Colored Pencil Techniques: Create Art That Is Elegant, Subtle and Mysterious

Colored Pencil Techniques: Create Art That Is Elegant, Subtle and Mysterious

Artist Janie Gildow isn’t scared to work on the dark side when drawing with colored pencils — that is, the dark side of paper. Below, Gildow demonstrates how to draw an owl’s eye and feathers on a black surface using colored pencil techniques.

Her drawing tips and tricks are a real “hoot.” Enjoy!

Working on the Dark Side

Colored pencil on white paper glows with bright color, but colored pencil on black is elegant, subtle and mysterious. All it requires is 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. 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. 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.

Creating Eyes of a Night Owl, Step-by-Step

The face of the owl (and especially the shadow of the eyelid across the eye) fascinated me. I wanted to really emphasize these features, leaving the feathers as secondary accents.

Also, I wanted to make the owl a night creature, lighted perhaps only by the moon, but definitely portrayed in the dark. Now, let’s get started with the eyes!

Step 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. The application can be rough at this point, but the eye will already look quite realistic.

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

Step 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. And they 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.

Step 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.

Colored Pencil Techniques for Drawing Feathers

Now that we know how to draw the owl’s eyes on the black surface, let’s move on to the feathers.

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

Step 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.

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

Step 4: Connect the feathers by using very 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.

And there you have it: simple colored pencil techniques for drawing realistic feathers and eyes. Now you are ready to put it all together to create your own night creature owl. Good luck, artists!

Want More Colored Pencil Instruction?

Watch the preview trailer below of Janie Gildow’s video workshop, Colored Pencil Techniques Made Easy, for an inside look into more of this artist’s simple colored pencil techniques, including the basics for keeping your pencils sharp, the best strokes to use for your subject and blending tips.