Tips for Drawing Realistic Wood Grain

Tips for Drawing Realistic Wood Grain

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know my favorite subjects are horses and landscapes. But I do draw other things, upon occasion, usually when I’m doing a plein air challenge.

One non-natural thing I draw often is processed wood. Fences. Fence posts, wood steps. Part of drawing those types of subjects is knowing how to draw realistic wood grain and details.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Wood Grain

In principle, drawing realistic wood grain is no different than drawing any other subject.

Study your subject.

Create an accurate drawing.

Develop accurate values.

Add color.

It sounds pretty simple and it is—in theory.

But doing each of those steps can also be confusing and frustrating.

I’ve written two tutorials on this subject (the links are at the end of this post.) Each one deals with a different, specific aspect of drawing realistic wood grain, and they will be helpful if that’s your goal.

But what if you just want to know basics like finding something to draw, knowing what to include, and what to leave out? If that’s you, this post is for you!

The purpose of this article is sharing a few basic tips that will help you with every drawing you do that includes wood grain in some form.

NOTE: The focus of this article is colored pencil work, but most of the tips to follow apply to other mediums, as well.

The Process for Drawing Realistic Wood Grain

Choosing a Good Subject is Key to Making a Drawing You’re Proud Of

Selecting your subject is the first step in every process, and usually doesn’t merit much attention when artists talk about making art. But it’s important to find a subject that means something to you or attracts you for some reason. Otherwise, you’re likely to lose interest before the drawing is finished.

Wood grain can be a subject all its own, or it can be a detail in a larger composition.

This section of fence might make a good subject. Variations in color and value, interesting details like knots and knot holes, glimpses through the slats, and the shadows cast on the fence provide visual variety.

The same section of fence might also be just part of a larger composition. In the photograph below, the fence provides counterpoint to the yellow and green leaves, and the bright sunlight falling upon them.

Look For Strong Lighting that Enhances the Subject

Lighting sets the mood for your art. The flat light of a gray day says something different than the bold light of a sunny day.

Light can be a supporting feature or the subject of your drawing.

I can’t tell you how many times the play of light and shadow has prompted a drawing. One of the things I like about the image above is the light on the leaves, and the pattern of light and shadow on the fence.

The definition of good lighting differs for each one of us. For me, it’s a strong light source (usually the sun) coming from a single direction. But combining two light sources also often produce interesting affects.

Many artists find the unlimited possibilities of artificial lighting suits their tastes better.

Unique Characteristic Make for a More Interesting Drawing

There should be something unique and interesting about your subject. Something that sets it apart, and gives it character, like the worn away part of the wood in this 2016 plein air drawing.

How to Draw Realistic Wood Grain Rotted Wood

Usually, the thing that attracts your attention to a potential subject is the same thing that attracts the attention of viewers to the finished art. Look for those unique details, then make them the center of interest.

A Successful Finished Drawing Begins with an Accurate Line Drawing

Once you’ve chosen your subject, take the time to make an accurate line drawing, beginning with the larger shapes. Wood grain is, by nature, filled with details. Get bogged down too quickly in the details, and frustration results.

By the same token, don’t get so finicky about the overall drawing that you lose sight of the details. You can measure and refine and adjust until your drawing is 100% accurate, but it’s better to draw in more general terms, unless you’re drawing in a hyper-realistic style.

Add the Details After the Foundation Drawing is in Place

Add details after the larger shapes; things like knots, knot holes, and the larger grain patterns. The things that make the piece of wood you’re drawing unique.

Make sure to indicate where the major shadows and highlights fall in the wood grain. It’s all too easy to lose sight of them when shading, and once you’ve shaded over a highlight, it’s difficult to restore it if you’re working on traditional paper.

Draw Strong Values to Catch the Eye of Viewers

Values are more important than colors in most cases. That’s one of the reasons I usually use an under drawing of some form; it’s easier to get values right if I’m not also trying to get the color right.

It doesn’t matter what method you use to draw the under drawing. Use just one or two colors to develop the light and dark values, then glaze color to finish, or start with all the local colors and gradually build them up.


Follow these basic suggestions and you’ll soon be drawing realistic wood grain—and anything else.

Want to Know More?

In this EmptyEasel article, I explain how I do that in a tutorial that includes tips for rendering a few familiar features of weathered wooden boards. It’s not as difficult as you might think if you know what to look for. Read the full article.

OLYMHow to Draw Realistic Wood Grain Details

A tutorial is also available in the Summer 2014 issue of Colored Pencil Student magazine. Back issues are available in print and digital form. Mastering Wood Grain includes step-by-step instruction on developing the drawing shown here beginning with an umber under drawing.

How to Draw Realistic Wood Grain Mastering Wood Grain

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  1. Patricia Wilson

    Wow! That was informative and interesting. When you do the drawing it looks so real. Hope I can “grow up” to be half as good as you. I guess it took years for you to become that good.

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