How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing

One of the first decisions every colored pencil artist has to make when starting a new project is also one of the most basic: What is the right color of paper for my next subject? How do I choose the right color of paper for every subject?

If you always draw on white paper, the decision is an easy one. Just reach for the next sheet of paper.

But what if you don’t always draw on white or you want to try a different color? The color of paper you choose can either help your drawing or hinder it.

So how do you choose the best color?

Why You Should Consider Drawing on Colored Paper

There are many reasons to choose colored paper; too many to list here. One of the best reasons–at least to my way of thinking–is time. Drawing on colored paper is a great way to reduce drawing time.

Another reason to use colored paper instead of white is that the color of the paper can act as the background for vignette style art or as the foundation color for other types of drawings.

Other drawings might require a color that adds zing to the composition or helps establish a mood. Colored paper is perfect.

If you decide to draw your next subject on something other than white paper, how do you choose the right color of paper?

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Colored Pencil

I’ve already mentioned a couple of factors that will help you decide.

  • Providing background color
  • Providing foundation color
  • Adding atmosphere

Lets take a look at each one of these specifically.

Choose the Right Color of Paper for Background

The first two are pretty straight forward. You need a background for every drawing and you need to establish a foundation for your drawing. There are only two ways to accomplish those two things: Draw your own or let the paper do it.

Take this drawing of a black Tennessee Walking Horse, for example.

I choose a light gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper first and foremost because the horse was black. The gray paper provided an ideal background for this vignette-style portrait.

Choose the Right Color of Paper for Foundation

But it also provided a foundation for the drawing itself. All I had to draw were the values that were darker than the paper, and those that were lighter. Most of the highlights are bare paper. See the red arrows below.

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper Black Tennessee Walking Horse

The gray paper also provided a foundation color for the horse’s bridle. Again, all I had to do was draw the lights and darks.

Not everything was a shade of gray, though. The blue accent pieces on the bridle and the browns of the eye were made a little bit more lively by the gray paper.

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper Black Tennessee Walking Horse Detail

Could I have drawn the same horse on white paper? Absolutely, but I would have had to shade the background first if I wanted a gray tone or would have had to go with a white background. The resulting drawing would have had a different look, too.

What other colors would have worked for this drawing?

Black comes immediately to mind, and would probably have produced a stunning image, especially with the bright blues and browns already mentioned.

A light or medium shade of blue might also have been a good choice.

In the long run, though, I believe using any color but gray would have increased the time it took to draw the drawing.

TIP: Any time you draw a subject that’s predominantly a single color, look for a color of paper that supports the main colors.

Choose the Right Color of Paper for Atmosphere

Atmosphere is harder to pin down because it’s a more subjective method. It depends largely on two factors: What you as the artist see in your subject and what you want to depict.

Confused yet?

Here’s a photo of an evening sky that I’ve wanted to paint or draw since I first saw the sky in real life. It’s pretty dramatic and begging to be drawn.

When I first took this photo, my gut reaction was to draw the sky on black paper. That seemed like the logical choice for two reasons:

  1. The silhouetted foreground is tailor-made for black paper.
  2. The blues in the sky are dark, almost purple blues, especially in the upper corners. Layering blue colored pencil over black paper is one way to capture this look

The brightness of the sun shining through the clouds could also be emphasized by putting the drawing on black paper.

How does atmosphere fit into those considerations? The day is winding down. The sun has almost set and in a very short time, it will be dark.

I want to depict the brightness of the image, but also suggest the coming darkness. Black paper is a logical choice for enhancing the sense of the darkness of night loitering behind the brightness of the sunset.

What other colors might be good choices for drawing this sunset?

Were I to put this drawing on a light, bright yellow, it would look and feel totally different. In fact, I’d guess that it would look more like a sunrise than a sunset.

I love earth tones, so I’d consider a dark brown paper if one was available. For a softer look, dark blue or a very dark gray would also be possibilities.

Of course, I could also use white paper and perhaps still get the “look” I wanted, but it would take more time and effort because I’d have to draw the darks.


These are only three factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right color of paper for your next drawing. In the end, what will matter most is what you want to do, and how adventurous you might be feeling. After all, who knows what you’d end up with if choose a totally off the wall color?

Want to Read More About Paper?

Check out these articles on paper.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

Drawing on Colored Papers to Reduce Drawing Time

My Favorite Drawing Papers

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  1. Pat

    That was very interesting with the horse picture. If it had been on white it wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. I’m learning quite a bit of these things when I do my cardmaking and color and shade my designs and figures. Thanks for your valuable input. You do wonderful work!

    1. Pat,

      Thank you for reading and for starting the discussion.

      Making cards is a great way to learn about colored pencils. You learn more from doing lots of art, than from nitpicking one drawing. I had to learn that the hard way!

      Thank you for your compliment on my drawings, too. That is much appreciated!


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