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( Particularly Black Paper )

Black paper offers a number of challenges but also provides some interesting alternative approaches,

In this section, we will look at a few good reasons for considering a dark background.

Most of this section looks at using black paper - the extreme contrast from white.

Other dark colours will also benefit certain subjects and this will be covered in an additional page at a later date

‘Crabapple Tea’  worked on Stonehenge black paper with Faber Castell Polychromos  and finished off with highlights of Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils.  

Original Photo by Gemma Gylling CPSA.

The varnished wood surround to the shop front has carvings in it and the old shop is in a parade of half timbered buildings with some interesting shapes to it.  Think of doing a painting of this on white paper and an immediate problem presents itself.  The grill on the inside of the window and the posters in the window and on the door present a load of problems.  And how are you going to work around the lettering on the window with black and get the letters nice and crisp ?

Yes I did make a start on this on white paper,

and I quickly decided that the likely end result did not justify the effort.

I made a second start on black Stonehenge paper and carefully drew out the image with a white Caran d’Ache Pablo pencil

The lines get the general shape and you can then refine and correct as you work the colour.

An afternoon’s work on a wet day and we finish up with a fairly respectable stab at the shop front.

You can see how the white pencil has given good coverage of the  timber frame upper story of the building.

This may not be a brilliant example of CP artwork, but it does show how it is possible to work a picture in reverse from a black paper base

So let us look now at a more controlled and ‘finished’ picture.

This has echoes of the ‘Crabapple Tea’ picture at the top and was a photo I took of a jar of sweets just after Easter a year or so ago.  The image was designed to work with black paper and the jar was photographed against a sheet of black mount board.  The arrangement and the selection of sweets was not ideal,

( most of the good ones had been eaten ! ) but I knew that I could correct the composition as I worked the picture.

For those of you who are interested in trying this picture at home, I have put up the photo of the sweet jar as a high quality PDF file to print from.  See the foot of this exercise for the link.


There were a number of factors to consider.

1/  How to ensure that I got the correct shape for the ellipse of the jar top and the lid.

2/ What brand of pencils to use

3/ What techniques would be required

1.  The drawing.

I could have drawn it freehand as I did the shop front above, but the chances of accuracy would have been low, and curves, circles and ellipses need to be accurate.  I opted to do a trace of the critical shapes... The lid itself has three curves, the jar has the top edge and the bowl.  These five curves I traced.  The rest of the drawing I did freehand.

2.  Brand of pencils

I have a large collection of different brands, and I was unsure which brand to use.

I could have used a mixture from all the boxes, but I tend to select one box and work with that for each picture.  That way I am able to say at the end which brand I have used and  I can use the experience of working with just the one brand at a time to develop my knowledge of the differences between them.

In this case I did a chart on the paper I had selected for the finished picture ( Stonehenge ) with a range of colours from the different boxes.  The idea was to set out  a number of squares of colour done in five stages - from one layer through to 5 layers.  The  5 stages were not exactly graduated. The first was a very light one and when I came to the 5th, the aim was to get the maximum coverage down.  This staged layering is good as a test for black paper where you usually need good coverage to get a good colour

I noted the pencil number down against each block

and I listed the brands from top to bottom as

Pablo, Supracolor, Polychromos, Prismacolor,

Coloursoft, Luminance,

Lyra Polycolor and Albrecht Durer

The idea of testing both dry point and aquarelles was to see if the different types of pencils made any difference.  The colour ranges of both Polychromos and Durer  and also  Pablo and Supracolor, are the same within the manufacturers catalogues ,

so I did try out some alternative colours in those pairs to take the opportunity to spread the  sampling.    

RESULT -  There was not a great deal to choose between them.

Prismacolor and Luminance worked well - but then they should, they were the softest pencils.

Polychromos and Pablo offered the greatest colour choice ( 120 in each of the tins )

Coloursoft and Lyra Polycolor  were too restrictive  in colour choice but still worked well.

I didn’t have the full range of Prismacolor, I decided to use the Pablo. But I eventually used some Polychromos as well  to get a better range of reds. Pablo is very good for greens. Polychromos for reds.

3.  The Technique

I was unsure how to approach the different shades of colour in the shiny sweets ( candies to those of you in the USA ).  

I set out to trial sample images on a piece of Stonehenge, and the first sample worked so well, I stayed with that method.  

I took four shades of the colour . The lightest shade in the box, two intermediate ones of the same general tint and the darkest one I could find.  To these I added white and sometimes black for final touch up in a final layer when lighter highlights or deeper shadow was required.

The samples came out like this -

So now we can make a start,

I will invent some sweets to go in the darker areas of the jar later, the choice in the house when I took the photo had become a little limited.   I should have taken the photo before Easter !

At this stage, the bulk of the work has been done.

All that remains is to tidy up the edges,  complete some missing bits on the egg wrappers,  look again at the twisted ends of the transparent wrappers of some of the sweets, and then punch in some stronger colour and white with some very sharp points on the pencils.

Working up to the limit of the paper, the colours would take only a little more in some places, so I broke open the box of Luminance pencils which are much softer than the Pablo.

These proved to be excellent for the finishing touches

I have put in some of the reflected back light in the glass.  It looks quite heavy in the scan, but the original is nowhere near as strongly tinted with the very pale blue.  I have added in one or two bits of colour to make shapes more logical and used a mid grey to  represent some of the twisted transparent wrapper ends.

The final step was to work over the black surface with a ball of sticky BluTac to pick up any pigment dust and then sharpen up one or two edges with a clean ordinary plastic eraser.


I was doing some testing this afternoon of CP and Aquarelles on black paper, and picked up a white pencil from my ‘Sundries’ pot on the desk to test against a brand I had just received for examination.

SURPRISE SURPRISE ! The result on the paper was excellent - better than a lot of whites I have tried on black paper in the past.  The Pencil was one I had bought for quite another purpose and is a STABILO ‘ALL’ white pencil ( 8052 ) which is described on the pencil as ‘Aquarellable’ and is also labled as suitable for ‘Paper - Glass - Plastic - Metal’.

I will have to have a further look at the performance of this pencil and will note any more information below when I have it.  IT is certainly worth acquiring one if you see one listed.


Coloured Paper enables the artist to

tackle pictures that would otherwise be difficult to work in Coloured Pencil


As of July 2011

We have also looked at, and expanded the section covering the range of coloured papers available in the UK

and also looked at how stable the colours are.   This topic is sited in the ‘Surfaces’ section of the site

Manufacturers do their own tests under laboratory conditions for their own benefit.

Our tests involve the simple siting of sample sheets of coloured paper on a sunny window ledge for a month or so during the summer. This does not produce a scientifically measured result, but it does show up which papers are more liable to fade than others.   

Pictures on coloured paper can be sprayed with fixatives which have UV filters, and this will reduce fading.  If you do spray with fixative, though, be aware that the spray may well bed down the colour into the paper and leave you with some of the black paper showing through.  This problem can be seen most with spraying pastel on black paper, but it also can be seen with wax type pencils.  I do not recommend spraying watercolour pencil as this can result in dry colour being moistened and change the colour balance as well as risking the spread of colour on the paper.

The best site for any artwork will always be out of the sun and if possible on a North facing wall.

Coloured Pencil work is no different to watercolour art in this respect.


There is a PDF version of the sweet jar image if you wish to print it



There is also a Step by Step illustration of a picture worked in Mixed Media on to Black paper using Pastel Pencils for the underpainting, and wax type pencils for the final detail.   The pastel pencil base is fixed a couple of times to provide the basic light and dark shapes and to provide the best surface for working the final stages

See the Example in Mixed Media - Cottage Entrance SBS


Users of soft pastels will already be familiar with the benefits of using a coloured support ( paper ).  The background provides a unifying tint to the colours applied.  This can have a marked benefit in subjects like Autumnal scenes where a red or red/brown coloured paper gives unity and extra ‘bounce’ to greens

Using Coloured Pencil on a  Canson pastel paper or one with a  definite grain to it like Somerset Velvet, will allow the underlying colour show through in the speckles of uncovered paper.   I will add a further page to this section at a later date to expand on this.  For the present, however, I will show below some work in progress on Somerset Velvet.

The Photo is a night time scene in Venice taken a few years ago

One of my course students wanted to tackle this image, even though I hadn’t tried it myself.

In September 2011, it looked like this ( above ). The surface is black Stonehenge - a smooth absorbent surface ideal for CP.  The pencils were Polychromos. By the March 2013 course, I was able to get a picture of his finished picture. Bearing in mind the student’s engineering background, I was not surprised to see the bricks in all their glory !!!! ( Below)

In February 2012, I decided to have a go at the same picture, but to use a slightly rougher surface - Somerset Velvet black paper. ( shown LEFT)

I started out using Caran d’Ache Supracolor aquarelles in white, to block in the lighter areas.  You can see how the rougher paper is leaving quite a lot of black flecks from the paper grain

It became obvious the to get the right effect for the strong light coming from the two street lights, and reflection in the middle of the water, I would need to get rid of those flecks from some areas.  The railings also posed a challenge with the fine detail needed to get the light areas of the footpath behind.

I resolved this by bringing a white pastel pencil into play and blocking in a long rectangle where the footpath fell. At the same time I treated the top of the left foreground boat, the lights and the wall at the end of the canal.

 I blended this white down into the grain of the paper and then added a layer of white Supracolor. This was then washed in to the paper, and in doing so the white pigment was bulked out by the pastel to produce a good white surface.

Once dry, the whole area had another layer of dry white Supracolor pigment laid on the top.

This produced a solid white area which would then take a Black Supracolor fine point to draw in the railings as you see here.  This was much easier than drawing in each segment of white and leaving the fine black lines of the paper surface.

As at 11th February 2012, the picture looks like this :

Work will resume, as and when I get the opportunity and enthusiasm

This was a first step into the magic world of black backgrounds and the techniques for handling extreme contrasts.

From this, I learned that it is best to use the actual colour desired and not put down a layer of white first under the colours.

I found that it is also best to start off with a hard or medium hard pencil and keep the softer pencils for the final stages and highlights.

I also learned that you do need to keep the background ‘clean’ so a protection for the working surface is preferred.  

I cut a piece of clear plastic in an ‘L’ shape - see right - so

that the wrist of the working hand did not rest on the paper,or rub the already completed Image.This has proved to be a useful piece of kit on other occasions

So what makes a suitable picture for a black

background ?

Have a look at this photo of a Wine Merchant (‘Cave’) and Bar In the small southern French town of  Sorez.

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Latest review and update  December 2014

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References and tests