This tutorial describes in detail how to use colored pencils to realistically draw fur on black paper, utilizing layering and opacity to create detailed color and lighting. To create such a drawing for yourself you will need black paper or another black drawing surface, a graphite pencil, an opaque white colored pencil, and an array of other colored pencils. You can use any colored pencil brand you want, but brands which use an oil binder will tend to be more opaque than wax-binder brands. In any brand there will be significant variation in opacity between pencils, so you will need to familiarize yourself with your own pencils in order to use them the most effectively.
For your white pencil I recommend Lyra Rembrandt or a Derwent China White pencil. Either will show up very opaque on black paper. The Prismacolor Premier white is very translucent and will hardly show up at all, so it is entirely unsuitable. If you have another brand of white pencil, test it on a black surface to see if it will work for this purpose.
I own a huge set of Prismacolor Premier pencils, which is what I used to create this drawing. I name the exact pencil colors I used at each stage of the drawing, some of which are no longer made. You will want to familiarize yourself with your own pencils and test each color on the black paper to achieve the exact colors you want. If the color you want to use is to translucent, test how it applies over white pencil. Sometimes this will allow a color to show and be usable on black paper even when translucent.
It is also very important to keep your pencils sharp. I sharpen constantly when drawing fur so that each hair is cleanly defined.
Reference Photo courtesy of stalksthedawn
Examine and Outline
The first thing I do when approaching a new piece is examine the reference material very closely. I take in the shapes and the colors, paying particular attention to how the light and shadows fall. Examine where the darkest areas are, where the fully lit areas are, where light reflection occurs. Observe what seems to glow. Look for what median tones can be dropped into the blackness, and which should be brought into the light. What shapes might need more definition, and which might need less? Is there anything that is unclear, or are there any details which might be more dramatic if they were less clear? How should the subject be placed on the paper? How large should the drawing be? Would it look better in black and white, or in color?
Once I have closely examined the reference material and have a compositional plan, I draw a basic outline sketch of the subject. I will typically use an “F” hardness graphite pencil. “B” also works well. The shininess shows up clearly on the black paper, but is easy to erase if drawn lightly. WIP1 (below) shows the sketch lines very faintly. Some artists prefer to use white charcoal, pastels, or even colored pencil for the basic sketch. I do not recommend using colored pencils due to the difficulty of erasing them, but try any or all of the above until you decide what works best for you.
Choose Your Colors
If you are drawing the piece in color, you will need to pick out your colors. Examine the reference for dominant color tones, and try to find corresponding pencils. When working on black paper it is likely that you will need to choose much brighter and lighter pencils than would be required on white paper. Shading will often be achieved just by applying less pencil to the paper, or using less opaque colors.
It is also very important to observe the opacity of the color you wish to use. Different brands of pencils will have different properties, so always test the color on the edge of the paper before using it on the piece. If a pencil has very little opacity, it might not show up well enough on the black paper to be used. Sometimes those colors can be used anyway because of layering, which will be demonstrated later.
Layering the Fur
To achieve the most realistic fur possible, each hair must be drawn individually, and they must be layered one on the other so that the viewer sees hints of the fur underneath.
For the first layer, I chose Prismacolor’s Peach Beige, lightly applied. This defines the areas that are to be colored, and provides a base that is not stark black. Very little of this layer will be fully visible in the final piece, but without it, the drawing would not have a fully realistic level of depth.
I am right-handed and always steady my hand on the art surface, so I worked the piece from left to right, finishing each section as a go. This process prevents me from smudging or distorting finished parts of the drawing. This is entirely a personal preference. It is also possible to work a layer across the entire drawing before moving to the next, finishing the drawing as a whole rather than in parts. As you create more drawings you will find a pattern of work that is natural for you.
The second layer is a firmer application of the Peach Beige, creating a stronger backdrop in some areas and fully defining some of the hairs. The lit areas on the first section are now defined.
The thrid layer is Prismacolor’s Orange Mineral. In some places I applied it lightly over the beige, to tint the area slightly orange. In other places, I pressed firmly to create a stronger color. This is laying down a color layer that will be deep in the fur, creating a tint or hint of color when covered with more fur.
This layer adds Prismacolor’s Orange Deco. This layer partially hides the Orange Deco with a softer orange tone. The brightness of the Orange Mineral underneath prevents the Orange Deco from seeming flat.
For the final layer, I used Derwent Chinese White to brighten areas and define the white portions. I also added some tiny flecks of white to show where hairs were catching the light particularly brightly.
The white pencil is the only non-Prismacolor pencil I used in this piece, because the Prismacolor white is not opaque enough to show up on black paper. The Lyra Rembrandt white works as well as the Derwent, and I use the two pencils interchangeably in my art.