How to draw an owl

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow,

Colored pencil art by Janie Gildow

Artist Janie Gildow isn’t scared to work on the dark side when drawing with colored pencils — that is, the dark side of paper. Below, Gildow demonstrates how to draw an owl’s eye and feathers on a black surface using colored pencil techniques.

Her drawing tips and tricks are a real “hoot.” Enjoy!

Working on the Dark Side

Colored pencil on white paper glows with bright color, but colored pencil on black is elegant, subtle and mysterious. All it requires is to take a close look at the lower values and use some “reversed” thinking.

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.

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In my reference photo, the sky was blue, and the owl was perched on a branch in the sun. I cropped the image to include only the head, made the blue sky black (Photoshop) and printed the photo.

But that left the owl bright and light. In order to carry along the “night” theme, I had to modify the colored pencils I used; because the colors in the photo were a lot lighter than what was going to happen on the black surface. And, that’s where the color swatches came in handy.

Colored pencil techniques | Janie Gildow,

I’ve applied some colors on white and on black. You can compare the two. Some colors may surprise you, so it’s good to always make some swatches with your pencils. To make a color appear darker, merely reduce your pencil pressure to allow more of the black to show through.

Want More Colored Pencil Instruction?

Watch the preview trailer below of Janie Gildow’s video workshop, Colored Pencil Techniques Made Easy, for an inside look into more of this artist’s simple colored pencil techniques, including the basics for keeping your pencils sharp, the best strokes to use for your subject and blending tips.

Enjoyed the workshop trailer? Head to to start streaming the entire video instruction!

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