Key Steps in Illustration: Using Black and White, Pt. 1

The next exercise asked to create a black-and-white illustration of a specific word to discover the effects of this particular style, using shapes and lines, and a collage style to remove or add lights. The fact that an illustration always needs to work in black and white is something I have not yet considered, but it makes sense, of course. When a piece works in black and white, it should also work well in colours.

I started working with the word “Sea”, then didn’t like it and continued on with “Journey”. I felt uninspired after only a few doodles, so I actually went back to “Sea”.

Having just returned from a trip to Japan, I was exposed to Japanese art greatly, and actually one of my favourite woodblock prints is The Great Wave of KanagawaI wanted to create an illustration that in some way referenced this masterpiece, using a similar composition, and presenting waves to symbolize the sea. The composition and the shapes of the waves to me seem very dynamic, and I love round wavy shapes like that. It’s flat rather than a 3D illustration, so this also emphasizes the graphic aspect.

Sea gives various option to work on an illustration, e.g. sealife, calm seas, beaches, waves, sailing boats on the sea, and many other ideas came to my mind. However, I felt that waves are the best way to work on a black and white piece that is graphic.

Similar to woodblock printing that in the basic approach only uses one colour on paper and is very graphic, I decided to work on a piece that could later potentially also be turned into a print, using only one colour. I started of with a few composition sketches and then went on to do a pencil piece working out the shapes of waves.

I used transparent paper to work out the main lines of this piece. I then created a piece using black ink on white paper, and then turned it an inverted version on the computer. These two versions I enlarged to the A3 format, and started working on cutting out black shapes and putting it into the white version. I was halfway through when I felt that I like it, even though the majority were still mainly white shapes. My idea was to make the waves dark, so they stand out against the light sea that lies there calm and quiet, and that the powerful waves interupt this calmness with a certain energy.

black-and-white with ink
black-and-white with ink

Later I realized that I probably had too many lines left anyway, to focus on shapes, so I used black ink to fill in the white version to remove most of the lines. I ended up with a messy version that was nothinng like I wanted it to be. You could not tell the difference between sea, waves and background anymore, and I could not find a solution how to make this work again.

I am struggling with this exercise greatly, and decided to leave it for now, and return to it at a later time. I feel that I’m not in the right mindset to get a version that I will be happy with, so I believe it is best to work on something else first to get inspired to finish this particular piece.

black-and-white collage
black-and-white collage
black-and-white with added ink
black-and-white with added ink



Wikipedia. “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”. Accessed on Nov 11, 2017. URL

One thought on “Key Steps in Illustration: Using Black and White, Pt. 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.