How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil

How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil

Today, let’s look at a second method that seems counter-intuitive at first, but produces great results: Using a red under drawing to draw realistic landscape greens.

Yes. Red!

Using any shade of red to draw any shade of green is known as a complementary under drawing. When you use a complementary under drawing, you choose colors for the under drawing that are opposite the color wheel from the local (final) color you want to draw.

On this color wheel, the primary color red is opposite the secondary color green. As you move to the right from green to blue green, the complement moves in the opposite direction to red-orange.

If you have a completed color wheel such as this, it’s easy to determine which colors are complementary. Get a free blank color wheel and make your own color wheel. Of course, you can also purchase printed color wheels, but making one with your pencils is the best way to not only find the best complementary colors, but to see how your colors mix, since no two brands are the same in pigmentation or quality.


How to Use a Red Under Drawing

Drawing an under drawing with a complementary color is pretty much the same as for any other type of under drawing. Begin by selecting the red or reds that best complement the greens in the landscape. In the drawing below, I chose poppy red as the main color because it was the best complement. But I also used terra cotta in some parts of the trees because that was the best complement for those areas.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 1

In the grassy field, orange was the best complement.

Whatever color I used, I used strokes to help define each area. Cross-hatching, circular, and squiggly strokes in the trees and short, vertical strokes in the grass.

Darker values were drawn by using multiple layers. I didn’t want to get too dark at this stage, so I used light to medium-light pressure throughout. That made it necessary to add several layers in the darkest places.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 3

I added Tuscan red in the darkest values.

Note that the darkest darks and sharpest contrasts in and around the large tree. That’s because the large tree is the center of interest in this drawing. The strongest value contrasts and sharpest details are in or near the center of interest.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 4

Another Example

A complementary under drawing works with any subject. One of my favorite horse drawings is Green Pastures, which was developed with a complementary under drawing.

Here’s the complementary under drawing…

Green Pastures - Complementary Under Drawing

…and here’s the finished drawing.

Green Pastures Finished Drawing

The level of detail you include in your under drawing is up to you. For Green Pastures, I developed a lot of detail in the horse and left the landscape less detailed because the horse was the center of interest.

In the landscape drawing below, the large tree and its cast shadow were more developed at the under drawing phase than any other part of the drawing because it is the center of interest.

In either case, when the under drawing is finished, complete the drawing by layering color over the under drawing. This part of the process is the same no matter what type of under drawing you use.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 5

Interested in learning more?

This drawing, The Sentinel, was created for a series of articles written for I’ve described the process in step-by-step detail in a series of three articles on EmptyEasel. Follow the links below to read the articles.

How to Draw a Complementary Underpainting for your Green Landscape

How to Add Rich, Vibrant Color on Top of Your Colored Pencil Underpainting

Finishing Up a Traditional Colored Pencil Landscape Painting

You can also download a free copy of Colored Pencils: The Complementary Method Step by Step.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.


      1. Donna

        I didn’t even try the pencil, I just used chalk to sketch it, then the red, now I’m filling in the other colours. Having fun with it. Now to keep cool and not overwork it – a problem of mine.

          1. Donna

            Hi Carrie, I seem to be in an experimental stage. The base red works well as some of the red warms the cooler colours and compliments the green colour. I kind of like that. I also did an acrylic base coat but finished with water mixable oils. This gave it the brilliance. I learned long time ago that this is quite successful. The only problem with using oils is that it takes a while to dry to finish it completely.
            My next project is to use the pencils in red and try the method you mentioned.
            You just inspired me! thanks for that.

          2. Donna,

            Experimental stages are good. That’s when we learn.

            Oils do require drying time and the brand I prefer (M. Graham Oils) take longer than most. That’s why I like colored pencil. I can work on colored pencil while the current painting project is drying!


          3. Donna

            Organized thinking! I have been away from painting for over 5 years – just now getting motivated. My pencil case is out, looking forward to another experiment.

          4. Donna,

            Wow. 5 years? That’s amazing.

            It was nearly three years between the last portrait I completed and my new portrait. It’s waiting now to be framed and delivered. When I started painting again, I felt like I’d lost my touch. Talk about having to get reacquainted! It was almost like a crash course.

            Hope things go more easily for you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: