How to Draw Realistic, Vibrant Shades of Black with Colored Pencils, Part 2

By Carrie Lewis in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

Welcome back to my two-part series on drawing realistic, “true black” hues with colored pencils. If you missed my earlier post on this topic, or if you’d like a review, feel free to read Part 1 here.

Now, here’s the drawing I’m using as a demonstration piece, just as we left it last time.


Today I’ll show you how to take your drawing from this stage (underdrawing, finished!) to a final, frame-worthy colored pencil piece featuring brilliantly dark blacks.

Draw any reflected highlights

All colors and surfaces show reflected light to some degree. The clarity of the reflected light is affected by the surface of the object (rough surfaces show less reflected light than smooth ones) and the color of the object (light values and dark values show reflected light the best).

The coat of the horse I’m drawing was very short and smooth because it was summer. The sleekness of the coat and natural skin oils created a surface that reflected light and color very well.

Since I didn’t want to lose those reflected colors or have to burnish them over local color, I started this phase of drawing by glazing Sky Blue Light over all of the black parts of the horse except the brightest highlights. The brightness of the highlights from direct light overwhelmed the more subtle highlights from reflected light.

Finish your subject, section by section

Once the highlights were in place, I began finishing the horse, one area at a time.

Using medium pressure and increasing the pressure with each layer, I layered Black into the shadows in and around the ears, followed by a layer of Dark Umber into the shadows and along the inside edge of the lighted areas.


In the lighter areas, I layered Sienna Brown and Yellow Ochre side by side, then burnished with Sky Blue Light and White to blend the colors. Then I darkened the shadows with more layers of Black and Dark Umber.

In the eyes, I layered Yellow Ochre and Sienna Brown into each iris using medium pressure, shaping the outside highlights as necessary.


Then I placed the shadows under the lids and pupils with black and added the reflected blues with Blue Slate, Sky Blue Light, and White.

For the muzzle, I drew the shadows inside the nostrils with Black and Dark Umber and began adding shadow to the pink areas with Dark Umber and Sienna Brown.


On the back legs and rump, I layered Black, Dark Umber, Dark Green, and Indigo Blue into the darkest areas of the back legs and worked Apple Green into the reflected light areas. Some colors I applied more than once. Then I polished each area with Black.

Then I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Umber in alternating layers into the rest of the hindquarter up over the hip and across the rump to more clearly establish the highlight and darken the hindquarter.


I used the same technique, color selection, and order of application to do the shadow under the head and across the chest muscles.

Develop more color and saturation

Once all the areas were complete, I began finishing the body, chest, neck and head. As usual for this stage in the drawing process, work began with the middle values.

For this drawing, I started with the raised front leg, working from the top of the white up the leg and into the chest. Next, I worked on the neck, shoulder, and rump, then finished the hindquarters.


The colors I used were, in order, Black, Dark Umber, Dark Green, and Indigo Blue. I followed the same process throughout, working through each color two or three times to develop rich color and good saturation. The first layers were applied with medium pressure and I increased the pressure slightly for the next layers.

Then I burnished the reflected light areas along the belly and chest floor with a combination of Apple Green and Yellow Ochre. I followed the same procedures to finish the rest of the horse, working from the body into the shoulders, then the front legs, chest, and neck.


When the upper legs were done, I drew the white stockings with a combination of Apple Green, Yellow Ochre, Sky Blue Light, Cerulean Blue Light, and Jasmine, layering the darker colors in the shadows and blending them with lighter colors to create the middle values.

Because the paper was a light gray and the lower legs were mostly in shadow, I didn’t use White, except to burnish the few sunlit areas. I blended the layers with a colorless blender.


The last thing to finish was the head. As with other parts of the body, I layered Black, Dark Umber, Dark Green, and Indigo Blue to establish the darks. I added Cerulean Blue and Sky Blue Light over the resulting black to create middle values and over bare paper in the highlights.


And that concluded my work. I set the drawing aside for a few days in preparation for review and the final touches.

Add the final details and adjustments

There weren’t many adjustments to make. I fixed the long, white hair on the front leg that’s down, added a little more detail to the long hair, and burnished everything with the colorless blender. The final touch was enhancing subtle variations in color with additional color application and burnishing where necessary.

I also made sure the colors worked well together within the horse and that the colors of the horse fit the colors to of the landscape. A few adjustments were necessary to both the horse and the sky, then the drawing was finished.

Here’s the finished drawing.


Creating realistic, true blacks can be a challenge, and it certainly is time consuming! However. . . the resulting, high-contrast black hues (just like you’d see in real life!) are incredibly satisfying, and much more realistic than any color you’d get using a single black pencil.


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