The Ultimate Beginners Guide for Drawing on Black Paper with Colored Pencils

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What is so great about drawing on black paper with colored pencils?

Colored pencil is a fabulous medium to work with. It gives you a lot of control and the colors can be quite easily blended into one another.

You can work on quite an intricate scale with color pencils. I find they are a great medium to use to capture bright and striking subject matter in drawing.

When you are working with colored pencils on white paper the colors are bright and sharp. It is quite easy to get highlights and render shadows. However, for this exercise, I have decided to do a drawing with colored pencil on black paper in order to demonstrate how the color changes on the paper, and how to get bright color.

Firstly, you must take into consideration that when you draw with colored pencils on dark or black paper you have to be aware that the black paper absorbs the brightness of your pencils’ hues. There are a few techniques to work around this.

The one I am going to demonstrate in this article is called layering. It is also important to remember that you cannot erase colored pencil like you would lead pencil or graphite. For this reason, you should always draw the outline of your subject matter lightly in pencil so that you can erase areas if necessary.

When using your colored pencils, you must work in light layers using gentle strokes. This also allows for errors to be corrected easily as you develop your drawing.

Drawing on black paper with colored pencil

Which black paper should you use?

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There are three types of black paper I would recommend.

Colored pencils for drawing on black paper

I chose to work with Derwent Inktense pencils as I have really enjoyed using them in the past. They are used mostly as watercolor pencils, and are called Inktense because of the rich inky finish they leave on the page once brushed with water.

They can also be used on a range of surfaces from canvas to cloth to paper and become permanent once left to dry.

In this exercise I am using the Derwent Inktense alongside Faber-Castell Goldfaber pencils to complete my drawing. I have mostly worked with Derwent Inktense pencils in the past, and so it was good to test out a different range of color pencils. The Faber-Castell Goldfaber pencils are made from a soft wax pigment. This means they have a soft core and the color is easily transferred onto the paper. They are also quite strong and the core doesn’t break easily if dropped.

Before I began with my drawing, I compared a few colors from each brand. I specifically looked at the opaqueness of the white, yellow, green, blue, purple and red in both brands as these were some of the colors I was using.

“The definition of the term Opaque is essentially the opposite of translucent. In other words, some brands of colored pencils are more translucent, and others are more opaque. Those that are more opaque have a stronger or heavier coverage on a page.”

Test out your color pencils

If you are using new pencils and you aren’t sure about how opaque they are on paper, fill up a page with lines and marks. Test out layering your colors on top of one another. This will give you a bit more confidence before you begin because you will have a better understanding of what your pencils can do, and how you can achieve it.

The Derwent Inktense are made from a lovely and soft pigment core, and it’s quite easy to color a large area with them. Their colors are beautifully intense, but sometimes it is difficult to blend a lighter color on top of them.

The Faber-Castell Goldfaber are light to the touch and lovely to hold, and the colors tend to be brighter and lighter. The Derwent are richer and deeper. They are both excellent quality pencils and so it really depends on what you want from your drawing. On black paper, the Faber-Castell Goldfaber definitely stood out more as they were lighter overall.  

In this image you can see that I tested out the yellow Derwent Inktense pencil on its own. Then through gentle strokes I layered it on to the white Faber-Castell Goldfaber.

As you can see, layering it on top of the white gives it a more solid appearance with less black coming through.

The main technique I use with color pencils when working on black paper, is to layer colors on top of one another to develop solidity of form.

What I want you to take note of here is that, most importantly, I start off by putting down the first layer of white over my subject matter, especially in the lightest areas. I leave my dark areas black and start working color over the white.

Here is an example of how I layered yellow on top of red, on top of white. The colors blend beautifully when you layer them. The combination of Derwent Inktense and Faber-Castell Goldfaber work well together.

It is important that you do some color experimentation before you begin. Sometimes the top color isn’t what you thought it would be, and it’s difficult to change the hue once you have several layers on top of one another.

Okay so once you have explored and experimented with layering your color pencils you can begin.

Step 1 – Sketch your outline

Before you start putting pencil to paper, spend some time carefully observing your chosen subject matter. You then can begin to draw the outline of the subject matter as well as identify the shapes of the highlights and shadow areas.
Here I started to lightly draw the outline of my parrot’s head in lead pencil. A bonus of working on black paper is that pencil marks aren’t easily seen, you can easily erase them and you can work over them with the color pencil.
Here I outlined the main shapes, shadows and highlights.

Step 2 – Fill in white areas

Use your white pencil to define the lighter and brighter areas of your subject matter. In the lightest areas of your subject matter, you can use several layers of white pencil to make it even more opaque. Leave your darkest areas black.

My parrot has a lot of bright color on her plumage. I used white to create a base on which to layer the bright colors. I worked in gentle strokes creating a large area of white. I left the area around the eye black and added more white to the top of the head and the top of the beak as these are the lightest parts of the parrot.

[Related article: How to use graphite paper for drawing]

Step 3 – Start adding first colors

You can then start layering your next lightest color onto the white areas.

Here I layered yellow onto the beak and the chest. You can work in small circular motions if you want a smoother effect, or use cross-hatching or hatching for a more textured appearance.

Step 4 – Build up colors

Move onto your next color. Work on your drawing from the side opposite to your dominant hand. So, if you are right-handed, work from the top left-hand corner, and move down towards your right-hand side.
This is a really useful tip because it prevents you from smudging over drawing that you have already completed. You can apply this tip to any form of drawing or painting!

In this image, I layered red and orange to the beak and kept the highlight white on top of the beak. I added a deep purple for the shadow on the underside bottom beak.

Step 5 – Further layering of color

Fill out your colored areas.

I layered a light blue on the white pencil of the head. I wanted to build up to the bright blue that you see in the last image.

Step 6 – Add final details

Color your final areas and add detail.

Lastly, I added the green pencil here, and also worked into the eye.

It important to remember that you can use your black pencil on the black paper. Using your black pencil deepens the color of black paper and is good for defining outlines and erasing mistakes! If you have colored an area incorrectly, you can go over it with the black pencil and remove the color.

Conclusion

Test out your color pencils before you begin drawing and layer your color pencils to create depth and vibrant hues!
I also recommend that you invest in a sketch book to keep record of your drawings as you go along. This will really provide you with an opportunity to reflect on how you have improved and keep track of any creative experiments you have tried.

Many artists find a sketchbook to be an invaluable tool for inspiring new ideas for artwork!

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