6 Tips Using Colored Pencils on Black Paper

by Wendi OBrien

 Today I will be sharing with you a few of my tips for working with colored pencils on black paper.  

Tip #1: Use Opaque Pencils

If you want your piece to pop then you should definitely consider using my first tip…use opaque pencils for the first layers.  

Pencils like luminance and Prismas work great for your first layers on black paper since they are such an opaque pencil.  

Pencils like the polychromos are a bit more transparent and are good for fading into the black and tinting already applied opaque layers.

That being said, remember you are working on black paper so your colors will end up being less saturated overall than if you were to work on a lighter or white paper. 

Bonus Tip #1: Use White Paper for Vibrant Subject

So if you want your subject to really pop out of the black then this bonus tip is for you….use white paper.  Yep you heard me right, use white paper to render your main subject and then use black for the background. 

Two of my favorite ways to do this is with the Stabillo All Black pencil, or pan pastels using masking film to protect the subject areas prior to rendering.

There are many other ways to get your paper black such as paint, ink, pencils…the list goes on…experiment and see what works best for you.

Tip #2: Use Lighter Color Under Top Layers

My second tip will also help make your art pop just a bit more on black paper and that is to use a lighter color underneath your top layers.

What I mean by this is say you want medium brown as your top layer.  Use a lighter version of that color such as tan or a warm grey.  

I have seen white or cream used a lot for this, but remember when you layer, your colors begin to mix. The last thing you want to do is to create pink when it is supposed to be red.  

So, really consider the color to put in your underlayers for this technique.  Use colors that will not change the color in your final layers too much if at all.

Bonus Tip #2: Vibrancy Comes From Underlayers

Annnnd here’s another bonus tip….if you are trying to make red pop, depending upon the final color you want, try using yellow or orange under your red.  White or cream is great for yellows and oranges as underlayers.  Alternatively you could use white then yellow or orange then red.  

So lots of options with this technique give them a go and see what works best for you.

Tip #3: Change Your Technique

The third tip when working with black paper is change your techniques.  Since your darks are already established you don’t need to worry about hitting those darkest darks.  

Instead, you need to consider how you are going to get to the brightest lights.  This is where tip one and two come into play.  

When I work on white or light colored paper, I don’t worry as much about how I layer or which pencil brand to use because I can usually adjust darker or lighter as I work. 

When working with black paper you are basically just going lighter all the time.  

Once you get your initial layers and map in you will go back and forth a bit more, but it is a completely different way of layering and mindset when working with black paper.

Tip #4: Use Chiaroscuro-esque Type References

Now my forth tip may have many who disagree, but for me it is key to making a successful piece on black paper….not all images or references are suited for black paper.  So really consider the subject you will be rendering on the black paper.

I think the best pieces for black paper are ones that are chiaroscuro-esque.  In other words have a stark contrast between light and shadow…much like this shell I am drawing.

That’s not to say you can’t complete other art on black paper, because you most certainly can.  I just find it best suited for that type of reference.  

For things like portraits with a black background that do not have the high contrast, I prefer to render it on white paper and then put in the black background as discussed earlier.  

This will make your portrait pop more and really create those subtleties in skin tones and fur that you will not easily achieve on black paper.

Tip #5: Be Intentional & Light Handed

Tip number 5 is also going to be key to using most black papers and that is to be intentional and work VERY light handed.  Most of the black papers I have worked with have a limited number of layers you are able to put down.

So be intentional with your color selection and work with a light hand to maintain the tooth of the paper.  Once it is flattened, there really isn’t much further you can go.  

Using black paper you learn very quickly just how unforgiving color pencil can be.

Tip #6: Experiment with Different Papers

My 6th tip is experiment with different black papers to see which one works best for you.  If you find you are struggling with them all then you may need to adjust your techniques if you want to use black paper.

If you would like to see a review and comparison on different black papers, list the papers you would like me to use in the comments below.  

Until next time…keep on arting!

Artwork Supplies

Strathmore Artagain Black Paper

Prismacolor Colored Pencils: 

289 Grey Green Light, 935 Black, 938 White, 946 Dark Brown, 1050 10% Warm Grey, 1051 20% Warm Grey, 1052 30% Warm Grey, 1054 30% Warm Grey,
1056 70% Warm Grey, 1058 90% Warm Grey, 1059 10% Cool Grey, 1060 20% Cool Grey, 1094 Sandbar Brown, 1099 Espresso

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