A while ago, I started hearing about grayscale coloring books, and seeing these incredible, photo-realistic pages being shared on social media. I started wondering, what is this magic?
Chances are, if you’ve spent a while searching for a new coloring book to try, you’ve encountered grayscale coloring books. If you haven’t, and you’re wondering, “what on earth is a grayscale coloring book?” that’s okay, too.
A huge thank you to Nicole, who provided me with free copies of both of her books for this review. Also, this page contains several affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase today, at no extra cost to you, you’ll be helping support Cleverpedia and my coloring book addiction. Thanks a bunch!
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What is a grayscale coloring book?
Grayscale coloring books are more or less exactly what they sound like. Instead of black outlines that you color in, potentially adding your own shading, on grayscale coloring pages the shading is provided for you from the start, so all you need to focus on is the color.
This can be a powerful teaching aid if you aren’t confident in your ability to shade three-dimensional objects, since grayscale is the perfect opportunity to learn about how light passes through a scene and how different textures reflect that light. Things like the folds of draping cloth or the texture of fur on an animal can be extremely hard to shade realistically for a beginner, so grayscale takes away the stress of doing it perfectly while teaching you how you could color it in the future.
Beyond just as a learning tool, though, grayscale coloring books are just plain fun! It’s a different way of thinking about filling a page with color, where you can explore hopping across the color wheel to shade or highlight with unexpected colors. After all, have you ever put intense focus on the exact color of the shadows around you? You may be surprised to find that shadows that you’ve always thought of as black, grey, or simply a darker shade of the color they are on top of are actually a deep blue or violet.
They are also surprisingly quick to color, too. As I was coloring mine, I very quickly realized just how easily the scene was taking shape.
Isn’t grayscale coloring just like coloring a black and white photo?
Kind of! And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, hand coloring, or the process of colorizing still photographs, is almost as old as photography itself. Grayscale coloring books are, in a way, a continuation of a nearly 200-year tradition of colorizing black and white photographs.
Grayscale coloring is a novel experience for a colorist that has tried all kinds of other materials and coloring pages. It really is very different from coloring a line drawing!
Overview: Beautiful Creatures & Beautiful Nature
These books look and feel really nice. They are an oversize 9″ by 10.5″ size, with matte, silky covers and a really sturdy, solid weight to the pages.
The grayscale photographs, 48 per book, are printed with thick black borders on just one side of 100lb archival quality, acid-free paper. This means that as long as you use acid-free, lightfast materials to color the image, your colorized photograph should look just like it did the day you finished coloring it for many years to come.
Most professional grade colored pencils are graded for lightfastness by the manufacturer. You can view a lightfastness chart for Prismacolor Premier colored pencils here or for Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils here.
On the back of each image, there is a space where you can write your name and the date you finished the drawing. I like it when books do this, because it reminds me to record the date I finished it — then I can look back later and see how my skills have improved and my color preferences have changed over time!
There are perforations along the spine to remove the pages from the books. I love books with perforated pages, because I almost always color on a clipboard so I don’t have to hold open a book. However, my one small gripe with these books was that the pages were really hard to remove, even with the perforations. The perforation line is so deep in the spine of the book that you don’t really have the room to fold the page along the line, and all of the pages I removed didn’t quite rip perfectly. If I’d had my x-acto knife handy, I would have run it down the perforations to prepare them to tear, but I’m in dire need of a new blade so I just went for it. Oh well — there is such a large white border on these that I will probably end up cutting them down to a smaller size anyway!
The paper is smooth and bright white, and felt great with both my Prismacolors and my Caran D’Ache Pablos. Though I didn’t finish a page with them, I also tested my Tombow brush pens. They did bleed through the paper, so be sure to protect the page behind with another sheet of paper or remove it from the book using the perforations. I think some really interesting effects could be achieved on the grayscale using Tombows as a base and colored pencils for the details — I’ll probably try that next!
Neither the bleed-through of my markers nor the perforation troubles detracted from my enjoyment of these books. I spent about an hour and a half coloring my landscape, and half an hour starting my fox (there’s more I want to do with him still!). The images came together surprisingly quickly!
Overall, I was super pleased with these books, and the resulting images really look fantastic!
Now, on to a more detailed look at each book…
The lovely Beautiful Creatures was originally released in October 2015 and currently sports over 150 reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon.
If you flip around in this book, here are some of the animals you will see in grayscale photographs:
- Cats and dogs
- The lovely peacock on the cover
- Insects, like a butterfly, a bee, and a ladybug
- Tree frog
And a number of other animals I didn’t mention!
Each of these animals is presented in a light, grayscale photograph with a thick black frame. Here’s the author’s flipthrough of the images in the book:
Here’s the page I am working on from my copy:
I could call it quits right here, because he’s in a snowy scene, but I think I’d like to keep working on him to bring out his orange fur and maybe add a little lighting effect to the snow and some color to the branches. That’s kind of a neat thing about the grayscale, though — you can make your image as saturated or desaturated as you like. I could stop right now and call this a finished image.
To color this guy, I used my Caran D’Ache Pablos, which are pictured above. I pulled up a reference photo of a fox, then I started going to town with my orange pencils, mostly following the shading in the photograph. I did find that where I would normally add some brown to cut the brightness of the orange, I didn’t need to do because of the gray printed on the page.
I am really excited to keep working through this book! I have my eye on that peacock from the cover, as well as the curly haired cow, the elephant, and the tree frog. I think the tree frog will be a great opportunity to try filling in blocks of color with my Tombows. I can’t wait!
Here are some more sample pages and colored images from the book, drawn from Huelish’s coloring gallery. Are these inspiring, or what?! These images are pinnable — just scroll to the center of the image and hover to get the “Pin It” button!
Beautiful Nature was released in July 2016 and currently has just shy of 100 reviews, with 4.5 stars on Amazon.
Here are just some of the types of nature scenes you will see inside this book:
- Rolling mountains
- Close ups of flowers
- Lakeside, beach, and water scenes
- Park scenes
- Sand dunes
- Palm trees
- Close up of a dewy leaf
- Birch trees
- Fall leaves
- Ocean waves
Here is the author’s preview of the pages you’ll find inside this book:
Here’s the page I finished from my copy:
This was actually the first page I worked on from either of these two books, and I am so happy with the results! It took about an hour and a half to finish the page, and I used a combination of my Prismacolors and my Caran D’Ache Pablos, mostly using the Prismacolors for the sky and the firmer Pablos in the more textured foreground.
My favorite part of this image is the sky. I used brown, yellow, orange, and blue to bring out the dimension of the clouds and the sunlight breaking through them. I am so pleased with how it came out!
The foreground was harder for me — there is just so much highly-detailed texture going on down there. I tried to follow the general shading of the grass rolling over the hill, but struggled to follow the finer details in the individual blades. This maybe wasn’t the ideal choice for a grayscale coloring warmup!
There are a ton more images from this book that I just can’t wait to sink my teeth (and Pablos) into! I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the book that it would be one of my favorite nature coloring books.
Here are some more sample pages and colored images from the book, drawn from Huelish’s coloring gallery. I find these images so inspiring! These images are pinnable — just scroll to the center of the image and hover to get the “Pin It” button!
Okay, I’m sold… which one should I get?
If the images above look inspiring, I definitely encourage you to pick up one or both of these books. It truly is a unique experience coloring these scenes because of the lack of outlines; you can define the edges, or blur things together, or allow light to blossom across them in unusual ways. You aren’t stuck inside the lines any longer.
But which one? There is at least one pretty simple way to decide: do you prefer coloring animals, or coloring nature scenes? Still life images or a snapshot in motion?
Beginner grayscale colorists may find the range of textures presented in Beautiful Nature to be less intimidating than the fur, scales, and feathers of Beautiful Creatures. But why not challenge yourself, and grab them both? I think any colorist interested in grayscale would enjoy these books.
What to color them with? That’s a great question. You can actually get some great ideas from browsing images you like in Huelish’s coloring gallery; each image is listed with the names of the supplies that were used to color it in. Commonly featured are Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils, Prismacolor Premiers, and Rembrandt Soft Pastels. A white Uni-ball Signo gel pen would probably also come in handy. Some colorists have even used paint! (Remove the page from the book first, though.) Any highly-pigmented coloring supplies will work great in these books.
Any way you go, if you’re interested in grayscale, you’ll probably enjoy these books. I really loved having the chance to review them and introduce them to all of you!
Have you tried grayscale coloring before? What did you think? Are you going to give these books a try? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!