Art That Is Elegant, Subtle, Mysterious | Colored Pencil Techniques

When I first heard about using colored pencils on a black substrate, I naively thought that it probably wasn’t very different from using any other kind of paper on which to draw. Janie Gildow is here to tell us that’s not the case, as she explains with this demonstration on how to draw an owl’s eye and feathers. ~Cherie

Colored Pencil on Black: Work on the Dark Side by Janie Gildow

Colored pencil on white paper glows with bright color, but colored pencil on black is elegant, subtle and mysterious. All it requires is that you to take a close look at the lower values and use some “reversed” thinking.

When you work on black, every color you apply to the surface will take on some of that darkness, so before you start on your good paper, make some color swatches on a scrap of the same surface. I recommend Strathmore Artagain black acid-free paper or black acid-free mat board.

Colored pencil is semi-transparent by its very nature, and some colors are more transparent than others. The more opaque colors tend to block some of the effects of the black surface and almost appear to float on it. The more transparent colors allow more of the black surface to show through them and because of that, they appear much darker than you might expect. When you apply more pressure, most colors look lighter; with less pressure, they appear darker. Since this is backward from using graphite or colored pencil on white paper, you’ll need to think in “reverse pressure” as you apply colors on the black surface.

In my reference photo, the sky was blue, and the owl was perched on a branch in the sun. I cropped the image to include only the head, made the blue sky black (Photoshop), and printed the photo. But that left the owl bright and light, so in order to carry along the “night” theme, I had to modify the colored pencils I used–because the colors in the photo were a lot lighter than what was going to happen on the black surface. And that’s where the color swatches came in handy.

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

I’ve applied some colors on white and on black. You can compare the two. Some colors may surprise you, so it’s good to always make some swatches with your pencils. To make a color appear darker, merely reduce your pencil pressure to allow more of the black to show through.

Colored Pencil Art: Night Owl on Black

The face of the owl (and especially the shadow of the eyelid across the eye) fascinated me, so I wanted to really emphasize these features, leaving the feathers as secondary accents. I wanted to make the owl a night creature, lighted perhaps only by the moon, but definitely portrayed in the dark.

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 1

1. Transfer the line drawing to your black surface. Begin the eye color, keeping the lighter yellow on the bright side of the eye and applying the darker yellow to the shadowed portion. Increase pressure to indicate the roundness of the iris in both the light and shadowed areas. Application can be rough at this point, but the eye will already look quite realistic.

 

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 2

2. Refine and smooth the color in the iris, then begin to outline the eye. The pupil should remain the black of the paper.

 

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 3

3. Begin to pencil in the feathers. The feathers on the owl’s face can be made with single strokes in the direction the feathers grow. The feathers can consist of both warm and cool grays and muted browns. Flick the pencil to point the end of each stroke. Wherever two colors meet, merge the strokes together. In some areas you can apply solid color with light pressure and then go over those areas with strokes of heavier pressure to indicate the separate feathers.

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 4

4. Complete the feathers. Apply strokes in the direction of the growth. Use a blunted pencil to establish a color base in some areas, then gradually add sharper individual strokes.

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Colored Pencil Techniques for Drawing Feathers

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 1

1. Begin to develop the individual feathers with a series of small strokes. Leave some darker areas between rows of feathers.

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 2

2. Keep adding feathers, separated by darker areas. Use both warm and cool grays and (if you have them) some very light browns or French grays.

 

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 3

3. Continue to add feathers and begin to create some much smaller ones, again leaving dark areas between them.

 

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow, ArtistsNetwork.com

Step 4

4. Connect the feathers by using v-e-r-y sharp pencils to make thin lines over the dark areas that separate them. These pencils should be darker in value than the feathers themselves. Again, use a combination of warm and cool grays and light browns.

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