It’s Never Black or White

Drawing pet portraits has made me an expert in rendering fur, none of which is ever entirely black or white. If you met my sister’s dog Emily, chances are you would say she’s a black poodle. However, if you look at her coat closely, you’ll see more than just black. Depending on the lighting, black fur can take on shades of gray, brown, blue, or even purple. Similarly, white fur is reflective of light and other colors. I often use neutrals, peach, light blue, lilac or light pink when rendering white fur. In either case, the fur is never pure black or white.

My colored pencil process begins with a blank “canvas” or single base layer of pencil, to which I add many subsequent layers. Most of these layers are different colors, which add a multidimensional quality to the drawing. I usually begin drawing black fur with a base layer of light gray colored pencil. I then add multiple darker shades of gray and finally, black, to represent darker values. I’ll then add blue, purple, brown or other colors as highlights. I never start with black, because that would leave me with a dark, flat canvas and nowhere to go from there.

I try to train my colored pencil students to see through an artist’s eye. When you study your subject, you begin to see color in a much more complex way. I sometimes overemphasize subtle colors that I see in photographs, because I think it makes my drawing more interesting. Occasionally, I’ll even use a color that isn’t there at all, just because I like the effect. While I’m a realist, I never want my artwork to look like a copy of the photo I’m working from. It’s my interpretation of black and white and everything in between.