Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

Today’s post is all about comparing colored pencil methods.

Choosing between colored pencil methods can be a challenge. For one thing, there are nearly as many methods of drawing with colored pencils as there are artists using colored pencils.

And even though two artists may produce similar styles and types of work, the methods they use differ widely.

So how do you know which method is best for you?

Why Comparing Colored Pencil Methods is Important

As universal as drawing with colored pencils seems, the method you use depends largely on three things:

  1. The type of work you want to create
  2. Your favorite papers or supports
  3. The pencils themselves

Believe it or not, some methods work better on smooth paper than on rough. Some methods also work best with high-quality pencils, and sometimes, the method that’s best for you is dependent on your artistic temperament: How you like to put color on the paper.

Choose the wrong method for your tools and personality, and you may very well give up on colored pencils before finishing your second piece.

But find the right method, and you can draw for years and enjoy almost every minute of it!

That’s why it’s important to know the basics of various colored pencil drawing methods. If nothing else, you can rule out those methods that don’t appeal to you at all!

Understanding Drawing Terms

Before we get started, let me briefly explain terms.

Regardless of the way you draw, you’re likely to work in two basic phases.

The first phase is what I call an under drawing. It’s the first layers of color you put on the paper no matter what method of drawing you use. The under drawing may consist of just a couple of layers or it may involve as many as six to ten layers.

It doesn’t matter what colors you use in the under drawing. It’s still an under drawing.

The second phase is the over drawing. In this phase, you’re developing the colors, values, and details you established in the first phase.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be comparing different methods for drawing the under drawing, since the over drawing is fairly consistent no matter which method you prefer.

Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

To keep the discussion brief, I’m limiting it to the methods I use most often: Complementary, direct, and umber under drawing method.

As mentioned above, these names refer to the way I draw the under drawing. Once I have a complete under drawing, the over drawing is pretty much the same from one method to the next.

Complementary Drawing Method

With this method, the under drawing is drawn in colors that are opposite the the color wheel from the final colors of the drawing.

In the color wheel shown here, I’ve circled two complements; red and green. If you wanted to draw something green using this method of drawing, you’d begin by drawing the under drawing in shades of red.

The drawing, Green Pastures, was drawn over a complementary under drawing. The illustration below shows the finished under drawing (top) and the finished drawing.

Local color (the finished colors) were glazed over the under drawing.

comparing colored pencil methods

Tips for Using the Complementary Drawing Method

Take careful note of the local colors of your subject. A blue-green object requires a different complement (red-orange) than a yellow-green object (red-blue). The more precisely you identify the local colors and their complements, the better this method works.

For environmental greens, consider using earth tones as the complements. A grassy field on a sunny day benefits from an under drawing in cool browns, for example.

This piece also began with a complementary under drawing, with different colors for each area.

comparing colored pencil methods

Download my free color wheel template and make your own color wheel. Instructions are included.

Direct Color Drawing Method

Direct drawing is probably the most popular method of drawing with colored pencils because it’s natural. You draw the under drawing with the same colors with which you draw the over drawing. There usually isn’t a moment when you say to yourself, “The under drawing is done.” Instead, you continue layering until you finish the drawing.

This  illustration shows the under drawing stage of a drawing in which I used the direct method.

comparing colored pencil methods

With this method, you develop detail and value—just as you do with the other methods. But you also make color choices. The drawing develops at all three levels at the same pace.

The drawing moves without notice from the under drawing phase to the over drawing phase.

Tips for Using the Direct Drawing Method

Start with light colors and light pressure. Use lighter values of the local color if you wish, or simply start with very light pressure and increase the amount of pressure layer by layer.

Build color and value slowly. It’s easier to increase vibrant color and strong values than it is to decrease it.

Expect to mix colors to get the exact color you want. I didn’t have one color that was an exact match for the palomino color of the horse in this example, so I combined several shades of yellow- and red-browns.

Umber Under Drawing Method

This is my preferred method; the method I use to draw horses, landscapes, and almost anything else I want to draw. That doesn’t make it better than any of the others. It just means it works best for me.

With this method, I always start with a medium-value earth tone such as Prismacolor Light Umber. I develop the values, shapes, and many details using this color.

I layer color over the finished under drawing.

This is a horse portrait using an umber under drawing.

Tips for Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Use an earth tone that’s either neutral in color (not too blue or too yellow) or that is the complement of the final color. I use a light umber most of the time, because it’s a light brown that’s still dark enough to draw nice dark values. But it’s a little on the warm side, so if I’m drawing a subject that will feature warm colors in the over drawing, I might switch to a darker shade, which is slightly bluer in color.

General Under Drawing Tips for All Colored Pencil Methods

There is no easy way to categorize drawing methods. The methods I described above are not isolated. You can combine various aspects of them as you like, so they’re more like points on a line.

Begin with light pressure and build value slowly, layer by layer.

Choose middle value colors. The color needs to be dark enough to impact the over drawing, but light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the over drawing.

Work around the highlights. It’s much easier to preserve the highlights than to restore them.

When drawing landscapes, don’t under draw the sky unless there are clouds. A clear, blue sky should be the purest color in your landscape, so it doesn’t need an under drawing.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

How to Draw a Dark Background

A dark background to makes your subject stand out like no other background. Especially a brightly lighted one. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.

Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.

Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.

How to Draw a Dark Background

That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way to draw very dark backgrounds quickly.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but my model was filled with light. She also had a long, black mane.

It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it.

As much as I looked forward to drawing the mane, drawing the background around the mane was a problem. This is as far as I got layering color with light pressure.

A Change in Course

Before I got any further, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about using masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and decided the horse—more specifically her mane—was the perfect subject for the article.

And so it was.

I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.

Drawing the Dark Background

First, I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result.

Next, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.

When I’d covered all of the background, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.

Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.

It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.

draw a dark background


Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.

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.

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

Today, I want to show you how to draw gold.

My subject is the gold cap on a Christmas ornament, but you can draw any type of reflective gold object using this method.

In fact, you can draw any reflective object using this method.

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

The method is a three-step method starting with an under drawing and finishing up with detailing.

I used Bristol vellum paper because of its smoothness and ability to take color. This three-step method is also suitable for other papers, but the more tooth in the paper, the more layers you need to get full, rich color.

One other note on materials. I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils for the first two steps, then switched to Prismacolor Soft Core for the final step.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they’re harder than Prismacolor. They do lay down smooth color on Bristol, but you have to work slowly and carefully.

Prismacolor are wax-based and are much softer. That makes them ideal for the final layers, for burnishing, and for filling in the last paper holes.

NOTE: You can get the same results with any artist grade colored pencils.

Now, for the tutorial.

Step 1: The Under Drawing

The under drawing is not the local color of the gold cap. It’s not gold or even yellow; it’s all the colors reflected in the gold. You have to look deep to see the other colors in each area. Those are the colors for the under drawing.

Use a very sharp Burnt Sienna pencil and light pressure to shade the darker reflections.

Since reflections are usually hard-edged, it’s a good idea to outline each shape then shade it. Since there’s a lot of detail in this area, it’s also a good idea to work slowly. Spend more time studying the reference photo than drawing.

Smooth color is key, so use whatever stroke works best in allowing you to draw smooth color. Add layers to get darker shadows and use only one or two layers in the lighter shadows. Fade Burnt Sienna into the white of the paper where the edges are softer.

The shadows around the bottom of the gold cap should also be under drawn with Burnt Sienna.

The next color is Scarlet red. Layer red in two or more light layers on the left side of the gold cap. Lightly outline the shapes, then lightly fill them in. Use more layers to increase the value and saturation.

Finally, light layer Cream over the remaining parts of the gold cap. Work around the white highlights! Once again, draw the smoothest possible color.

Step 2: Glazing Color

Darken the shadows with Walnut Brown. Use medium or medium-heavy pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw smooth color.

Add gold reflections with Cream and the red reflections with Scarlet Red. Blunt pencils are ideal for this. Use heavy pressure, but don’t burnish.

Then glaze Scarlet Red over the parts of the gold cap that reflect red. Layer Cream over the rest. Work around the bright white highlight.

Step 3: Detailing

Burnish the gold cap with Poppy Red in the areas that reflect red, and with Dark Umber in the areas that reflect a brownish color.

Then burnish both red and brownish reflections with Yellow Ochre.

Also burnish the yellow parts of the gold cap with Yellow Ochre, working around the bright highlights.

Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Tutorial

How to Draw a Sunset Sky

Today, I want to show you something fun and helpful: How to draw a sunset sky with watercolor pencils.

Here’s the good news. It’s not as difficult as it may seem (at least not the way I did it!)

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour Pencils on Stonehenge 98lb drawing paper in white. I’ll tell you up front that Stonehenge handles water well, but you MUST tape it to a rigid support so it dries flat.

The sample drawing for this tutorial was 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches in size, so it was difficult to tape down. I set an empty drink bottle on the paper while it was drying and that kept the paper flat, but I do not recommend this method. The bottle I used was very lightweight and clean, so it didn’t leave marks on the paper.

One other note. I didn’t use a reference photo for this piece. Since it’s so small, I painted the sky from memory, then drew the branches from life. You can create your own piece the same way, or from a reference photo.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Layer colors on the paper from light to dark.

Use light-medium pressure to layer color on the paper. Create even color layers with whatever method works best for you. I used the sides of well-sharpened pencils to layer each color.

Begin with the lightest color and work through the colors into the darkest color you want to use.

I used Deep Cadmium, Orange Chrome, Deep Vermilion, Crimson Lake, Imperial Purple, and Prussian Blue. All you really need is yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue so the gradations between colors are smooth and natural looking.

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

If you want a lighter, brighter sky, skip the purple and blue.

Step 2: Activate watercolor pencils with water.

Blend colors with water. Work from light to dark and stroke across the paper horizontally.

Use a large, soft brush, and try to stroke only once across each color. The more you stroke over each area, the more likely you’ll end up with streaks. The streaks in this illustration happened because I got too fussy.

You’ll notice two things immediately when using watercolor pencils. The blended color is darker than the dry color. Derwent’s pencils are very pigmented, so they produce excellent color.

The other thing you’ll notice in this sample is the streakiness in the darker colors. That’s my fault. I used a small brush to blend and didn’t blend fast enough to produce smooth color (in addition to going over the paper too many times!)

At this stage of the process, that’s not a major concern, but it’s still best to avoid whenever possible.

Step 3: Continue to layer and blend with water until you have the color saturation you want.

Continue to add color and activate with water until you have the color and saturation you want.

I did two more rounds of layering and blending. Each round was essentially the same as those described in Step 1. Same colors in the same areas, though I faded each color a little more into the adjacent colors.

For the second round, I layered Deep Vermilion over the top third of the sky, then added Orange Chrome over the top two-thirds. Finally, I layered Deep Cadmium over the entire piece. That unified the colors and toned down the blues and purples, which got too dark. I used medium pressure or slightly heavier to put a lot of pigment on the paper.

Then I washed the whole thing with water and a large soft brush to blend the colors.

Step 4: Draw the basic branch shapes.

Draw the silhouetted trees dry, using watercolor pencils the same way you’d use traditional colored pencils. Use dark colors. I used black and a dark brown mixed to give the branches a warmth that black alone wouldn’t provide.

Then use a very small, round brush (I used a sable) to activate the color. Stroke in the direction the branches grow. From the base up.

You don’t need to keep the edges crisp or blend the colors uniformly. Having softer edges in places, and having some areas more brown and others blacker gives the branches a sense of movement.

Step 5: Finishing the sunset sky with watercolor pencils dry

With a very sharp pencil, add the smaller branches. If you’re drawing from life, observe the growth patterns and draw them as accurately as you can. Don’t worry about getting every branch and twig in exactly the right place. Instead, focus on the general shapes and patterns.

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

You can activate a few of these smaller branches with water if you wish. I didn’t because I lack brushes small enough for that type of detail. I also wanted the bolder look of dry pencil over wet.

Final Thoughts on Drawing a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour pencils for this work, but you can do the same thing with any artist quality watercolor pencil.

Also try watercolor papers. You can use the same method but watercolor paper gives you the opportunity to push the watercolor features a little further.

It was a lot of fun to layer dry color over wet, to paint in broad washes, and with more deliberation. It was quite a learning experience.

One thing you can’t do is put watercolor pencils over wax-based or oil-based traditional pencils, then activate them with water.

Well, I guess you could if you really wanted to, but the watercolor will not stick to the wax or oil for very long.

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Two of the more popular posts here are How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds in graphite, and How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil. Today, we’ll combine those two subjects with a tutorial showing you how to draw clouds with colored pencil.

In a blue sky, of course!

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

About the Demonstration Art

The sample study was painted on Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb paper, Azure. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the smooth side. You can use the front if you wish, but the texture will be more difficult to work with and finishing will take longer.

My cloud study is quite small, 4″ x 2.75″, and is a Drawing of the Week. I used a combination of layering and solvent blending, along with the direct method.

It was also the first time I’d used Canson Mi-Teintes‘ Azure paper, which is a very soft, light shade of blue.

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lightly outline the clouds and land and shade the sky.

Use very light pressure to outline the clouds and the horizon. You can use the same color for both, or use a medium blue to outline the clouds and medium gray-green to outline the horizon.

Keep the edges somewhat soft since clouds very rarely have crisp edges.

TIP: Use at least two shades of blue, one medium and one light. The colors you choose should reflect the color of the sky you’re drawing, since skies are not the same shade of blue everywhere.

Next, shade the sky with the same blue you used to outline the clouds. Use light pressure and the stroke that gives you the most even color. Start at the top with a sharp pencil and layer color about three-quarters of the way down the sky. Work carefully around the clouds.

Follow that with a lighter value blue. Start at the top again, but this time, layer blue all the way to the horizon.

If you’re using a very light blue, start at the horizon and layer that upward to a little past the halfway mark.

Use light pressure with all the colors and do at least two layers of each, rotating through the colors as you work. You want smooth gradations in color and value.

How to Draw Clouds Step 1

Step 2: Lift a few more clouds with mounting putty.

Use mounting putty to lift a little color from the sky to create thin, wispy clouds if you wish.

Shape the putty into small shapes, press it lightly against the paper, then reshape it. If you don’t, you may end up with a pattern of lifted color that’s too regular in shape to look like clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 2

Step 3: Blend with odorless mineral spirits or other art solvent.

You can use a brush (the most common way.) Dip the brush into a little solvent, then “paint” it over the color. The solvent dissolves the color and allows the different shades of blue to mix almost like paint.

I used a cotton swab instead of a brush. In the blue at the top, I tapped the color repeatedly with the end of the swab. Too many times, as it turned out, because I began lifting color (as you can see below.)

In the rest of the sky, I rolled the side of the cotton along the sky in horizontal strokes. Once to moisten the color, then again to blend it.

If you lifted color to create light, wispy clouds, work around them unless you want to reshape them by blending into them. Don’t wet them completely.

How to Draw Clouds Step 3

TIP: If you need to soften edges, blend over them as shown around the clouds around the center patch of blue sky, and in the clouds leading toward the upper, right corner.

Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the blue sky is finished.

Layer color and blend with solvent, until the sky is finished to your satisfaction.

If you need to, you can also do the final blend with a colorless blender.

How to Draw Clouds Step 4

Step 5: Draw the landscape using the same methods.

Draw the landscape using the same layering and blending method. The landscape is really the stage for the main subject, the clouds, so you don’t need to put a lot of detail into it.

Since this tutorial is about the clouds and not the land, I’ll show the first round of color, and the finished landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 5

I did three or four rounds of layering color and blending with solvent to reach this point (below.) The landscape isn’t completely finished, but I’ll do the clouds before making any changes to either the sky or the landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 6

Step 6: Shade the dark values in the clouds

Carefully sketch in and shade the darkest values in the clouds with a medium value blue-gray color. Use a sharp pencil and put down multiple layers to create a variety of values.

Pay close attention to the overlap of clouds. Each set of clouds is different, so don’t rush, and don’t draw generic clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 7

After you’ve put three or four layers of color into the shadows and darker middle values, blend with solvent.

Step 7: Layer the same blue, a medium gray, and a lighter gray-blue into the shadows and darker values.

Darken the shadows and darker middle values with alternating layers of the same blue you used in Step 6, plus a medium gray, and a gray-blue lighter than the previous blue.

Focus your attention on the shadows, but also layer the two shades of blue into the middle values.

Very lightly layer the lighter blue into the lighter middle values.

How to Draw Clouds Step 8

Step 8: Blend with solvent, and pull dissolved color into the lighter parts of the clouds.

Blend with solvent. Blot the brush before touching the paper to remove excess solvent.

Begin blending in the darkest areas. Observe the edges of those shapes carefully, especially where they overlap lighter areas.

Also pull color from the darker middle values into the lighter middle values to create even lighter middle values. Work around the white areas. They will be the highlights in the clouds, so you need to preserve them.

How to Draw Clouds Step 9

Step 9: Continue layering and blending until you get the color, values, and saturation you want.

Since this small piece was a study and a Drawing of the Week, I didn’t push the details. The finished study, below, represents two more rounds of layering color and blending with solvent.

I finished by burnishing the clouds with a light blue Prismacolor pencil. Prismacolor because they’re wax-based, and good for burnishing. Light blue to unify the values in the clouds and because the color was just the right touch for the hint of shadow in the brightest part of the clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Finished

As already mentioned, this is only a color study, so isn’t as detailed as a larger painting.

But it is enough to tell me this type of painting is not only fun to do, but worth expanding into a larger, more complex piece.


Learning how to draw clouds is a challenging, but satisfying process. You’ll have an endless variety of subjects, even with the same cloud, since they change so quickly.

It’s also an excellent way to improve your powers of observation, and you ability to sketch and draw quickly.

In other words, it’s well worth the time!

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

Let’s take a look at something that scares the wits out of a lot of us: How to sketch a composition directly on paper. (And no, I don’t mean a preliminary sketch on any old sheet of paper: I mean sketching on good drawing paper!)

I know it’s scary, because it was years before I started doing it.

Want to know the truth? I didn’t start sketching directly on good drawing paper until I started doing landscapes a year or two ago, and I’ve been an artist for fifty years!

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

Landscapes are ideal subjects to begin with because you don’t need to get every detail correct in order to draw an accurate representation.

I’m using sanded art paper for this tutorial because it’s so easy to remove color and make changes. The goal is to reach the point at which you don’t need to make changes to your sketch, but it’s nice to have that option.

Don’t worry! If this is the first time you’ve ever sketched directly on good drawing paper, it’s not that difficult. Just focus on the big shapes and don’t worry about getting everything exactly right! If it looks too difficult, do a couple of practice sketches first. That’s always a good way to improve drawing skills, anyway, so the time will not be wasted.

I also recommend starting small. This project is 6 inches by 8 inches. Large enough to give you plenty of wiggle room, but small enough to keep it from being too intimidating.

And choose a relatively simple landscape to begin with.

Step 1: Draw compositional guidelines by dividing the paper into thirds horizontally and vertically.

Divide the paper into thirds, as shown below. You can also divide the long side into thirds if you wish. I didn’t because this composition is so horizontal, but in hindsight, I could have saved myself a little time by dividing the long sides into thirds, too.

TIP: Most landscape drawings are best if they are divided roughly into thirds. A composition that’s divided into thirds is generally more interesting that one that’s divided into halves, especially if the halves are nearly equal. If, for example, the horizon line is right in the middle of the drawing, the composition may look more like two compositions cobbled together, than one unified composition.

This illustration shows my paper with the short sides divided into thirds.

You don’t need to draw lines all the way across the paper (though you can if you want to.) Marks along the edges are sufficient. If you taped your paper to a rigid support, mark the tape and not the drawing.

If you do draw lines on the paper, draw them lightly and with a color that fits the final color scheme, so the lines disappear into the drawing.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 1

NOTE: The red lines shown above were added to point out the marks I made on my paper. I didn’t draw lines all the way across the paper, though you may if that helps you.

Step 2: Decide where the horizon line should be.

The horizon line is the line between the land and sky. It should be at or near the the top mark you made in Step 1.

Use a light touch, and keep the strokes loose. Your lines should be dark enough to see through a couple of layers of color, but not so dark that it’s difficult to cover them.

It also doesn’t matter what color you use to sketch, so long as it fits into the color scheme of the drawing. I used a gray-green because that’s the of the most distant hills. It’s also a good base color for the rest of the greens.

I could also have used a sky color had I wanted to.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 2

Step 3: Draw the big shapes first.

Draw the large shapes that make up the “thirds” of the drawing. The horizon line marks the sky and the lower line, which swoops down in the center, defines the foreground.

While it is a good idea to divide your composition into thirds, it’s not absolutely vital that the thirds be precise or equal. As you can see in this illustration, the horizon line peeks over the red line that marks the top third of my drawing.

It also dips below the line. Most of it is below the line.

The same holds true for the sloping line at the bottom.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 3

The rule of thirds—and most other art rules—are only guidelines. Follow them strictly every time and all your drawings may begin to look the same. Like all art rules, the rule of thirds is a good place to begin and a good guideline, but there are times when a subject benefits from ignoring or adjusting the guidelines.

Step 4: Add more details and begin drawing smaller shapes.

Draw the rest of the details within the larger shapes using slightly lighter than normal handwriting pressure.

You can either draw from the background forward, or start in the foreground and work back. I usually work from both directions, though it can be easier to draw foreground shapes first. If you do, the shapes and lines behind them can be drawn around them.

Whichever way you draw the landscape, remember it’s not necessary to draw a  lot of detail. The basic shapes and placement of trees and hills are sufficient to provide guidelines for layering color.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 4

Step 5: Add any additional details

Finish the line drawing by adding any other details that may be necessary. Some of the final details I added were the small tree right of the three trees near the center, and a few lightly sketched lines indicating the slope of the hill below and to the left of those trees.

This is also a good time to make changes to the composition if that becomes necessary. For example, after I finished the line drawing, I realized the composition in the photo is too static. The horizontal lines are well placed, with the horizon about 2/3 of the way up the composition, and the trees a little bit below that.

But the pair of small trees in closest to the foreground are too much in the center, so I added a third tree to the grouping, and placed it to the left of the original two. I also thought about placing other, rounder trees either further to the left or the right, but decided against that for the time being.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 5

NOTE: This where my drawing would have benefited had I divided the paper into thirds along the long sides. That just shows you that you should always be learning as an artist!


And that’s how I sketch a composition directly on paper.

If you don’t feel comfortable making a line drawing directly on sanded art paper, that’s okay! It took me a while to get comfortable beginning a drawing this way. Make a few practice drawings to familiarize yourself with the composition. You may also want to try rearranging the parts of the landscape a little while you’re at it.

When you’re ready, put your drawing on the sanded paper.

And remember, if you don’t like the sketch once you’ve drawn it, it’s very easy to remove and start over. Sanded art paper is very forgiving that way. So take your courage in hand, and start sketching!

How to Draw Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil

Today, I want to show you in eight easy steps how to draw autumn grass with colored pencil.

It’s winter, you say? That’s okay. The grass is still brown—if you can see it under the snow—so this method works for dried up winter grass, too!

And it’s a great exercise for drawing any type of grass at any time of year.

How to Draw Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil

About this Project

The original artwork is 5×7 inches and is a study for a larger landscape. The paper is white Bristol 146lb with a regular surface. You can use any type of paper for this exercise.

The reference photo I used (not shown), was used for the basic shapes only. I didn’t want to duplicate the shapes of the grass—I just wanted to draw the “feel” of dry autumn grass.

Don’t worry about drawing every leaf or blade of grass unless you’re doing hyper-realistic drawings. Instead, select a few well-defined groups of grass, and draw them as accurately (not exactly) as you can. Then fill in other shapes around them.

How to Draw Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil

 Step 1: Establish the basic clumps of grass

Use a light or middle value color to begin shaping clumps of grass, and shadows. Use long, directional strokes starting at the bottom of the page and sweeping upward. Vary the length, width, and shape of the strokes. The longer the grass you’re drawing, the more variety there should be in your strokes.

Once the basic shapes are drawn, you can either use additional layers or a slightly darker color for shadows.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 1

Step 2: Add middle values to the basic shapes

Use slightly blunted pencils and medium pressure to continue adding color and value to the grasses. Draw with the same type of strokes, but don’t draw over every stroke, so that new strokes overlap the first step.

Keep in mind that you want to maintain a random appearance, while still drawing the overall sense of wind moving through tall grass.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 2

Step 3: Darken values and add a few faint greens

Darken shadows, and add a few faint greens (if there are any.) Keep the shadows toward the base of the grass, since those areas receive the least amount of light.

Also, if the grass you’re drawing has heads of any type, draw them with short, directional strokes that mimic what you see in your reference photo. Use two colors, one light and one dark, to draw shadows, but keep the shadows subtle.

Use very short, vertical strokes and light or very light pressure to add background grass with the same colors you’ve already used. Concentrate color at the bottom and reduce color and value toward the horizon.

Also make sure to shorten your strokes as you draw into the background. In my illustration, I drew very short strokes because I wanted that grass to look a long way away.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 4: Continue darkening values and add details

Darken some of the shadows and add additional blades of grass and shadows with a very sharp pencil or a brand of pencil that’s harder. I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for this step because they are thinner and harder than Prismacolor Soft Core. They also hold a point very well, so are ideal for detail.

Whatever pencils you use, draw slowly and deliberately, and weave a pattern of intersecting grass stems and leaves.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 5: Continue adding details

Continue developing the grass with more layer of color, overlapping new and old layers to thicken the grass.

If you want to add a sky, start layering in blues with a very light shade of blue and very light pressure. Draw even color either with tiny, circular strokes, or short horizontal strokes.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 5

Step 6:  More detail to the grass, and more color to the sky

Layer blue over the sky with horizontal layers. You can use the first color of blue and darken it by adding another layer, or you can use a slightly darker blue.

Darken the shadows at the base of the grass. If you want really dark shadows, mix a dark brown with a dark blue or dark green. Two of those colors (or all three of them) make a more natural looking shadow color than any of them alone.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 6

Step 7: Fine-tune the details

Finish the sky by layering two or three shades of blue over that area. Remember to draw even layers of color, and to keep the color darkest at the top of the paper. Apply color with sharp pencils and medium pressure, then blend lightly with a colorless blender if necessary.

You can also use a solvent such as odorless mineral spirits if you wish.

Also add sky colors to the grasses with slightly heavier pressure. Don’t over do this. You want just enough blues to show highlights, but not so many that your grass starts looking blue.

Darken the shadows if necessary.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil - Step 7

Step 8: Finishing the drawing

Burnish the background hill with a colorless blender.

Then add accents with quick, light strokes and very sharp pencils. For warm colored accents, use light earth tones such as cream or very light brown. For  cooler accents, try white, a very light blue or a combination.

Cool or warm grays are also wonderful accent colors if used sparingly. The French Greys from Prismacolor are especially useful.

Colored Pencil Demo #7 Autumn Grass


As you can see, drawing autumn grass—or grass of any season—need not scare you off. And tall grass itself can become the subject of a drawing if carefully drawn. With a low-angle point-of-view and a suitable background, tall grasses make excellent subjects for studies or finished pieces.

They also make excellent accents for larger compositions, such as the drawing Rainy Day on Mustang Ridge, upon which this study is based.

How to Draw Summer Grass

In today’s tutorial, I want to show you my favorite way to draw grass. I’ll show you step-by-step how to draw summer grass using the direct method of drawing, and blending by layering to create lush, green grass.

How to Draw Summer Grass

I’m excerpting this tutorial from the new in-depth tutorial from Ann Kullberg,  Grazing Horses.

The drawing is on Bristol vellum, and I used Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils, but you can use any type of paper and any brand of pencils. The color names will differ, but you can easily match colors brand-to-brand by using online color charts.

How to Draw Summer Grass

Step 1

I like to establish pictorial depth (the illusion of distance) as soon as possible by using stroke quality, stroke, and value.

In the foreground, strokes are darker, longer and more varied. In the middle distance, strokes are shorter, lighter in value, and more uniform. Use circular or very short directional strokes in the far distance.

Since most of my work uses the umber under drawing method, Light Umber is the color I usually begin with.

Outline major shapes first. The shadows don’t need to be outlined; simply draw them with directional strokes.

Then shade the shadows with light pressure and very sharp pencils. It’s better to draw value layer by layer than to use heavier pressure, especially with a smooth paper like Bristol.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 01

Step 2

Glaze Sand over the grass. Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to apply vertical strokes; longest strokes in the foreground and getting shorter as you work into the middle distance. Overlap strokes to avoid creating unwanted edges because once they appear, they’re difficult to conceal.

Next glaze Chartreuse over the same areas, using the same strokes and light pressure with a very sharp pencil.

Darken the darker values in the tall grass by layering Marine Green into the shadows around the horses and into some middle values. Again, use light pressure and overlapping, directional strokes.

You should not be able to see individual strokes as clearly in the background as in the foreground. Using directional strokes around the edges between values is enough to suggest the look of grass.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 02

Step 3

Next, layer Chartreuse into some of the lighter middle values. Use the same type of stroke you used for the darker colors, but don’t cover every area of dark color with Chartreuse and add Chartreuse in some areas where there are no darker values.

Take your time. Colored pencil is a naturally slow medium. It takes less time to work carefully and get the drawing right the first time, than to have to cover or correct a mistake made because you were in too much of a hurry.

But don’t beat yourself up if you get careless. I’ve been using colored pencil for nearly twenty years and still have to make myself take a break. Step away from your work when you find yourself rushing or getting careless. You won’t regret it!

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 03

Step 4

Layer Olive Green over almost all of the meadow. Work around the brightest highlights. Use a combination of closely spaced vertical strokes and circular strokes with light to medium light pressure. Remember: Longer strokes in the foreground; shorter strokes in the background!

Use medium pressure and circular strokes to darken the shadows and darker middle values with Olive Green.

Next, layer Peacock Green over the meadow, starting at the bottom with directional strokes and medium-light to medium pressure.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 04

Step 5

Layer Jasmine over the meadow with light-medium pressure. Use whatever stroke allows you to get even coverage (I used a combination of circular strokes and closely-spaced vertical strokes.)

Follow that with a layer of Olive Green over all of the meadow except the area immediately in front of the horses. Next, add a variety of short, vertical strokes to create the look of grass. Make sure to keep your pencil sharp, vary the length of the strokes (longer in front, shorter in back), and also vary the amount and direction of curve.

TIP: Don’t try to draw every blade of grass. That will drive you to distraction in no time! Instead, draw tufts of grass by varying the pattern of lights and darks. Also draw the most detail in the foreground, and in the edges between distinct colors or values.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 05

Step 6

In the area immediately in front of the horses, stroke in clumps of grass with curving, fan-shaped strokes. Use sharp pencils and light pressure. You don’t want dark marks, but you do want them dark enough to show. The detail below shows the sort of stroke I use.

How to Draw Summer Grass Fan Shaped Strokes

Don’t cover every bit of paper with these clumps. Also put the darkest marks on the shadowed side of each clump of grass, either by pressing a little harder on the pencil, or by placing strokes closer together.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 06

Step 7

I glazed alternating layers of Jasmine and Olive Green over the meadow to finish drawing the grass and to warm up the green.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 07

Step 8

Darken the foreground with a layer of Dark Green applied with medium to heavy pressure. Alternate between directional, vertical strokes to mimic grass and tight, circular strokes for even coverage.

Follow up with a layer of Dark Brown applied in the same way over the same areas, then add Indigo Blue and another layer of Dark Green.

Keep the darkest areas at the bottom of the drawing and gradually lighten values as you move upward in the composition.

Darken the cast shadows from the horses if necessary.

How to Draw Summer Grass Step 08


I’ve also described how to draw more detailed autumn grass. That tutorial shows you how to draw tall, more detailed grass. That method will also work if you want to draw summer grass that’s tall.

This tutorial is excerpted from the Grazing Horses In-Depth Tutorial from Ann Kullberg. The kit also describes step-by-step how to draw the horses, and the background.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

In the previous post, I began a tutorial showing you how to draw complex flowers. The subject is a detail of hydrangea flowers and that post describes how to draw the basic colors, values, and just a few details.

Today, we’ll finish the tutorial.

SPOILER ALERT: Due to the complexity of the drawing and some behind-the-scenes goings on, I was not able to finish the entire drawing. That wasn’t a surprise. I did finish the flower I started drawing in the previous post.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

This is my reference photo. Thank yous to Loraine for taking the photo, and giving me permission to use it.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Reference Photo

This is the drawing at the end of the previous post, which concluded with step 6 in the process.

As you can see, the basic values have been drawn. The darkest values are established and I’ll use those as a benchmark against which to compare the rest of the values.

I’m continuing the step numbering from the first post, so the first step in this post will be Step 7.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

Step 7: Adding Darker Values Around the Flower

To make the flower show up better, add darker shapes around it. In this illustration, I’ve added the dark wedge shape to the lower right of the main flower. This darker value helps reveal the highlighted edge of the adjacent petals.

I alternated layers of Faber-Castell Polychromos Violet and Purple Violet with Prismacolor Indigo Blue, all applied with medium pressure. I then applied Faber-Castell Pink Madder Lake with heavier pressure, and burnished with Prismacolor Light Blush.

TIP: It’s okay to simplify some of these background shapes to keep the main flower the center of interest. Those darker areas also provide a resting place for the eye.

Step 8: Finishing the Flower Petal-by-Petal

I confess that at this point, I wasn’t sure how best to proceed. It didn’t look like it would take much to finish the flower, but what was the next step? In the end, I took my own advice and began finishing one petal at a time.

To build color saturation, I blended Polychromos Violet, Purple Violet, Light Ultramarine, and Rose Madder Lake, plus Prismacolor Indigo Blue (only in the darkest values), Light Blush, and White. Colors were applied with medium to medium heavy pressure and alternating layers depending on the color and value of each area.

I finished by burnishing with Light Blush over all parts of each petal except the brightest highlights.

Finally, I burnished the brighter areas with White.

The two outside petals have been completed. The darker petal just inside them has new layers of Indigo Blue in the darkest areas, and Violet in all of the shadows.

I also added another part of the background to show off the flower.

TIP: Blend various colors from different brands of pencils to get the most exact color options possible. I’m using wax-based Prismacolor with oil-based Polychromos pencils for this project.

Step 9: Finishing the Rest of the Flower

Continue finishing the flower petal-by-petal.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 9

Step 10: Solvent Blend

While the flower itself was looking pretty good, I wasn’t at all happy with the color. It was much too purple. The deeper shadows gave it a lot of depth, but it was simply not the right color.

In most cases, that’s not going to matter. No one needs to know that your reference photo shows a pinkish-lavender flower, but your drawing is pinkish-purple. After all, there are darker purple hydrangeas.

But I wanted to try a color correction, to see what happened and to show you how to do one.

I blended the flower with turpentine (you can use odorless mineral spirits if you prefer, or you can skip the solvent blend altogether.) I’d burnished my flower so much, the turpentine didn’t do much, so if you think there’s a possibility you might want to do a solvent blend, don’t burnish.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 10

Step 11: Burnishing with Pink

After the paper dried completely, I burnished the entire flower—shadows and all—with Polychromos Dark Flesh.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 11

Dark Flesh might seem like an odd color to choose, but after laying a selection of pencils against my printed reference photo, it proved to be the best choice.

I also  burnished some of the brighter highlights with White, and layered Dark Flesh over a couple of the nearby flowers for context.

Step 11: Time to Review

When you’ve finished the drawing, take a break from it. I like to let my projects sit overnight, then I review them and look for any adjustments that need to be made.

In the case of a project like this, continue finishing the entire drawing flower by flower until it’s completely finished. Then give yourself a day off before you review it.

A Couple of Tips in Closing

Don’t use two reference photos! At least, don’t use two forms of your reference photo.

I worked from a digital form and print form of the reference. The digital form shows the colors in the reference at the beginning of this post. The printed copy was more pink. I matched the colors with the printed reference and got pretty close. But the colors were way off when compared to the digital image. So chose one and stick with it!

Don’t fret over the details. I confess that I got bogged down with details a time or two and got careless in color selection. Don’t let that happen to you.

A Final Word

Overall, I’m pleased with the way the flower turned out but for one thing. I didn’t do a very good job of color matching. Other than that, the results are satisfactory… for a first-time floral drawing!

Will I finish the drawing? Probably not as a finished piece of art, but I will be working on it again as part of a review of Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper. That means lots of experimenting and learning. Stay tuned for that.

Do I regret the effort?

Not at all. I learn more from mistakes and miscues than from doing everything right. For example, I’ve learned that soft, luminous color requires soft, luminous shadows too. I didn’t do that right this time.

Hopefully, you’ll do better!