When I paint in black and white, I remove a lot of the potential challenges with colour. As a colour-blind artist, any work with colour comparison can be tricky, so remaining in the comfort zone of greyscale really takes the pressure off.
It does, however, bring new challenges to light, especially with the specific style of paintings I produce. In this blog post I will be discussing how I paint in black and white, along with the difficulties I encounter.
My current style of painting is fairly straightforward to explain. I paint a white canvas completely black, then depict an animal in great detail, in varying levels of white paint, getting highlights and shadows in the right places. As a finishing touch, I paint the eyes gold as a pop of colour.
It sounds simple enough, but just painting the canvas black is where we reach my first, self-inflicted hurdle. You see, normally when most artists paint, they’re not worried about brush strokes. Why should they? It’s a painting for goodness sake!
With me on the other hand, I have become obsessive over getting a completely smooth coat of black paint, trying to avoid any evidence of brush strokes or different shades of black. The paintings I create are quite minimalist - not in detail but in style. There is only ever a small proportion of the animal in the image, and the composition means there is often quite a lot of blank space, meaning our black background is very prominent.
It’s a stark contrast between the subject and empty space, and so I don’t want people to focus on any unintentional details in the background.
So back to my smooth finish madness - I use a large brush in proportion to the roughly A3 canvases, and really focus on delivering even brush strokes end-to-end. As the paint settles, I look for any variations in colour under bright lights. I literally watch paint dry.
It has become an art form in itself, and it’s quite satisfying to pull it off. I’m yet to translate this to a larger canvas, and I’m keen to try out some spray methods to achieve this in the future.
The heading above sounds much more negative than I truly feel, I just wanted to pop in a pun. Nevertheless, these paintings are very detailed, and it does sometimes feel like I’m painting every single hair on the animal’s head.
I love the effect the detailed build-up creates. More and more strands of white paint add a fantastic pop to highlighted areas in the image, while watering down the paint to achieve a faint brush stroke creates a subtle shadow with the black background.
I don’t tend to mix black and white paint for grey colours. That sounds strange I know, but the effect I gather from building up the white paint in layers is strikingly different. It has a coldness to it, with some people commenting that it feels quite icy and blue.
This process is very time consuming, but the end result is something I’m very happy with. I’d like to see if I can translate this process to a canvas 4 times the size, but I could be there a while.
One problem that arises from the painting style I use, is that if any substance comes into contact with the canvas, such as water, or even the oils on our skin, it can cause a variation in the background’s appearance. As I type this paragraph out I’ve become increasingly aware how insane I sound, but it is an actual issue.
After working hard to get a truly smooth surface and finish with the black background, it doesn’t take much to disrupt it. That’s why, while the painting is still being completed, I have to be very careful where I rest my hands, and where I keep my cup of coffee.
There are always challenges with each painting, but it’s a development process I enjoy. It teaches me to accept that the first attempt isn’t always the best one, and that patience along with constant iterations gets it to the finish line.
If you’re interested in having your own painting or print, you can order one on my website, or feel free to get in touch with me directly. I strive to offer this best quality possible, at an affordable price. If there’s an animal design missing from my library that you’d like to own, let me know! I have plenty of paint to create some more.
Joseph Cashmore - ART JC
25th Feb 2023
2nd Jan 2023
13th Dec 2022
20th Nov 2022