How to Add Color Over a Grisaille Painting

Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Oil Painting, Tutorials, Work in Progress | 4 comments

I wanted to make a tutorial on the basic steps on how to apply color over a black and white grisaille painting using oil paints.

The final shot I am going to show you isnt complete, but it will show you all the steps I take to get to a solid place where you can rinse and repeat until you feel like your painting is done.

Why paint in black and white first?  For me painting in black and white has been a great tool to understand and determine value in a painting. It helps you see the painting for what it is rather than shades of color. Good practice if you want to add depth to your work.

I like to use lamp black, titanium white and burnt umber to make the grisaille underpainting. I have tried it with paynes grey before instead of burnt umber and this caused a whole slew of problems once I added color.

black and white grisaille painting girl with hawk and roses

To begin!

I am going to show you the process of how I painted over this painting of fellow artist Katie Young. She is completely devoid of all colors except the ones I mentioned above. Keep in mind, your painting will become darker after glazing so remember that as you’re doing your underpainting.

adding on skin tone glaze to grisaille painting girl

So I mixed together a rather orangey color. I added lots of fine detail liquin into it and spread it over her skin area with a soft brush. Note the old shirt lying there! It is essential in my opinion for this stage.

using rag to rub in color glaze over grisaille painting oils

much better!

Then, you rub the glaze in gently with a rag. I use an old t-shirt and makes everything a lot less saturated and streaky.

first color glaze on skin black and white painting girl with hawk and roses

And that’s what it will look like afterwards! A bit like an old photograph colored right?

glazing hair in oils on grisaille painting

I repeat the same technique for her hair. Here I used  yellow ochre , burnt umber and lamp black to make an ashy blonde color.

glazing pink onto lips over grisaille painting oils

I used Florentine red for the lips – great glazing pink color

glazing green onto eyes over grisaille painting oils

and a bit of sap green and yellow ochre for the eyes

glazing pink over roses grisaille painting oils

I used the same Florentine red as I did for the lips onto the roses. Just adding a bit on the corners and then spreading it out with the old shirt so that the light still peeks through. This is mainly because I hope to add a lot of white to them later on.

first layer of color over a grisaille painting oils girl with hawk and roses

time to dry

Same essential principles for the hawk, and the first layer of the color is complete! Here I let it dry, it will only take overnight thanks to the Liquin.

adding darker shadow glaze to grisaille painting oils

My beautiful camera broke, so I had to take the rest of this tutorial on my camera phone…I know it sucks, but believe me it sucks more for me 😉 Haha. Anyway, the next day I added on a darker glaze color over the shadows. This was another dark brownish orange color.

adding yellow tones into skin over grisaille painting oils

Then I took some titanium white and yellow to add in some yellow tones into her skin.

blending yellow tones and shadows together on skin oils

I also put in some salmony pinks, but they’re hard to see at this stage. I blend all of this together with a small old brush.

adding paynes grey into skin oil paints over grisaille base

Then I add a glaze of payne’s grey into her skin on the darkest areas. I have to admit, payne’s grey is one of my all time favorite colors 😛

repainting lips oil painting grisaille color glazes

my camera phone likes to distort faces…

Then things get a bit trickier. I go back in with the colors I would use normally to paint lips, a mix of Caput Mortuum and Paynes grey for the darks, florentine pink and titanium white for the medium, and a bit of the opaque flesh tone to mix it all in – with titanium white highlights.

drybrushing on highlights to skin oil painting grisaille

Then using that small old scraggly brush I drybrush in more highlights all over. This includes a bluey highlight, yellow highlights and even pinkey highlights where I see fit.

glazing color over black and white painting oils girl with hawk and roses

well it certainly isn’t black and white anymore!

This is what her skin looked like after another night working on it. There’s obviously a lot more work to be done – more blues and purples need to be added into the skin and the highlights and shadows need to find a bit more harmony, but it’s just a matter of rinsing and repeating the methods above to create a good balance.

This is how I personally add color over a black and white painting. If you know anymore helpful tips and techniques to the process I would love to hear them!

And for those of you wanting to give the technique a try be sure to let me see how it turns out!

Have fun! ^^


  1. That’s an awesome tutorial. I’m inspired.

    • Thank you Rob! Good luck with your future projects! 😀

  2. Hi. Once the grisaille is totally dry, does the glaze have to be entirely done using transparent paints rather than semi or opaque? I use oils. Thanks


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