Today’s post represents something I haven’t done in a long time: a tutorial! The subject is how to draw flame in colored pencil.
A few readers have asked how to draw fire over the years, and I’ve never given what I considered a very satisfactory answer. So when I came across a series of campfire photographs I took a few years back, I decided to sketch it.
Since I’ve also been practicing at drawing illumination and patterning my studies after Thomas Kinkade’s work, I also decided to test Brush & Pencil products with this kind of light.
How to Draw Flame in Colored Pencil
This is my reference photo. My goal is not to draw this fire exactly. Instead, what I want to do is draw something that likes like fire.
But since we all know it’s easier to draw something you can see, I needed a reference photo, and chose this image from more than half a dozen.
I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils because they seem to work better with Powder Blender than Prismacolor.
One other note. I’m working on Clairefontaine Pastelmat because I’m using Brush & Pencil products. I’m also using the three-step drawing method I described last week, so I’m recording the drawing process in a series of “rounds” instead of steps.
Let’s get started.
Round 1: The Block-In
The first thing I did was apply Powder Blender to the paper with a sable round brush. It doesn’t take much Powder Blender, so use it sparingly.
Then I loosely outlined the fire with Cadmium Orange. I chose that color because it’s a good mid-value base color.
Next, I layered Dark Indigo over the background, followed by Black around the outside edges. Since orange and purple are complements, I next added Mauve over the background.
I did a couple of layers of each color, working through the order with each layer (Dark Indigo, Black, and Mauve.)
Then I blended the layers with a sable round brush.
After blending, I layered Dark Indigo over all of the background. This time, I layered it with a more careful, precise stroke. I still didn’t stroke as carefully as I would when drawing on traditional paper, but I was more careful to shade all of the background.
I did a couple of layers of Dark Indigo, hatching the first layer and crosshatching the second.
Then I blended with the brush again.
Next, I filled in the fire shape with Cadmium Orange and medium pressure. I filled all of the fire shape and overlapped the background just a bit to begin suggesting the glow that surrounds fire.
I did two or three layers of Cadmium Orange, then blended.
This time, I tried a small bristle brush. That worked better than the sable brush, but still didn’t give me the results I wanted. So I blended with my finger. Fingers aren’t recommended unless you wear a cot, because skin oils could damage the drawing.
A sponge applicator would also work better for this.
The block-in phase ended with three light applications of ACP Textured Fixative, with about fifteen minutes of drying time between each application. After the third application, I set the drawing up to dry overnight.
Round 2: Modeling
As with the previous round, I again began with a layer of Dark Indigo over the background. I used medium-heavy pressure and strong, diagonal strokes to cover all of the background. Some of the background color overlapped the flame.
Then I layered Cadmium Orange into the darkest areas of the flame, Cadmium Yellow into the lighter areas, and Cream into the lightest areas. I used a bit of White in a few very bright areas.
I then darkened the darker values with applications of Caput Mortuum Violet applied with light pressure and smooth strokes.
I layered Black over all of the background with heavy pressure, filling all the tooth of the paper as much as possible. I also began more clearly defining the shape of the fire and some of the hot gas wisps around the edges by cutting into the orange with Black.
During this phase, I added the log at the bottom with Caput Mortuum Violet, followed by Black.
In the flame, I refined the interior shapes with Caput Mortuum Violet, Cadmium Orange, Dark Cadmium Orange, and few touches of Cream.
After that, I blended with Powder Blender and a sponge applicator. Because the transitions in flame are so smooth, I started in the lightest colors and blended into the darker flame colors.
Then I blended the background, and softened the edges of the flame by pulling some of that color into the flames. I didn’t want to dirty the oranges, though, so I was very careful not to get too much Black into into the flames.
Then I sealed my work with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative.
Round 3: Detailing
The first step in detailing was adding White to the brightest parts of the flame, then building additional colors around that. I used medium-heavy to heavy pressure with each color. Unless I needed to draw a fine line or sharp edge, I also worked with dull or blunt pencils.
From lightest to darkest, I used White, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, and Dark Cadmium Orange. To get smooth transitions, I overlapped colors, then blended. I went over each area more than once to get smooth color.
Despite adding the two Cadmium Oranges to my palette, I wasn’t getting the amount of contrast I wanted, so after layering those colors a couple of times, I went over the background with Black. I used heavy pressure and cross-hatching strokes to make a solid black background.
When I finished this step, I sealed the drawing with three light applications of ACP Textured Fixative.
The the fixative was dry, I mixed Brush & Pencil Touch-up Texture and Titanium White into a paint-able liquid and applied it to the brightest parts of the flame. I used a small round sable to stroke the mixture into the brightest highlights.
I also added a few details that I’ve seen on burning logs but that don’t appear in my reference photo. Those were the two “rings” of fire around the fire log.
After the mixture dried, I layered Cadmium Yellow with medium-heavy to heavy pressure over most of the white and into the oranges. I worked around the areas I want to remain white.
Then I added Cadmium Orange around the yellow, overlapping some to create smooth transitions. I used medium-heavy to heavy pressure for this color, as well.
I continued working into the darker oranges with Dark Cadmium Orange, then added Terracotta in the darkest oranges.
After that, finishing the campfire was a matter of alternating between the colors to make adjustments and create the “right look.” I wasn’t interested in duplicating the reference photo, but I did want my campfire to look as bright, hot, and lively as the fire in the reference photo.
I made quite a few adjustments to the colors, values, and shape of the fire, as well.
This is the finished drawing.
That’s How I Drew Flame in Colored Pencil
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tutorial. An expanded tutorial explaining this process in more detail is now available at Colored Pencil Tutorials. Click here to read more or get your copy.
Excellent, Carrie. Really fiery!
Wow! Hard to believe you can do all that with colored pencils. That drawing was amazing. I could feel the heat.
Thank you so much for this. I can’t wait to try this. Wow Amazing !!!
Beautifully done. This is a difficult image to address, for sure. I am informed and amazed at the many individual choices made throughout the process. This is one of your greatest helps to me personally, and others I would think, to let us in on the myriad decisions, the order, the organization that doesn’t (until later) look organized. You have a gift for communicating that helps me feel less lost, more hopeful. Thank you!
Thank you, Vicky. Thank you for reading this post and for leaving a comment. Thank you also for your very kind words about this particular drawing and about my teaching skills.
Fire is indeed a difficult subject, and very intimidating. I’ve been an artist for almost all of my life and this is the first time I remember drawing fire. It turned out pretty well for a first attempt.
But more than that, it has given me the confidence to try other intimidating looking subjects.
Thank you again and best wishes.