I was asked recently why I don’t use black paper. My preference is for a mid-tone paper. Nowadays though I mostly work on a light value paper on which I create a three-value dry underpainting. The reason I’m not that keen on black paper is that I can’t go lighter AND darker on the paper. What I mean by that is, the paper has already set the darkest darks (pretty much) so there’s no leeway to push the darks darker. As well, everything on black paper has to, by necessity, be lighter than the paper (since it’s dark) whether it’s a middle value or a light value. Because of this, sometimes it’s difficult to judge just how light (or not light) a colour is because most of your pastels are going to look light against the black paper.
Still, I decided that since I had a few sheets of UART black paper I’d give it a try. I chose an image that was primarily a dark value. (In a previous blog, I had written about my experience of using black paper but that time my subject was mostly middle and light values which meant I was doing a lot of covering up of black paper!)
My reference was a photo taken in front of the Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona). I love these three gals taking a selfie – so typical of our world these days (hey, I’m guilty!). I liked their pose and connection with each other. I also chuckled at how their photo-taking basically ignored the beautiful Cathedral itself.
And that’s what I decided I’d do too as you’ll see in the cropped photo and thumbnail below.
Next comes the thumbnail in three values. Notice I didn’t change much. I liked the dominance of the dark value seen in the background and the scattering of darks through the figures.
I also liked the placement of the lights. They create, in their placement, a triangular shape which is grounded by the light strip of pavement along the bottom. The middle values fill in the rest.
Now comes the drawing up on black paper! Obviously, vine charcoal – my usual drawing tool – wasn’t going to show up so I used Holbein pastels instead. These hard pastels acted nicely as a drawing implement. You can see that I’m concerned with the placement of the figures and their relationship with one another rather than details.
Next came three colours in three values. I chose yellow for the light areas so that these areas would read warm in the white-out light of midday.
Then I chose blue for the middle values. The reason for this was that most of these mid-value areas are cool and although I’ll often put a warm colour beneath an obvious cool, I knew I was going to pick a warm colour for the darks. If I chose a warm for the middle values, that would mean I’d have three warm colours. I decided to do something different: I wanted there to be some coolness in the initial underpainting.
I chose the red for the dark value areas to counteract the coolness of deep shadow in the doorway. I also wanted to bring out the warmth of the doors themselves.
Interestingly, in the end, I realised I’d chosen the three primary colours for my first layer without consciously knowing it!
Now it was time to begin layering pastels over the initial underpainting on black paper. Here’s the start.
I kept adding layers until the initial first layer was covered (although you can still see it coming through and adding to the whole effect).
So far I’m pretty pleased although the faces need work! It’s at this point where soft pastels feel giant-sized in my fingers trying to work on details. I also worked on the shoes and the background (trying out a bit of context for the three women).
More work on the details especially the faces. I decided the background was getting a bit busy and pulling our attention away from the women so worked on it to remove the detailing.
You can also see how I’ve applied more pastel to the pavement to cover the dark of the black paper coming through.
And finally, after a few more touches (a few marks added to the shirt on the left, pushing the background further back, and simplifying the column), I call it quits!!
And a couple of close-ups (that seem to show a truer colour):
And here are the pastels I used. The light values are in the top row, then the middle values, then the darks. My lightest pastel is off to the left while right at the bottom are the Holbeins I used for the initial drawing.
I have to say I really enjoyed working on this black paper. It makes sense when you’re working on a piece that’s mostly a dark value to have this dark surface to work on. And UART paper holds a LOT of pastel!
Do use black paper? If so, why? If you don’t use black paper, is there a reason you choose not to? I’d LOVE to hear from you so please leave a comment with your thoughts.
Until next time,