How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

Today’s Q&A Wednesday post includes a mini tutorial on how to draw plants. Here’s the reader’s question to get us started.

Hi, Carrie,

I’ve been wanting to draw some bear cubs I saw playing in a meadow with their mom.  I just can’t figure out how to do this meadow, with all the clover and daisy flowers interspersed. I was working on the little bear, and just sort of gave up because I didn’t know how to do a good job with the plants.

Do you have any advice?  I am getting a lot out of the tutorials, but haven’t seen anything that addressed this problem.

Thanks for any help you can give.


How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

I want to thank Pam, who gave me permission to use her reference photo and drawing to illustrate this post. So let’s begin by taking a look at both.

This is the photograph Pam took and is using for a reference.

Here’s Pam’s drawing so far.

Pam has already made a couple of wise decisions.

First, she cropped the reference photo to focus on the bear cub. By doing so, she removed a lot of area at the top and bottom of the composition.

Secondly, she started the process of developing those background greens by layering a base green over everything but the cub and the flowers.

So kudos to Pam for getting off to a good start.

As frustrated as she is, what I think Pam really needs is a little encouragement. She’s done a good job starting the flowers around the bear cub, so she doesn’t really need advice about how to draw plants.

But let me make a couple of suggestions that will help Pam finish this piece.

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

In studying Pam’s photo and drawing, it’s easy to see she’s trying to solve two problems. How should she draw the background, and how should she draw the foreground?

Yes, both areas have the same flowers and grass in them. But in order to make the drawing look right, the two areas need to be drawn differently.

The Background

Drawing the background is fairly easy. There isn’t much detail. Your mind tells you there’s a lot because it knows the same flowers and plants are in the background that are in the foreground. The foreground plants look difficult, so the background has got to be difficult, too. Right?

But look at just the background. There really isn’t very much there. Just shades of green and dots of white.

So begin by putting down a base layer of green with a couple of light-medium-value yellowish greens. Pam can continue with the green she started applying in the drawing.

Layer that as smoothly as possible with light pressure, a reasonably sharp pencil, and whatever strokes give you smooth color. But don’t worry about filling every paper hole.

Next, layer a one or two medium-dark value greens over the same area. Use the same pressure.

When you have enough color on the paper, warm up a piece of mounting putty by rolling it between your hands. Then shape it like this or roll a small piece into a ball.

How to Draw Plants

Press the mounting putty onto the background here and there to lift color and create light spots. Those light spots should look like blurry, light-colored flowers.

If you make too many, fill in some of them again. If they don’t look light enough, add a little bit of very light color to them. Don’t add white. That might make them too bright!

My Test Sample

The left side shows two warm, light greens layered one over the other. The right side shows two additional, slightly darker colors layered over them. Then I added more layers of one of the lighter colors.

After that, I used mounting putty to lift color randomly. This is the result.

I discovered you don’t need much of a point on the mounting putty. Using a small piece rolled into a ball also works.

Another discovery was using a small “edge” of mounting putty to make elliptical shapes. Flowers are seen from different angles in nature, so don’t make them all round in your art.

This test is on Bristol paper and is nowhere near finished, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

If I were doing this for a “real drawing” instead of a test sample, I’d do a few layers of greens, then lift color, then do a few more layers and lift more color. That would create greater variety in the blurred shapes, and result in a more natural appearance.

The Foreground

Here’s the reference photo cropped to show the foreground. I confess that looking just at this gives me pause, too. I can certainly understand Pam’s difficulties!

How to Draw Plants

But is it really that difficult to draw?

Remember, the focus is on the bear cub. The meadow is the “stage” for the bear cub. Unless hyper-realism is your goal, these parts of the composition should not be as crisp and clear as the bear cub.

And look at that crop above. Even in the photograph, the flowers in the foreground are also blurry in appearance.

What does that mean? Drawing them in sharp focus makes more work than is necessary.

Don’t forget that Pam has already made a very good start in this area. She doesn’t have that much more work to do. (That’s why I think Pam really needs a little encouragement and direction.)

So here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d stroke some highlights into the stems and leaves with a very light yellow, cream, or light, warm gray.

Then I’d layer the lightest green Pam has used so far over all of the middle ground and foreground. Use light pressure and sharp pencils with whatever stroke works best. A lot of artists recommend circular strokes, but I also get good results with carefully applied directional strokes. Work around the flowers and the bear, but glaze green over everything else.

Then continue developing the plants that have already been drawn. Darken the shadows, work on the highlights, and pay attention to the edges. Use light pressure and sharp pencils.

The shadows don’t need to be real dark, so alternate the darker green with one of the lighter greens you already used.

Finally, finish the flowers by working on their shadows and highlights.

A Word of Caution

Don’t get too detailed with these parts of the drawing. They should look real, but they shouldn’t draw attention away from the bear cub.

To make sure they don’t, do most of the detailing described above around the bear cub. As you move away from the bear cub, soften the details and don’t add as many.

If the foreground looks too busy after you’ve finished, glaze one of the base greens over it to soften the edges.

There’s One Way to Draw Plants

There are two keys to remember when it comes to deciding how to draw plants in a composition like this.

First, study the reference photo. How do the plants look? Are they in sharp focus or are they blurred? How much detail to do you really see?

Second, decide how you want to draw the scene, and determine how much of the detail you need to draw to get the look you want. In most cases, draw only as much detail as necessary to create the look you want.

Pam made a good start on this by cropping her reference photo first. That left a lot fewer plants to draw.

Now all she needs to do is layer color and add just enough detailing to finish the scene.

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.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol – My Review

I’ve heard a lot about blending colored pencil with Gamsol over the last several months, but only recently purchased my first bottle. Today, I want to share my thoughts on the product and how it performed for my first piece.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - My Review


What is Gamsol?

Gamsol is a solvent developed by Gamblin Colors for use with their oil paints. It’s a little more expensive than industrial solvents, but it is tested for use in art applications, and is therefore safe for use with colored pencils. It blends and spreads pigment without interfering with longevity.

In other words, you can blend colored pencils with Gamsol, and trust your work to last for years.

It has been extensively tested by Gamblin for odor and toxicity, and is reported to be the least toxic solvent currently on the market.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol – My Review

My project was a quick landscape study on Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, 800 grit. The study is 6 x 8 inches and drawn from imagination and memory. Not a finished piece, but the ideal piece on which to try a new solvent.

The First Layers of Color

One thing to remember when using any type of solvent to blend colored pencils is that you need a good amount of pigment on the paper. Solvents break down the binder in the pencil so the pigments can “flow together.” If there’s not enough pigment to blend, the solvent will just not work.

For this study, I roughed in each area with a light value and a dark value, mixing the two values to draw middle values. Since I wanted to blend, I didn’t fuss with details.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - First Color Layers

First Gamsol Blend

I used a 1/2 inch Golden Taklon Wash, and a #6 Sable Round brush for blending.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - Brushes

The small brush was used for the sky and the smaller areas. I used the wash brush primarily for the trees, since the splayed hairs are ideal for that purpose. (It is the same brush I used to paint the grass when using watercolor pencils.)

I blended each area separately with a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes work best on sanded art papers because they push the solvent and pigment deeper into the tooth of the paper, and don’t move the pigment from place to place on the paper like a more traditional stroke might.

I also worked from light values to dark, which is the accepted practice. If you need to work on a light area after blending a dark area, clean your brush first or you may add dark color to the light area.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - First Blend

At this point, I was disappointed in the results. The greens looked great, especially in the trees, but the sky was blotchy. There was also still a lot of paper tooth showing through.

But this method involves several rounds of layering and blending. So I layered more color over all parts of the drawing.

The Second Layers of Color

After the paper was thoroughly dry (10 to 20 minutes,) I added more layers of the sames into the sky. I used blunt pencils with medium pressure, and alternated the colors through a couple of layers (I did three layers of each color.)

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - Second Color Layers

Blending the Sky

Beginning at the horizon, I used a wet #6 Sable round brush to stipple Gamsol onto the paper, then used short, vertical strokes to blend the color.

Then I stroked Gamsol onto the paper from side to side in one long stroke, before pulling Gamsol into the dry color above and below that long stroke.

Finally, I blended with side-to-side stroke, overlapping the strokes slightly, just to see how that worked.

The type of stroke didn’t seem to make much difference this time, but I discovered that it helps to let the Gamsol sit on the paper for a few seconds before blending. The reason may have been that the solvent had more time to soften or “melt” the wax binder, so the color spread more evenly.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - Second Blend

The sky looked way too dark after this blend. So dark, I thought I’d have to lighten it with a lighter blue later on, but the color lightened somewhat as the paper dried.

More Color, More Blending

Next, I added more color to the trees and grass, then blended those areas for the second time.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - Second Blend Greens

After that blend, I worked through the study again, adding more color and blending.

I had hoped to finish this study, but at this point, I decided to call it good and move on to another piece. Had I been working from a reference photo, I would have pushed it a little further, if only to see if I could get better results with more color and more blending.

As it was, time seemed better used on something other than a study.

Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol - Final Image

So What Did I Think of Gamsol?

The short answer is that I wasn’t all that impressed.

Yes, it’s ideal for working inside. There is no odor at all, and it dries very quickly.

But it didn’t blend nearly as well as regular turpentine, which is what I’ve been using.

In all fairness, however, I have to say that starting out with sanded art paper may not have been the wisest choice. Sanded art paper is very blendable, but you can get almost as good a blend just by pushing pigment around with a dry bristle brush as with a solvent of any kind. The fact of the matter is that I  use solvents on sanded paper only as a last resort.

Why did I choose sanded paper for this product test? It was handy, I suppose. And all of my recent pieces have been on sanded art papers, so comparing Gamsol to turpentine was easy.

Will I try it again?

Yes, and the next time I’ll use a regular drawing paper like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Tientes. Even a watercolor paper would probably be a better support for a second trial.

Does that mean Gamsol doesn’t work?

No. It just means it didn’t work with my methods on this paper for this particular study.

One thing I can tell you without hesitation: If you haven’t tried it yet but want to, buy the smallest bottle you can. I got a 4.2 fluid ounce bottle at Hobby Lobby for $8. That amount will last a long time.

Oh, and if you do buy at Hobby Lobby, make sure to print their 40% coupon before going to the store and get 40% off the most expensive item you buy.