Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencils

I’ve been drawing landscapes with colored pencils for almost as long as I’ve been using colored pencils. One of the most difficult things to get right in a landscape are the green colors. So today, I want to show you one way to draw realistic landscape greens.

Learn how to draw realistic landscape greens.

There are several ways to draw landscapes with greens that don’t look washed out or garish. One of my favorite methods is to start with an umber under drawing. That’s because earth tones naturally tone down other colors.

But most artists prefer to go straight for the color. I confess. I often do that, too, because color is just so much fun!

So let’s take a look at how I use that method to draw landscapes.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you finish with. You simply begin with lighter versions of the final colors, or start with lighter pressure.

You build color through a series of layers and either increase the pressure or mix in other colors. Sometimes both.

While it’s quite likely you’ll include earth tones and complementary colors to keep the greens looking natural, you won’t use them by themselves at any part of the drawing process.

In other words, the under drawing will look like a faded version of the final, full color drawing.

How does that look in practice? Here’s a step-by-step.

How to Use a Direct Color Under Drawing

As with any other method of drawing, the first step is creating the patterns of lights and darks in the composition. You also begin developing the most basic details at this stage.

The Base Layer

For this illustration, I glazed a medium green over all of the trees using open, diagonal strokes to establish the base color.

Next, I drew the form shadows (on the trees) and the cast shadows (between the trees) with the same color. But I increased pressure a little, and used slightly smaller strokes, which I placed closer together.

The results are the same as with the other methods, but the drawing is already showing the finished colors. Green.

The Middle Layers

Next, I layered a light dull-ish yellow over the trees, followed by a couple of layers of a yellowish-green. Those colors provided the warm yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

I followed that with another layer or two of the original color into the shadows on each side of each tree. Then I glazed a light-value, yellowish earth tone over all of each of the trees.

After a few more layers alternating between those colors, I burnished with a very cool, light blue in the lightest areas. Then I added a little dark green or dark brown in the shadows, and then burnished with the colorless blender.

Once the basic values were in place, I continued layering all the colors over the trees. Layer by layer, I developed colors, values, and details.

I finished by layering medium green, dark blue, and dark brown into the shadows, alternating between the colors to create a range of values within the shadows.

Finishing the Trees

I finished work on these trees by burnishing in a couple of rounds.

For the first round, I used different colors for each area: Light, cool blue in the lightest areas and dark green in the darkest areas.

I used a colorless blender for the second round of burnishing, and I burnished all parts of each tree.

To burnish, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils with a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each tree.

This is what these trees look like finished.

The final drawing with realistic landscape greens

You Can Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

It takes some thought and patience, but once you master the process, it makes perfect sense.

When you use the direct color method, all you’re doing is developing color along with values and details layer-by-layer.

It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins when you use direct color, but it is no less effective than using an umber under drawing or a complementary under drawing.

One note to those who will ask. I didn’t name colors in this step-by-step because the specific colors don’t matter all that much. You can use any combination of yellow-greens, medium and dark greens, earth tones and blues to duplicate the results I showed you here.

You can see the finished drawing, Afternoon Graze, here.

What is Burnishing Colored Pencils?

What is Burnishing?

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know about burnishing colored pencils. Here is the question.


First I really want to thank you for creating such a wonderful opportunity to ask and learn more about coloured pencils! I sort of looked forward to it.

My question is what is burnishing? I have been hearing this term a lot ever since I started taking more interest in coloured pencil art.

Thank you so much!


What is Burnishing Colored Pencils?

Burnishing is a method of blending colored pencils by using a burnishing tool such as Prismacolor’s colorless blenders (shown here) or a colored pencil and very heavy pressure.

Burnishing colored pencils with colorless blenders.

How Burnishing Works

Blending by burnishing is accomplished by pressing the layers of color together and pushing them into the tooth of the paper. Burnishing creates richer, darker color by filling in the paper holes.

Do You Have to Burnish?

You don’t have to burnish in order to blend colored pencils. You don’t have to burnish every drawing. If you choose to burnish, you don’t have to burnish every part of that drawing.

Some artists like the look burnishing produces and use it a lot. Some artists don’t use it at all because they think it gives their work a waxy look.

I prefer not to burnish animal drawings unless I want a very sleek look on the animal. When I do horse portraits, for example, I often burnish things like metal buckles and leather straps. Eyes are another area I may burnish.

But for drawing hair—especially long hair—I usually don’t burnish at all.

Tips for Burnishing Colored Pencils

If you decide to burnish, the following tips will help you burnish successfully.

Burnishing Works Best with Lots of Color on the Paper

You’re essentially “grinding color layers together” when you burnish, so you get the best results if you put down several layers of color first.

How many layers are enough? That depends on how heavily you usually draw. If you’re a bit heavy handed, then you can probably get good results with burnishing after three to six layers.

If, however, you tend to use lighter pressure, you need more layers before burnishing produces good results.

Burnishing Works Best Toward the End of the Drawing

Because burnishing presses down the tooth of the paper and may also leave a lot of wax on the paper, it can be difficult to add more color over a burnished area.

So you may want to wait until you’re nearly finished with a drawing (or with the part of the drawing you want to burnish) before you burnish it.

Burnish with a Dull Point

Remember, you’re using heavy pressure when you burnish. If you burnish with a sharp blender or pencil. one of two things is likely to happen.

The most likely outcome is breaking the tip off the blender or pencil. That’s not a big deal if you don’t mind that bit of lead being wasted. It is a big deal if you break a pencil tip and leave an unwanted mark on the paper. Those kind of marks are very difficult to remove or cover.

Another likely outcome is damaging the paper. Gouging or tearing paper while burnishing with a sharp blender or pencil is very likely on soft papers like Stonehenge. Sanded art papers or heavier papers are less prone to damage, but it isn’t impossible.

So play it safe and burnish with a dull blender or pencil.

That’s a Brief Explanation of Burnishing Colored Pencils

It’s not that difficult to learn to do or to figure out if you really like the look of burnishing or not. All you need to do is put some color on a piece of paper and try using a colorless blender or a pencil on it. You don’t need to experiment on a drawing-in-progress.

In fact, I recommend against experimenting on drawings in progress! That’s a certain path to frustration!

Believe me. Been there, done that!