Making Reds and Yellows Pop on Black Paper

Making Reds and Yellows Pop on Black Paper

We’ve all heard about making colors pop on dark papers. But some colors “pop” more successfully than others. Today’s question comes from a reader who asks for suggestions on making reds and yellows pop on black paper.

To get us started, here’s the question.

Hi Carrie,

How do you get color to pop on dark drawing paper, such as black or dark blue.

Recently, I drew an apple on black paper. I made a couple of attempts applying red on the apple but it was flat. I used various reds but it didn’t seem to improve much. The next time, I laid down a layer of white (Polychromos) and then used red and it helped. But is there a “trick” to making reds and yellows pop on dark paper?



Making Reds and Yellows Pop on Black Paper

Tom has the right idea in doing an under drawing on black or other dark papers. That’s what I do, too.

Most of the time, white works best because it provides a good, light value ground for whatever color you put over it. Most colors also work well over a white under drawing.

But reds and yellows can become diluted and faded looking over a white background. So you may want to choose other colors. Let’s look at a couple of test samples.

Red Colors on Black Paper

Here are three red circles. Each circle contains the same colors, but as you can see, the results are very different.

I drew the first circle with Polyhromos White, put down with medium pressure and two or three layers. I did my best to fill the tooth of the paper.

Then I added Polychromos Pale Geranium Lake (which despite it’s name is a nice bright red.) I applied it the same way I applied the White.

Next, I drew the second circle the same way, but I used Light Cadmium Yellow instead of White. I was quite surprised this color turned out so dark (middle circle above.)

So I started the third circle with a white under drawing, then layered Light Cadmium Yellow over that, followed by Pale Geranium Lake. Combining white and yellow in the under drawing produced the best results.

But the color still wasn’t quite as bright as I’d hoped for, so I layered Prismacolor over the bottom half of each circle. I thought the softer pencil might make more impact, and it did

Yellow Colors on Black Paper

I did the same thing with these yellow circles.

The first circle is Light Cadmium Yellow Polychromos over White Polychromos. The white under drawing helped the yellow show up, but it didn’t cover enough of the paper color, so the yellow looks a bit green in real life.

The second circle is Cadmium Orange over White, followed by Light Cadmium Yellow. That eliminated the greenish look, but it was too orange.

I drew the third circle (below) the same way I drew the first one, except that after adding the Light Cadmium Yellow, I went over that with White, then added more Light Cadmium Yellow. Better but still not there.

The fourth circle is Polychromos White with Prismacolor Lemon Yellow layered over the bottom half. I also layered Lemon Yellow over the bottom half of each of the other circles. Once again, that combination of dryish, oil-based pencils under soft, wax-based pencils produced the best results.

Finding the Right Under Layer Colors to Make Colors Pop

Keep in mind that this is a very small test sample. I could have spent hours trying different combinations of reds, yellows, oranges, and white.

If you use different colors or different combinations of colors, you will get different results.

Combining different types of pencils also creates different results.

Even paper choice makes a difference. My samples are on black Strathmore Artagain paper, which is a very smooth paper. It doesn’t stand up to solvent at all, so you have to do all of your work with a fairly limited number of layers and no solvent.

Black Stonehenge, Black Canson Mi-Teintes, and any other black paper would give you more options and differing results.

Also remember that if you add other tools like solvents, colorless blenders, or mixed media, the range of results expands even more.

So the trick is finding the right color for the under drawing on the paper you’re using. You’ll have to do some experimenting and samples like I did here to find the best solution for each individual project.

But I hope that helps, or at least gives you a place to begin.

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  1. Patricia Wilson

    This was interesting on adding the yellow to the reds. I usually do my coloring on black or navy cardstock and have always put down white after seeing this tips. It makes the colors pop. Am going to experiment with the yellow. Thanks for this tip.

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