How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

This week’s series showing you how to draw realistic landscape greens concludes with the direct color method. If you missed the previous posts or would like to review them, you can read them here.

How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you’ll finish with. You start with light colors and build color through a series of layers. 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.

Let’s take this detail from the drawing Afternoon Graze.

How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using a Direct Color Under Drawing

In a lot of ways, using direct color for the under drawing is no different than using an umber under drawing, a complementary under drawing, or a single-color under drawing in any other color. The first step is creating the patterns of creating lights and darks to establish the composition AND beginning to develop details at the most basic level.

Where this method differs from all the others is in color choices.

For this illustration, I began with olive green, which I glazed olive green over all of the tree using open, diagonal strokes to establish the basic color. Then I drew the form shadow (on the right) and the cast shadow (on the left) with the same color, but with slightly increased pressure and smaller strokes placed closer together.

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

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 1

Next, I added a layer of jasmine, followed by a couple of layers of limepeel. Both colors are more yellow than green so they provided the warm and yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

Next, I layered olive green into the shadows on each side, then glazed bronze over all of the tree. I followed that up with another layer of olive green into the shadows, then burnished with sky blue light, a little dark green and dark brown into shadow accents and a burnishing with the colorless blender.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 3

I finished by layering olive green, indigo blue, and dark brown into the shadows to create variations within the shadows. Next, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils, and a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each part of the shadow.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 4

Above is the finished detail and below, is the entire drawing.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 5

When you use the direct color method in the under drawing, you develop color, value, and detail layer by layer. It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins with this method, but it’s no less effective than an umber or complementary under drawing.

As you’ve seen from these week’s series, it’s possible to get good results with all three methods.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

Your Assignment

The week’s lessons are now complete. Your assignment is to experiment with each method and get a hands-on feel for how each one works. If you’re feeling ambitious, try single-color under drawings in other colors, too.

Then let me know which method or methods you liked best.

Images for posting should be no smaller than 300 pixels and no larger than 500 pixels on the long side. Save them at 72 dpi as either a jpg image or png image (jpg preferred), then email them to me. Put “drawing assignment” in the subject line and tell me a little bit about your work.

Sending images to me implies your permission to post them on this page unless you specifically request otherwise.

I’ve also started a drawing challenge board on my Pinterest account. If you’d like to join the drawing challenge group, send me an email request and I’ll send you an invitation. Once you accept the invitation, you’ll be able to post your drawing challenge artwork directly to the group board. The only stipulation? You must have your own Pinterest account.

Purchase the complete, full-length lesson download.

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.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Lets look at using masking film with colored pencil.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a link to an article I wrote about masking fluid for the online art magazine, EmptyEasel. You can read that article here.

I also experimented with masking film on the same drawing. In this week’s post, I describe the process I used and comparing masking film and masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Here is the portion of the drawing I worked with.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 1

Instead of painting masking fluid onto the paper (as you do with masking film), you cut it to size and shape, carefully lay it over the area you want to mask, then smooth it down with a fingertip.

Step 1

There are two primary ways to use masking film. Place film over the drawing and cut the design from it or draw on the masking film, cut out the mask and lay that over the drawing. You don’t need to wait for it to dry, which is a bonus. You can also create more intricate masks more easily with masking film than with masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 2

Step 2

I chose to draw the pattern on the masking film and cut it out, then place it over the drawing. Why? Because I didn’t want to run the risk of cutting through the film, which is very thin, and into the paper. In hind sight, it would have been better to place the film over the artwork and carefully cut away the parts I didn’t want. It would have been no more time consuming and would have resulted in a much more pleasing masking.

However, I took the more cautious route and ended up with a good (not great) masking.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 3

Once the masking film is in place, the drawing process is the same. Work around and over the masked area until it’s finished.

One way the film is different than masking fluid is that I couldn’t work over the masking fluid without lifting it. Masking film, on the other hand, was easy to work over, even with medium or heavier pressure. It didn’t move or pull up or otherwise interfere with the drawing process.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 4

When I finished the background, I removed the masking film by carefully pulling up an edge with a fingernail, then pulling the piece or pieces up one at a time. The film came off easily and without leaving residue. Another advantage to film over fluid.

Here is how the drawing looked after removing the masking film.

If I Use Masking Film With Colored Pencil Again

Masking film worked extremely well for this purpose. Better than the masking fluid (read about that here).

But in retrospect, I would do things differently. I would:

Apply the masking film to the drawing before applying color.

Lay down a piece of masking film large enough to cover the drawing.

Carefully cut away the parts I didn’t need.

These changes in method would allow me to create a more accurate mask and that would result in a more realistic area, instead of this blocky look.

All is not lost, however. There may still be hope for the mane. If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know how it turned out!

Next week, I’ll tell you how the background developed from a single layer of medium value Peacock Green to this wonderful deep, dark in just two days. I hope you’ll come back for that.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, I hope you will. It’s an easy process that will take five minutes or less. It’s also free of charge. You can subscribe to RSS notifications of new content or email newsletters. If you want everything, you can do that, too! Just click here to get started.

Sign up for Carrie’s free, weekly newsletter and get notification of new articles like this one.

How to Draw a Dark Background

There’s nothing like a dark background to make a subject stand out. Especially a brightly lighted one. You have only to look at some of Cecile Baird’s colored pencil work to see how dramatic that can be. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

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.

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 I 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 the true subject of the drawing was a long, black mane filled with light. The horse was a beautiful sandy bay in color, with a long, billowing 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, with this as the end result.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer

A Change in Course

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

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and considered the subject of the article.

I 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.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer with Masking Fluid

Drawing the Dark Background

Dark Brown

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. So I decided to try an alcohol blend on the left side (in front of the horse).

The alcohol blend removed most of the brown and reduced the background to a shade of green that was too bright. I set the drawing aside to dry overnight and thought about ways to overcome the setback.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Dark Brown Layer

Another Change in Course

The article was due within a couple days, so there wasn’t time for layering. There were also other problems to correct.

  • The alcohol blend needed to be covered
  • There were scratches embedded in the paper (probably by a gritty pencil early in the process). You can see them in the first two images, particularly under the head.

The best way to deal with those issues was heavy applications of color.

So instead of layering one color at a time with light to medium pressure, 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 this way, 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.

Burnt Ochre

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Detail

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Burnt Umber Layer

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.


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.