A dark background to makes your subject stand out like no other background. Especially a brightly lighted one. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?
There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.
Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.
Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.
That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way to draw very dark backgrounds quickly.
How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil
I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but my model was filled with light. She also had a long, black mane.
It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it.
As much as I looked forward to drawing the mane, drawing the background around the mane was a problem. This is as far as I got layering color with light pressure.
A Change in Course
Before I got any further, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about using masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.
This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and decided the horse—more specifically her mane—was the perfect subject for the article.
And so it was.
I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.
Drawing the Dark Background
First, I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result.
Next, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.
Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.
When I’d covered all of the background, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.
Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.
It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.
Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.
I know one more way to draw a dark background.
And now you do, too!
If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.