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How to draw on black paper

Updated April 17, 2017

Drawing on black paper might seem daunting if you're more accustomed to working on shades of white and ivory, but a dark background can set the stage for bold, reinterpretations of everyday subjects. If you are comfortable with experimentation, you'll find that black paper affords you the opportunity to use pastels or pencils that might otherwise go neglected in your toolbox. Begin with an easy subject (metal kitchen gadgets make good still life) to get accustomed to using media in new ways to achieve highlights and shadow.

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  1. Use the first sheet of paper to test your colour palette. Notice how some colours will virtually vanish into the background, whereas others will appear to have undertones that you might not be accustomed to seeing.

  2. Experiment with laying down a preliminary "primer" layer of white, ivory or grey, and then add brighter colours as a second layer. Depending on your medium, you likely will experience some degree of blending of the colours.

  3. Arrange the placement of the subject of your drawing. Items with chrome or metal surfaces provide good focal points that are fun to capture when using light media on dark paper.

  4. Adjust your room lighting to create bold shadows. If you are relying on natural sunlight, you might wish to work from a photograph of your subject to avoid shifting lowlights.

  5. Set aside your test palette, and use the second sheet of black paper to begin your drawing. As you work, constantly re-evaluate the shapes that form your subject (positive space) and the space that surrounds it (negative space). Depending on the colour of your subject, you might see places where you can more easily capture the background than the subject itself.

  6. Use a kneaded eraser (a soft, pliable eraser that can be used in small spaces) or stump (tightly rolled paper shaped like a small pencil) to blend colours as you work, if desired. An eraser or stump softens values and transitions from light to dark. The effect will vary depending on whether colour has been applied directly to the dark paper or layered on top of a lighter tone. If working with pastels, you might prefer to use your finger to create subtle shadings.

  7. Spray an acrylic fixative on your test palette to determine if the product produces a satisfactory finish without substantially altering the colours used in your drawing. If you are pleased with the quality of your fixative, spray your finished drawing to prevent future smudging.

  8. Tip

    Not all paper will yield the same results, and you might come to prefer one type of texture over another. According to artist Rhonda Bartoe Tucker, Carson's Mi-Teintes French vellum paper is "silky smooth" and well-suited for pastel drawings. Begin drawing with light colours first, then add darker colours later so that your drawing doesn't get lost on the page as you work. Water-soluble crayons are highly pigmented and create a particularly striking effect on black paper. For variety, try gel pens or paint pens to achieve different effects or to accent portions of your drawing.


    Crayons are not recommended for drawing on black paper because their wax content makes the colour practically invisible on the page. Oil pastels produce rich, beautiful colour on black paper, but they smudge significantly. As you draw, your hands and wrists will become increasingly messy, and you run the risk of blemishing portions of your drawing with unwanted colour unless you wash your hands frequently.

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Things You'll Need

  • 2 sheets of black drawing paper (smooth or textured)
  • Brightly coloured pastels or coloured pencils
  • Objects to draw
  • Kneaded eraser (optional)
  • Stump (optional)
  • Aerosol fixative (optional)

About the Author

Laura Altobelli is a full-time senior editor for GSW Worldwide, an advertising agency serving the pharmaceutical industry. With a master's degree in scientific communication and more than 20 years of professional experience, Altobelli has worked with physicians, lawyers, veterinarians and architects to develop content for professional symposia and such publications as "Annals of Internal Medicine," "Journal of Trauma" and "Clinical Infectious Diseases."

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