rays was important for me at this stage.

I’m going to explore this is a couple of ways this exercise firstly would be normal 2d illustration, with colour and tone, moving on to using black and white paper cuts college.

Sketchbook exploring possible outcomes with charcoal & black paper
Exploring the idea of paper cutting, however the paper was a little soft so dismissed exploring at this stage
Really just getting my thoughts and idea out visually and how could work.
I wanted to play on light
Quick sketches on black acrylic.
OCA B&W005
Quick digital mock up based on my sketchbook ideas

I was indeed finding this challenge but not in the way I thought I would. I couldn’t seem to settle on one idea to explore. After working on few ideas in my sketchbook I did some digital mock up to see how could work, I found this to be highly effective, using the lesso tool, layers and just black and white I was able to create some designs. One design has an appeal, I just unsure will hit the mark fully with course objectives, I find it easy and let face it more effective time wise to work on this exercise digitally, plus at moment I’m using a 3rd party for printing.

OCA B&W009
Line work

“The fish in love with the moon”
Seems this was a direction I found myself going in so I will see this though.
I did a sketch / line art digitally as well based around mock up and sketchbook work.

I started with a black background, using the lines and mock up as a template I introduced white (different opacity levels) to create a tones as easier to change later on.

OCA B&W006
Finished version
different values of B&W

I did lose some of the details such as the moon, the waves and didn’t add the fishes as I felt it worked best simple shapes. The forth picture in the 2 tone (B&W) versions was a strong images, l found with less tone and values the piece lost more and could easily be an alien dancing under a disco ball or something.
I wanted to see what the inverted the main illustration would look like inverted…

OCA B&W007
Inverted version

I really liked both main version the most, both created a very different mood and vibe… Had a little idea so wanted to test this.

OCA B&W008
Put the original and inverted version together
Two faced fish
OCA B&W007

While I did like the merged version of, It is an interesting play black and white theme, I felt it was too heavy on the eyes.
I had a little story about the fish who was in love with the moon, driven toward the light. With this in mind I think this version is best to suit my “mini story” (on the left)

I will be getting this and the version (below) printed on A3, while did view these in different sizes I would like to see the final result.
I think the message is lost when limit the colours more, so that is something to be careful in the future of.


Again I ended up with something I never pictured when starting this exercise, really was looking along the lines of a sea bed, coral reefs, sharks.
I went this direction as I wanted the moon rays shining though the water and that became the main think about this and the fish was mainly for contrast in the illustration and from that then the illustration gained a “story”.

I worry I went too far away from the main word “sea” however it was result of my brainstorming and visually working this one out. Another issue I did want to print and cut, but reality is I do not have access at this moment and would have needed to draw and cut by hand and time wise what wouldn’t have been practical. That not to say I may take these images at a later date.
I did carry out the exercise best I could via Photoshop and mimicked the objectives.

Could I explore with textures ?
I need to look into ways to add textures in B&W without overworking an image.

Research, references and credits

Web links

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