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.
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.