How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

This reader wants to know how to draw the blackest black in colored pencils, but that’s not all. Here’s the question:

Hello there,

I was wondering what formula you use to get the blackest black you can get?

I have tried indigo with magenta with black on top and it comes out more purplish than black. I might be doing something wrong.

I tried spraying it with textured fixative and going on top of it with a different black pencil. I started with Prismacolor and ended up going over it with Faber-Castell Polychromos, and still have a purplish hue.

How many layers can you get once you spray your project with textured fixative?

Thank you for your questions!

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

Is There a Formula to Draw the Blackest Black Possible with Colored Pencil?

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have a formula for drawing the blackest possible blacks with colored pencils. I’ve drawn several black horses over the years, and also tried my hand at drawing black backgrounds, and I don’t think I’ve used the same method twice for any o them!

So if there is a formula, I don’t have it.

In a recent post, I talked about drawing dark and black backgrounds quickly using colored pencils, so I recommend you take a look at that if you’re doing backgrounds.

That method probably won’t work as well if you doing a portrait, or adding black to a part of your drawing that isn’t the background.

Nor does it specifically answer the questions asked here, so I’ll refer you again to that post, then answer your questions below. Deal?

Indigo Blue, Magenta and Black

I’m not familiar with the idea of mixing Indigo Blue and Magenta with Black to get a darker black, so I tried it for myself. But I’m always looking for ways to do things better, and that includes drawing the blackest black I can.

So I did a quick sample combining Prismacolor Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black, layering each color in that order with medium pressure. I did two layers of each color before adding the next. The result is on the left of the sample below.

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

Then I repeated the process, adding two more layers of Indigo Blue followed by Magenta and ending with Black. Once again, I used medium pressure. The center part (between the blue and magenta lines) of the illustration shows two rounds of color.

For both rounds, I used the same stroke, a back-and-forth horizontal stroke. The resulting coverage was good, but not perfect. So for the third round, I used circular strokes, heavier pressure (though not yet burnishing) and added two more layers of each color in the same order. I had to burnish the black in order to make it stick, but that did produce a nice, solid black color.

So the best way to draw the blackest black color may be as simple as adding more layers. I know I stopped on drawings way too soon when I was learning colored pencils. Try another round of color and see what happens.

Why Even the Blackest Black Sometimes Looks Purple

The reason you get a purplish-black when you layer Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black is that red and blue make purple. It doesn’t matter how you layer them—blue first then magenta, or magenta first, then blue—they will create some shade of purple. The Black doesn’t change that; it merely darkens it.

I can see the usefulness of a nice, deep purple black, but since that’s not what you want, let’s look at ways to correct that.

Indigo Blue and Black; Magenta and Black

I did the next two samples differently.

For the first one, I layered Black with heavy pressure, then layered Indigo Blue over that with heavy pressure. I didn’t use Magenta because I wanted to see what sort of Black resulted with just two colors.

The second sample combined Black and Magenta, with Black under the Magenta. It too produced a nice black, but with more of a pink cast.

Finally, for the sake of comparison, here’s a swatch of just black.

The blue-black is much nicer and more satisfying than the pink black. So the easiest way to neutralize the purple in your black is to simply not use Magenta. Layer Indigo Blue and Black until you have fully saturated color.

Another way to neutralize the purple is to add a complementary color to the three colors you use to make black. Orange is the complement of purple, but orange is a pretty strong color, so I think I’d try an earth tone. Burnt Sienna, maybe, or Terra Cotta. A color that’s already fairly low in brightness.

Using a Different Black

You mentioned using Black from different brands of pencils (at least that’s how I understand your comments.)

This is a good idea, since some companies have more than one shade of black. The Derwent Lightfast line, for example, has two blacks with slightly different tints.

Derwent Drawing Pencils also have a nice black and they’re a soft pencil that would layer over other pencils quite well.

Companies don’t always use the same manufacturing formulas, either, so it’s possible one company’s black covers better than another.

I’ve had success mixing brands of pencils and have no problem buying one color from a particular brand if I think it might help me do whatever I need to do. For example, I bought a Luminance White and Derwent Drawing Chinese White because I thought they might be more opaque than either Prismacolor or Polychromos. They weren’t significantly more opaque, but I now have two nice white pencils to add to my full sets of other brands.

So by all means, try black pencils from other sets.

How Many Layers Can You Draw Over Texture Fixative?

Everything I’ve seen and heard about this product indicates that you can alternate between colored pencil and Texture Fixative indefinitely. The Brush & Pencil website says, “virtually unlimited colored pencil layering.”

A lot depends on the paper you’re working on, though. Texture Fixative is made for use on heavy, non-absorbent papers like sanded art papers. You can use it on heavy watercolor paper (140lb or more) but you have to gesso the paper before starting to draw.

Texture Fixative adds texture to a drawing, and it’s made for colored pencil, so it bonds well and remains archival. I don’t know from personal experience how many times you can add Texture Fixative and draw over it, but it’s much more versatile than anything else currently on the market.

Those are My Thoughts on How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

I hope I’ve helped you with new ideas for drawing the blackest blacks possible with colored pencils.

Try these ideas and if they don’t work for you, don’t use them again. Hopefully you’ll find exactly what you need among them.

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5 Replies to “How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils”

  1. For my black backgrounds I cheated and used a base coat of posca black marker before going over it with black coloured pencil a couple of times! With paints I use indigo blue and brown to make black. I haven’t tried it with pencils but that may work possibly covered with black.

    1. Loraine,

      An art marker would be a good way to lay down smooth color quickly. I’ve tried watercolors, watercolor pencils, and India ink, but always seem to go back to just colored pencils!

      Your marker idea is intriguing, though.

  2. Hi Carrie, I got some info. for making a rich vibrant black for CP from Cynthia Knox’s tutorials. She uses a layer of Prisma black then Prisma Dark Green then a Aquarellable Stabilo black pencil #8046, over all with heavy pressure. It lays down beautifully over other colored pencil and gives a very dark black background. I think she also uses Tuscan Red instead of the Dark Green as another choice for an under layer. Hope this might help. Write me if you want to see a picture of CP art with that application for the black background.

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