Thursday, June 1, 2023

Peony Petal on Black


5/24/23 Pinks appear too cool

One morning I came into the kitchen to find that the palest pink peony in my bouquet had fallen apart in an explosion of petals. Before sweeping up the counter, I picked out a few petals to sketch.

It would have been relatively easy to sketch a nearly white petal on white paper, but to make it stand out would require some kind of tedious background. Since my mind is lately fixated on light-on-dark drawings, I wondered what it would be like to sketch it on black paper. I’ve seen works by colored pencil artists who use black or other dark papers, and one trick they use is to apply white or a very pale tint first to make the later colors show more easily. (I showed how I had used that technique a few days ago.)

In my black Uglybook, I first put down a few layers of a white Derwent Drawing Pencil, which wasn’t opaque enough to completely cover the black, but I thought it was good enough to start. The peony is a relatively cool, pale pink, so I dug through all my Prismacolors, Faber-Castell Polychromos and even Caran d’Ache Pablos (which I rarely use) to find suitable candidates. I started with five. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the black paper cooled the pinks significantly, so although test swatches looked right on white paper and even on black, by the time I had applied several layers, I could see that the hue was still too cool (above). It might have helped if I had put down several more initial layers of white to obscure more of the black.

Warmer pinks applied later -- but still not warm enough.
I then went back through my pencils to find warmer tints of pink. Interestingly, at least among pinks, the Pablos seemed slightly more opaque than either the Prismacolors or Polychromos. That surprised me, as I’ve never used Pablos seriously enough to notice their opacity. (Worth testing further to see if that’s generally true of the range.) Even with those later layers of warmer, more opaque pinks, I didn’t capture the right petal hue (at left). I was at the point where the paper probably couldn’t take more layers, so I stopped.

But here’s something that I only noticed when I took the photo below: The petal lying on the sketchbook is so translucent that the black paper shows through, cooling down its actual pink hue (compare with the other petals on white paper). So my sketch looks closer to the actual petal – if I lay it on black!

I find drawing on dark papers challenging and intriguing in unexpected ways!


  1. I think your petal came out really well. It is so hard to do light colored petals and make them stand out. Your use of the black paper was a good idea. Bravo!

    1. Thank you! It takes a lot of time to work this way, but I do like the effect on black paper.


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