Black Labrador Fur in Soft Pastel
My online class members have been asking me to do a black dog fur tutorial for a while now because black dog fur can be quite a tricky effect to achieve. However, they surprised me when I asked them this question:
“What do you find hardest about black dog fur?”
I thought the replies would be about creating curls and achieving the shapes when all you can see is black. But the answers were mostly about achieving the colours. Black reflects so many colours! This is what makes it easier for me. If black fur was just black I would find it hard.
The trick to black fur is looking for the colours.
If you’re a new artist, seeing colours can be mind boggling. When I teach new students and I mention the colours I can see, they do look at me as if I am slightly crazy. But if they follow my advice and look for colours in their surroundings, they always come back exclaiming:
“It’s true! There are colours everywhere, I’m seeing so many colours now!”
Look at the difference between these 3 black Labradors above. We have a grey-black, a purple-black and a blue-black and you can see soft shiny fur and fluffy fur.
My 7 Top Tips to Help You with Black Labrador Fur
BLACK FUR TIP 1
To help you see more colours you can use an App such as ColorPicker. You can add your photo and select an area and you’ll be shown a sample of that colour. It can help a lot. But try not to be ruled by it and go with your eyes and instincts too – which will of course improve the more you look for colours.
BLACK FUR TIP 2
Print your reference photo on photo quality paper. It really helps to see the colours better and not be influenced by the bright light of a phone or tablet screen. This also means I can put my chosen soft pastels and pastel pencils next to the photograph. Sometimes I even mark the photograph with the colours. This wasn’t an option when I used to not bother printing the image but it’s been so useful and worthwhile in enabling me to match colours better.
BLACK FUR TIP 3
My third top tip is to study your printed (see TIP 2) reference photo and find the blackest of black fur and do that first. This can help you with the form of the animal. You can then work away from the black towards the other colours. I use a hard black pastel stick by Faber Castell but a Conte black or a NuPastel black stick would be good too. The harder sticks are better to draw with and really useful here.
BLACK FUR TIP 4
One of the most useful skills you can learn is to control the pressure of your sticks. Because you can use the same black stick more lightly to cover the lighter areas. You can also add blue here too. A fabulous Unison Soft Pastel for the blue is DARK 22 but if you need to go purple you can use DARK 20. You need to go darker before you can add the highlights. And you can mix black with the DARK 20/22 to go even darker. See below for my Unison Colour soft pastel list.
Control the pressure of your sticks
BLACK FUR TIP 5
Highlight colours are so important for realism, highlights are never just white. Recently I used pale green for highlights on a horse! A fabulous pastel pencil for black fur is Caran D’ache 631 it’s Light Ultramarine Violet aka Lilac – one of my favourite pastel pencils.
BLACK FUR TIP 6
A tortillon blender is a fabulous blending tool to move pastel about. Really useful if you just want a thin layer and you’ve put too much on in one place. I find tortillon blenders so useful!
BLACK FUR TIP 7
Don’t be afraid of big soft pastel sticks. They are your friend. They allow you to create realist fur. The trick to creating realistic fur is not thinking of it as fur! Sounds crazy and counter intuitive, I know, I hear you loud and clear! When I started using the big sticks my realism improved leaps and bounds and I got to the end result of thick fur so much more quickly than with pastel pencils alone. Next time you see a dog, doesn’t have to be a black dog, notice what you see, is it lots of individual hairs or are you imagining lots of individual hairs? It’s likely you see clumps or fur and shapes, tones and colour.
“When I started using the big sticks my realism improved leaps and bounds.”
BLACK FUR TIP 7
And lastly, my final tip… shiny fur is an illusion plus don’t over blend. Take a look at these 2 photos of the shiny parts of the blue-black labrador coat. Not shiny at all! It’s the contast between the dark and highlighted fur and the directional strokes that gives the illusion of shine and our eyes and brain think it’s shiny. Get the tones correct and don’t blend too much (this crushes the soft pastel work in general will look dull) then your fur will look shiny too.
My ‘go to’ Unison Soft Pastel Stick for Black Fur
DARK 22 – DARK BLUE
DARK 20 – DARK PURPLE/VIOLET
A30 – SLIGHTLY LIGHTER AND RICHER PURPLE/VIOLET
BV18 – RICH ROYAL BLUE for rich blue fur
BV10 – SKY BLUE/VIOLET for lighter rich blue fur
GREY 10 LIGHT GREY for grey highlights
GREY 35 MID GREY for mid tones
BV3 – HINT OF LILAC for highlights
G7 or BV16 or A34 DARKER LILAC for mid tone purple violet
During July-October 2021 I have a Unison Soft Pastel discount code for you when you buy any of my tutorials. Just email for the code once you have purchased.
These TOP TIPS will stand you in good stead for your next Black Labrador but if you would like some more help my whole tutorial showing all 3 black Labradors can be downloaded today so you can have a go and learn so much. Here: Black Labrador Fur Tutorial
My tutorials are narrated LIVE so you get everything, my thoughts, my reasoning, my top tips, the birds singing outside my studio and even mistakes and what I do to correct them. I keep it real so you can learn in the best way possible. Before I was an Artist I was a Teacher with specialist training in helping those who find learning a struggle. The great thing about that, for you, is that my specialist training helps everyone learn better (I love my job!)
“I have learned so much, improved so fast and it’s all thanks to Sue”
Finally finished the labrador tutorial (had to finish painting my kitchen first!). Thanks to Sue Kerrigan-Harris for a super tutorial, really helped me understand layering, tones and how to create depth. Didn’t have the exact colours so improvised.
Sue is a Soft Pastel Artist and International Tutor from England UK
She's passionate about soft pastel art and teaching her students from around the globe.
"Art makes my heart sing and my soul smile"