So maybe you want to give black paper a try. I think that’s great! Most art stores carry either Strathmore Artagain paper pads (9”x12”, $10 USD, 24 sheets) or Canson XL black drawing paper (9”x12”, $16 USD, 40 Sheets). And chances are you probably have some colored pencils lying around from elementary school. Here are some of the things I’ve learned after using black paper and hopefully you can use these tips to get a ‘jump-start’ to this fun media as well.

1. Save your white for last

Wait, what? Yes, you heard me. Hide your white colored pencil until the very end of your drawing. It’s very tempting to grab the white and draw in the brightest areas, but with darker paper, it’s more important to build up from dark to light values. Treat white as a very precious commodity that you want to use only on the brightest highlights.

Comparison of trying to erase colored pencil applied with hard pressure versus soft pressure.

2.  Work in light layers

The name “colored pencil” infers that you can erase marks like a regular pencil but this is not true. If you’re heavy handed and put a lot of pressure when drawing, these marks will not erase completely. If you apply light pressure, it’s easy to erase mistakes and you also have to ability to layer colors which is very important if you’re aiming for realism.

Some of my scraps of paper I’ve used to test color

3. Keep a piece of paper on the side as a color test sheet

Colors do not always show up the same when you draw on normal white paper compared to black paper. This is because all colored pencil cores are made with pigment mixed with a binder (either oil or wax). Depending on the concentration of the pigment and the type of binder, drawing on black paper isn’t as vibrant and rich with some colors compared to others. For example, I’ve found that with Prismacolor, many of the yellows are very weak, while the blues most often appear true to color.

Making a small swatch of color on the test sheet will give you a good idea of what the color will look like on your actual drawing. Also use the test sheet as a “palette” and experiment with mixing colors via layering to get the perfect color.

A demo with fur from a German Shepherd. Note how I mainly focus on building middle values first and then save the last detailed layer for my darkest and lightest colors.

4. Build detail by working in layers

A huge part of drawing fur is to create layers of color which eventually translate to layers of fur. Aim for drawing from general to specific. By that I mean squint at your reference photo until it looks blurry. Draw those larger areas of color in first. Then after the first layer is down, go in with the finer details.

The text was made by drawing “Hello!” with a black colored pencil over the purple background. This was much easier than trying to color around the text.

5. Treat your black colored pencil like an eraser

It took me a very long time to realize that your black colored pencil is equivalent to an eraser! Totally mind blowing. And because a sharpened black colored pencil has such a fine tip, you can achieve a lot more accuracy than any small eraser. Try it. This technique is most effective when it is used on small areas.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if the first drawing (for me it was the first dozen) don’t turn out exactly how you envisioned it. As with all art mediums, there will be a learning curve. As you put more time and practice into it, you’ll get exponentially better. I like to keep my very first drawings in a portfolio along with my more recent ones. Periodically I’ll flip through it to see how much I’ve grown.

Are there any tips that you’ve discovered while drawing on black paper? I would be very excited to learn new techniques. Please comment and share them below!

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