Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper

It’s the second Saturday of the month. That means a Peggy Osborne tutorial! This month, she’s drawing vibrant color on black paper and her subject is a beautiful and colorful rooster.

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper

Hi all!

In this tutorial I am going to show you how I draw vibrant color on black paper. This month’s subject is a rooster, but the method works for furry subjects as well. I’ve drawn dogs, cats and horses on black paper using this method.

The first thing to remember about black paper is that the color of the pencils looks different on black paper. To draw bright colors, it’s important to start with a white under drawing.

I’m using Prismacolor pencils which are wax-based, but you can use any brand. I am not sure how the other brands perform on the paper, but everyone has a favorite and you can use what you have. I doubt there would be enough difference to matter.

Also use the colors you have. They don’t have to be the same as I use. The main thing you need to do is layer the lightest colors first, starting with an opaque white, which the white Prismacolor is. It is quite opaque compared to, say the Polychromos White. I don’t know about other brands of white pencil.

I am using a smooth black mat board. If you us a different surface, it may act differently. Familiarize yourself with your own pencils and paper and see what they can do for you. Then dive in!!

This is my reference photo. I found it on Pixabay.

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper - Reference Photo
Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

Transferring the Line Drawing to Black Paper

The first thing I do is transfer my line drawing to the paper. I use white transfer paper and trace the image onto the black paper. The white transfer paper can be a bit smudgy, so be careful to not smudge. Use a kneaded eraser to lift any smudged areas.

The first step in drawing vibrant color on black paper is transferring the line drawing.

I work each section to almost completion, then move onto the next section.

To make things easy on myself, I keep the colors I use separate from the rest of my pencils. This way, I know which ones I’ve used and can go back to them as I need them.

Also, I don’t erase much on black paper as the marks can show up more than on white paper. I usually use a kneaded eraser more on black paper than other papers. On other papers, I use my electric eraser more.

Start with the Rooster’s Comb

I started with the comb and began by drawing a few details with a sharp White pencil and medium pressure. Then I hold the pencil a little to the side and with light pressure cover the whole area with a light wash.

As always, I follow my reference photo closely to make sure the drawing is accurate and the feathers are going in the direction they should be going in. But unless I am doing a commission where the image has to be exact, I don’t worry about getting the exact colors or every feather in place.

TIP: Test colors on a scrap piece of paper for opacity before using them on the drawing and chose one that works best.

I started with a light wash of Rose Peach over the comb, then added Raspberry in the shadows.

I used Crimson Lake in the shadows, washed Scarlet Lake overall , then layered Cadmium Orange in the shadows and along the comb. Then another light wash of Rose Peach and White. I used sharp pencils and light pressure with every color.

When doing a wash, lightly use the side of your pencil.

To finish the comb, I layered the previous colors again, mixing them with washes of White now and then. I used reds and Raspberry making squiggly lines to add texture to the comb. Then I went in with White to make more texture lines with a sharp point.

Finishing up the comb, I used Brush and Pencil Titanium White mixture to draw in the very brightest whites. If I go too light, I can always color over the product to tone it down. You want to do this after it is completely dry though so it doesn’t lift.

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper - Continuing Color Layers

Drawing the Rooster’s Face

Usually when working on white paper I focus on getting the darks dark enough. But on black paper, I focus on getting the lights light enough.

Here I’ve already drawn the face and wattles to almost completion by following the same method and techniques as with the comb. I also added a bit of dark purple in the darkest areas.

TIP: Layer lightest colors, wash with White to keep the colors bright, and follow the reference photo closely.

I created the pointy feathers above the eye by drawing black and white stripes then adding Titanium White mixture to brighten it.

To complete the eye, I started with White, then Canary Yellow and Scarlet Lake followed by a bit of Tuscon Red along the outside of the eyeball. I used Black for the pupil.

I find the black pencil is usually darker than the black paper so I use it a lot depending on the look I am trying to achieve. I’ll add more highlights here and there before completing this area.

The ear lobe is started with White and a dark cool grey for the texture areas.

The Black Feathers

Next I added a few highlights to the wattles and finished the ear lobe. On the ear lobe I used more White, and then finished with Titanium White mixture.

To start the feathered chest, I drew in the directional lines with White.

Next I added more White to the feathered chest. This may seem redundant but it is amazing how much White I use to create black feathers. It makes the black pop on the paper and not just fade into the black paper.

Now I started building up the colors with Slate Grey and Greyed Lavender as a wash overall, using the side of the pencils and very light touch.

I did another light wash, then started drawing between the lines with Black. You can see where I’ve added Black in this photo.

I continued adding White and Black until the feathers looked the way I wanted them to look. But I also added Manganese Violet and Indigo Blue in the areas where I saw those colors in the reference photo. The extra colors add more realism and depth to the drawing than just having a flat black.

In this photo you can almost feel the thickness of the feathers on his chest.

Drawing the White Feathers

I didn’t spend a lot of time on the white feathers, and started with White. Then I layered a little Indigo Blue and Greyed Lavender in the shadows. I went over this a few times with a white wash, then added Titanium White. I also used White with a sharp point to add highlights in the black feathers on the neck.

Drawing the Beak

Here I’ve finished the white feathers with Titanium White mixture, and started the beak.

As usual I used White as a base, then added color, going from light to dark. I used Peach on the lower beak, and Slate Grey, Indigo Blue, and Purple on the top of the beak. I then added texture with Titanium White mixture.

Value & Color Comparisons

Once the drawing was finished, I placed my art piece in a split photo with the original to check likeness, colors and values, and saw that I needed to change the eye just a bit and add a few more darks and color. I used Sepia to darken the creases in the face and wattles, then punched up the reds a bit and did an overall tweak.

Here are the two split photos that I use to check things in color and in black and white. I check with the reference photo frequently while I am working checking for color and likeness.

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper - Color Comparison Between the Reference Photo and the Drawing.
Values are key to drawing vibrant color on black paper. The darks must be dark enough to make the light values pop.

In this case, because it is not a commission and just for fun, it didn’t have to be as exact as if I were doing a commission. The shape of an eye can change the likeness drastically so it is very important to keep checking the reference photo as you work.

And here is the finished piece.

Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper - The Finished Drawing

Are you ready to try drawing vibrant color on black paper?

I’m looking forward to trying Peggy’s method for drawing vibrant color on black paper. Her colors sing!

Do you have an idea for a tutorial from Peggy? Let us know in the comments below.

About Peggy

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

9 Replies to “Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper”

  1. Thanks so much for your well presented and well illustrated tutorial! I am very much looking forward to using colored pencil with black paper.

    What is Titanium White mixture?

    1. Kathy,

      Titanium White mixture is a product developed and sold by Brush & Pencil. It allows you to add archival whites to a colored pencil drawing, and then add more color over it if you need to.

      Peggy has more practical experience with it than I do. She’ll check in later and maybe share a little more information about it.

  2. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for the help, Carrie. The titanium white mixture is made from two products developed by Brush and Pencil. The two products are mixed together to make a paint like substance and applied with a tiny brush for highlights, hairs , etc. It can be gently drawn on if more color is needed once it is dry. It takes a bit to get the hang of mixing and using it but I would not have been able to create this vibrant rooster without it. It is like Carrie said, an archival product made for use with colored pencils. Here is the link to the company but I believe it can be purchased in a lot of art stores as well. https://brushandpencil.com/

  3. Thank you so much, Carrie and Peggy for your replies.
    Oh my gosh, you have blown my mind! I have only used colored pencils solo before, and didn’t know anything about using a brush with them. Wow, a whole new area to explore! What fun! Thanks again!

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