A lot of artists tell me they are intimidated by painting anything black. And,
yes, the color can be difficult to photograph or paint because it tends to absorb all the detail
that gives an animal or object its contour and shape. Just follow along with this project, and
you’ll pick up several tips and tricks for portraying black horses. The most important of these
tips is: Do not touch a black pastel until later in your painting.
[PALETTE] Black, dark blue, dark gray, light gray, light greenish blue, dark greenish
blue, purple, reddish brown, and white
Step One. On a piece of light blue velour paper, I transfer my sketch of a Friesian mare
running on the beach using carbon paper and a 9B pencil, which I also use to add more detail.
I then use a hard white pastel to map out where the whitecaps in the ocean and highlights on
the horse will be. Starting with blue paper offers a distinct advantage for the background of
sky and ocean in this particular painting.
Step Two. As an undercoat for black, I always use dark blue or purple (or both) in a soft
pastel. I build on top of that with a very dark gray and layer it over all of the dark blue that
we just laid down. Since I have a large dark area to cover, I use the side of my pastel to gently
begin layering color. This method produces a broader, smoother stroke. With a soft pastel in a
light greenish blue, I start to build color in the ocean and sky. I stay away from the white areas
as much as possible, but if I accidentally go over some of the white with blue, it will still be
The initial stages of a painting are a good place to lay down big blankets of color as an
undercoat for a later build up of detail. For the sand, I use the side of a warmish brown soft
pastel as a base coat of color.
Step Three. I start to define the darkest areas of the horse’s coat with a NuPastel black,
which I also use to fill in the eye sockets. This is a very gentle, soft black that feels more like a
dark gray. Once I’ve built up a dark tone, I start adding detail to her head and face with a light
gray NuPastel that’s sharpened to four keen edges. I carefully bring out the highlights in her
face using a very light rubbing stroke.
Here is a good place to use a soft light blue pastel to fill in the area from the top of the
paper down to the blue we have already added, just above the whitecaps, for the sky. Then
using just a darker tint of the same light blue, darken the sky near the whitecaps just a bit.
Step Four. Using the same technique and light gray from the previous step, I now add
highlights throughout the rest of her body. These highlights define her form, and the large
area of dark color now begins to look like something recognizable. I also sharpen my NuPastel
black and start stroking some of her forelock out away from her forehead.
I find that with water, less is more, so I only use three colors for the ocean: light greenish
blue, dark greenish blue, and white. I use the smooth sides of my pastels to lightly and quickly
lay in color. To achieve the light, airy look of the spray that the wind blows off the top of waves,
I choose my softest white pastel (a Unison) and just barely touch the surface so the pigment
lightly attaches itself to the paper. This area can very easily be overworked, so I do not go back
in and add more pastel.
Step Five. I take the liberty to give her a longer tail, mane, and forelock, again building
these areas starting with dark blue and dark gray before using a soft black. Pick out the
highlights in the hair with a very sharp light gray hard pastel. Be sure to stroke the color in the
direction the hair is flowing.
In the final stages, I bring out a Rembrandt black, known to mystudents as “Almighty Black” because it is so wonderfully rich
and dark. I only use this in the darkest areas to give the painting
more contrast and punch and not throughout her coat. I also
bring up the light grays a bit using the edge of my pastel.
Here we can finish the sand too by first covering the
whole area that we tinted a dark brown with a dark gray soft
Then using a white hard pastel, up on the end, put in
the streaks of white that represent the glaze of water that is left
on the beach after the waves go back out.
Use the same white to “kick up” some wet water and
sand around her feet.
Use little, short, choppy strokes to get