How to Make Trees Look Real

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to make trees look real. Here’s the question:

When doing trees and bushes, do you round them similarly to rounding wine glasses and bottles.  I tried to round bushes and it does not appear real. What do you do to get the 3D for them?

Thank you for your question.

How to Make Trees Look Real

Making trees—or anything—look more real looks complicated, but it really isn’t if you keep three simple principles in mind.

Shape

Value

Variety

Let’s take a closer look at each principle.

How to Make Trees Look Real

You can make trees look real by using the same shading principles you might use with a wine glass or a vase. Shading is shading, after all, no matter what you’re drawing.

The difficulty is that a wine glass or a vase is a simple shape and most trees are not. They are a collection of smaller shapes within the larger shape, so for your wine glass shading to work, you have to shade each of the smaller shapes, too.

To make trees look real, shade each of the smaller shapes within the larger shape.
To make trees look real, shade each of the smaller shapes within the larger shape.

Shape

Everything in the world can be broken down into one or more of three basic shapes. Circles, squares, and triangles. Circles can be squeezed into ovals, and squares can be stretched into rectangles or twisted into other four-sided shapes. Triangles are pretty much always triangles, but they can take a number of different configurations.

Trees are no different than any other subject.

The trunks are usually some form of rectangle, with smaller rectangles as branches. The canopy of the tree (the leafy part) is usually some type of circle or oval at it’s most basic, but it can be broken down a collections of shapes as shown here.

Start with the biggest shapes first, then add the smaller shapes within the large shapes.

Drawing trees that look real begins with the very first marks you put on the paper, with the big shapes. Get those big shapes correct, and you’re off to a good start.

Value

The thing that makes a shape (circle, square or triangle) into form (something that takes up space) is values. Shadows. Light areas and dark areas.

These light and dark areas reveal how light falls on the shape. The parts of the shape facing the light are getting direct light. The parts of the shape facing away from the light are getting very little light. In between is a variety of lighter or darker values known as middle values.

Values are just as important with trees as with anything else you might want to draw.

What makes trees look so complex is that they have so many different, smaller shapes within the larger shape. At first glance, they can look too complicated to draw, but use the same principle of values with each of the smaller shapes as with a larger shape and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to make trees look real.

Even with very crude shading as shown below, this sketch begins to look more like a real tree.

Shade around the largest shapes, but also around the smaller shapes. Treat each shape like an individual subject. Draw each one before moving to the next and the tree won’t be quite so overwhelming.

Variety

No two trees are ever identical. Not even two trees of the same species are identical. So vary the sizes and shapes of the trees you draw.

One of the best ways to do this is to draw from life. Keep to basic sketches and big forms, but take note of how one tree differs from the next.

The more you practice sketching trees so they look like individual trees instead of cookie cutter trees, the more realistically you’ll be able to draw trees with colored pencils.

I Hope that Helps You Make Your Trees Look Real

Like any other subject, trees look complicated when you first start drawing them. Take the time to practice first by learning the basic principles of drawing. Then sketch trees from life or photos until seeing the shapes and characteristics of each one becomes second nature.

Than you’ll be able to make your trees look real!

How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

So how do you draw trees with colored pencils? Is there a “best way” to draw them far away and up close? That’s what Paula is asking today. Here’s her question:

Hi Carrie,

I’m having trouble with trees and leaves.  Trees in the distance aren’t too bad but as they get closer in view you need to combine the “fuzzy” trees in the distance with some more detailed leaves in the foreground.  Love your tips!

Paula

Thank you for your question, Paula.

How to Draw Trees with Colored Pencils

Trees. At one time, I hated drawing them and avoided drawing them whenever possible.

They’re now among my favorite subjects to sketch and draw.

When I started writing this post, I fully intended to show you how to draw a tree with colored pencil with a step-by-step tutorial.

Then I decided to begin with a few general tips and by the time I had those outlined, I realized adding a tutorial would make the post way too long. So we’ll focus on the general tips, then I’ll link to a two-part tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.

A Few Tips for Drawing Trees

Let’s begin with a few basic principles that will help you draw better trees no matter what type of tree you want to draw. They’re easy to grasp and put to use because you’re probably already using them with other subjects and didn’t realize they apply to trees, too (and anything else you might want to draw.)

Go for the Big Shapes First

No two trees are identical, even if they’re the same type of tree. Branches grow differently. Branches die and fall. Trees get pruned. Whatever the cause, each tree is as unique as each person.

So the first thing to do when you draw a tree is to look for the big, overall shape. Don’t worry about what’s within that shape.

If you’re drawing more than one tree, pay attention to how they relate to one another in size, too. Vary the sizes of the trees you draw so it doesn’t look like you’re drawing cut-out trees.

How to draw trees - start with the big shapes
Always begin with the largest, most basic shapes for each tree. If you’re drawing more than one tree, note how the shapes relate to one another in size and location.

Vary the Level of Detail

The closer an object is, the more clearly you can see the details of that object. Trees in the foreground should have more detail than the trees in the background. The further away a tree is, the less detail you should draw.

Color and value is part of this picture. Colors generally get less vibrant as they recede into the distance. The range of values also gets narrower. The light values get a little darker and the darker values get a little lighter.

Each of these three things contribute to the illusion of distance and space in artwork.

Don’t Draw Every Leaf

Even in the trees in the foreground.

There is one exception to this principle and that’s if you happen to have twigs or branches hanging down in the extreme foreground. You will need to be more careful about drawing individual leaves in a case like that.

Yes, the closer trees should look more like they have leaves instead of a solid canopy, but you still shouldn’t draw every leaf. A few strokes or dots of color in a few places around the outside edges of your tree will be enough to help a viewer “see” leaves in the rest of the tree.

Another good place to add these kinds of details is along the edges where colors or values change, such as the edges of shadows.

But you’re also probably going to show them in less detail and perhaps silhouetted in order to keep them from becoming the focus of attention.

Use More than One Color

Most of the time, trees are some shade of green. Obviously, Autumn is one time of year when many trees are not green, and there are some trees that are never green, but for the most part, when you draw a tree, you’ll be using a green.

But don’t limit yourself to just one green. Choose a dark green, a middle green, and a light green that work well together. Use each color where appropriate to draw the colors AND values.

For good measure, have an earth tone handy, just in case those greens get a little too artificial looking! Some shade of red or orange also work to tone down greens.

Stay Away from Those Neon Colors

Unless your landscape features something man-made, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find bright, vibrant colors in it. So when you make color selections, stay away from colors that are bright enough to attract the eye, but don’t look at all natural in a landscape.

How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

As mentioned earlier, I’ll send you over to EmptyEasel, where you can see the first article in a series showing how I drew a landscape with trees. I started with an umber under drawing, and you can read that article here.

How to Draw Trees with an Umber Under Drawing

The second part is all about color, and you can read that here.

This two-part tutorial will help you see how to separate the trees in the foreground from the trees in the middle ground.

And I hope to do a new landscape tutorial sometime in 2020, so stay tuned for that.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?

Short answer, yes.

The question is, what’s the best solution for you?

I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.

My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.

The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.

When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.

Learn how the umber under drawing method compares to other colored pencil drawing methods.

Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing

The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.

I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.

You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.

You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 1
Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to begin shading values. Start with the shadows, then gradually darken values and add middle values layer by layer.

Step 2: Develop Detail & Values

Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.

Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 2
Keep the darkest values and sharpest details in and around the center of interest (the tree on the left.)

Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing

You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.

But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).

Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.

draw realistic landscape greens
Spring 2012, 4×6 Colored Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?

I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.

How to Create a Colored Pencil Landscape Underpainting

Color Glazing a Landscape Painting with Colored Pencils

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

In this week’s tutorial, I want to show you how to paint a tree with snow in watercolor pencils.

The sample piece is the weekly drawing the third week of the year.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

This four-step method is ideal for sketching, drawing from life, and plein air drawing. You can, of course, finish your drawing more completely if you wish.

In other words, I can’t think of a drawing method for which this method cannot be used.

Begin with a Warm Under Painting

I began with a layer of earth tone. The intention had been to use an umber color, but I couldn’t find one, so I settled for  red-tone.

As with the other tutorials in this series, I added color to the paper by dipping a small sable round into water, then stroking the wet brush across the exposed pigment core and brushing the color onto the paper.

I didn’t do a preliminary drawing, instead drawing much as I would had I been drawing from life or outside.

The first layer of color was applied only in the shadows and darker middle values.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 1

Add Gray Tones to the Under Painting

Next, I added gray, beginning by painting over the red tones. In the darkest shadows, I painted three or more layers of gray. In the darker middle values, one or two layers and in the lighter middle values, I added gray in short, straight strokes to mimic the look of bark.

I developed the tree by painting around the snow. But it was getting difficult to imagine the snowy edges while the background was also white. So I switched to a larger, flat and washed a light gray tint into the background.

I used very wet color for this, but also added water to the color once it was on the paper and before it dried. The result was an unplanned, somewhat mottled tone that gives the illusion of a cloudy day and weather of some kind.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 2

Adding Warm Reflected Light and Darkening the Shadows

For this step, I painted the underside of the largest branch with a wash of golden color. The reference photo showed warm reflected light despite snow on the ground, so after putting this color on the paper, I stroked over it a couple of times with a wet brush to dilute the color. I also pulled some of it up around the curve of the branch.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 3

Then I added a dark blue to the darkest shadows on all of the larger branches.

For each of these layers, I continued working around the areas that were covered by snow on the tree. Notice how the edge is especially sharp and clear in the place where the snow-covered tree meets the dark shadow on the smaller branch on the other side of the tree.

Adding Details with a Dry Pencil

To finish the drawing, I darkened the shadows by brushing black into them, especially on the larger branches.

Then I drew smaller branches and emphasized some of the bark details by drawing with a dry pencil. I used the same watercolor pencil for this because the pigment core is harder and drier than a regular wax-based pencil and is ideal for adding very small details.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 4

And that’s all there is to it!

Conclusion

Painting a tree with snow in watercolor pencil was a lot easier than I anticipated (mostly because I’ve never had much success with water media.) It was also more fun and the random effects in the background were a special delight.

I did this drawing in about two hours, not including drying time between each layer. It’s a great way to do quick sketches, practice techniques, or try your hand at a new subject.

It would also be great for doing half tone or color studies for larger works.

Besides all that, it was just plain fun!

Other Tutorials on This Method

I mentioned earlier that there are other tutorials involving watercolor pencils. Here are the two previous posts talking about how I did weekly drawings.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

For a more in-depth tutorial describing how I use watercolor pencils, check out my-part series on EmptyEasel.

How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 1

Drawing a Sunrise with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 2

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

In  a previous Tuesday Tutorial, I shared tips and suggestions for avoiding or fixing the mistakes I made using watercolor pencils. Today’s tutorial is all about painting with watercolor pencils.

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

The painting I’m using for this tutorial is more of a study, but the method I used to paint it works for under paintings or complete paintings. In either case, you can layer traditional colored pencils over watercolor pencil paintings and get the best of both types of pencils.

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

This drawing is only 4×6 inches on Stonehenge Aqua 140lb cold press paper. It’s ideal for this type of colored pencil work, because it’s made for wet media, but without the typical watercolor paper texture.

Because watercolor pencils don’t fill up the tooth of the paper, you can do a lot of work with them, let the paper dry completely, then use traditional colored pencils over them.

Landscape Study in Gray

In last week’s drawing, I started with a black watercolor pencil and intended to layer traditional pencil over it. I ended up adding washes with a gray watercolor pencil because the black was too warm. It was also much harsher in appearance than I wanted.

So this week, I started with the gray pencil, Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle Warm Grey V.

I also used a reference photo for this drawing, and the results were much more satisfactory.

Weekly Drawing Week 2 - Gray Scale Landscape WS

Color was applied to the paper with brushes, which I dipped in water, then stroked across the exposed pigment core of the pencil. I did most of the painting with a sable round.

Painting Trees with Watercolor Pencils

Since the largest part of the composition is made up of trees and bushes, I used a lot of squiggly or stippling (dots.) Both strokes are ideal for foliage.

I started in the shadows and continued layering color until I got the values I wanted in the shadows and darker middle values.

Weekly Drawing Week 2 - Small Tree Detail

For the lighter values in the big tree, I then washed a very light layer of color over the tree. After it dried, I stippled additional layers to blend the values and soften the edges.

Weekly Drawing Week 2 - Large Tree Detail

As I look back on it, I would paint the light wash first, then add the darker values. I’d even like to try adding some of those darker values while the wash is drying. Wet color dropped into wet or drying color “self-blends,” creating interesting results not easily duplicated any other way.

Happy Happenings and a Lesson Learned

For the grass in the foreground, I used a half inch sable wash brush that’s been badly abused. The hairs go in every which direction, so it’s perfect for random or semi-random patterns.

After wetting the paper in the dark area, I laid down a thin wash of gray. When it was dry, I added a few more layers by tapping the brush along the slope of the hill.

Weekly Drawing Week 2 - Grass Detail

I absolutely love the look of this after it dried. It didn’t look as great wet, so I’m glad I let it dry before reworking it.

The brush I used for this is a trashed oil painting brush, so this is an ideal reason not to throw any brush away. You never know when it might come in handy!

This method is ideal for using a Flemish-style painting method with colored pencils.

Because watercolor pencils are permanent once they’re dry, you could use them with the Flemish method of painting. Simply paint each of the initial layers with watercolor pencils, then glaze color with watercolor pencils or traditional pencils.

One of the projects currently on my list is a drawing in which I use this method with different colors, to see if I can work through all seven of the steps of the Flemish method of oil painting.

Stay tuned!

A Personal Note

I did this work early in the week and intended to work on it again the next day. I really wanted to tone down that white triangle in the foreground.

But an altercation with a cat resulted in six stitches in my right hand and four of them were in the heel of my right hand. Right where I rest my hand when drawing or painting. Result? No more art for the rest of that week or much of the following week.

That happened Wednesday of the second week of January. The stitches were removed Friday of the third week. I had hoped to dabble enough to get a drawing for the third week, but that did not happen. I either have to adjust the way I draw, or wait until the heel of my right hand heals.

In the meantime, I hope you try painting with watercolor pencils.

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Today, I want to answer the question, can you add watercolor over wax-based colored pencil?

Can you Add Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil?

Remember my experimental drawing? The one that began as a green under drawing in which I experimented with drawing distance using nothing but stroke quality and pressure and which has since become the means of trying new methods?

The drawing soon turned into a series of articles on various topics. If you missed any of them, here are the links to show you how to:

If you recall, the last time I posted about this experimental drawing, it looked like this.

Colored Pencil Landscape with Far and Middle Distance Completed

It now looks like this.

Green Landscape 33

You’re no doubt wondering how I got from the first image to this one. That’s what this post is all about.

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Since this drawing has been one big experiment, I decided to take it one step further by adding watercolor over wax-based colored pencil. Just to see if it worked. Here’s what I did.

Finishing Colored Pencil Work

For the rest of the grass, most of the steps were pretty much the same as when I did in the middle distance and far distance. There weren’t many form shadows in the foreground, so I alternated olive green, limepeel, chartreuse, and yellow ochre to draw the grass. I used light to medium pressure and vertical strokes with all those colors. As I drew forward in the composition (toward the bottom of the paper), I increased the length of the strokes.

In the middle distance, I glazed the lightest highlights with a light yellow, but left the highlights white in the foreground.

In the cast shadow under the big trees, I layered dark green, indigo blue, and dark brown in random order. I still used a vertical stroke, but increased the pressure to medium or a little heavier.

I should have photographed or scanned the drawing at that point, but was too eager to try watercolor washes. Pausing even for a moment to take pictures went clean out of my mind!

Adding Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

To be honest, I didn’t expect the watercolor to stick. The paper is fairly smooth (regular surface Bristol) and I had a lot of color on the paper already. Wax-based color.

But this drawing has been experimental from the start, so I went ahead.

Using a small round sable, I washed a mixture of light blue and light brown over the grass and trees in the middle distance. Over the more distant group of trees, I simply washed color and let it dry. Over the nearer group, I washed color, but also added details with a stippling stroke, lightly tapping the paper around the edges of the trees to create the look of leaves.

Then I mixed a dark green and dark brown for a darker value and washed or stippled that into the shadows on the nearer trees. You can see the stippling around the edges on the upper right side of each tree and within the darker shadows.

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

I repeated the same processes in the group of larger trees on the left side of the drawing. First a light blue-green wash, followed by a yellow-green wash on the lighted side, and finally, a dark green wash in the shadows. For the dark green, I mixed green and brown with touches of dark blue.

Each color was also stippled around the edges of the tree. Within the shadows, I stippled darker values.

Finally, I added trunks and branches with a few strokes of brown mixed with dark blue or dark green.

Green Landscape 30

Finishing Touches

As I mentioned above, I didn’t expect the watercolor to stick to the colored pencil. Especially since it beaded over some of the heavier applications of colored pencil.

But it did stick! I let it dry for a day, then tried to scratch off color and couldn’t do it.

So that proved to be a feasible way to create color washes over colored pencil.

Can you add more colored pencil over the watercolor?

The short answer is no. I couldn’t make a mark on any area that had watercolor on it. So I sprayed the drawing with retouch varnish twice, waiting 30 minutes between sprays. That was only marginally successful.

So I did more watercolor work and added shadows among the highlights with washes of medium and dark greens. I stippled darker values in the shadows and even tried spattering (see along the lower right side of the large tree). That might have worked had I a mask on the drawing, but most of that color beaded on the surface.

Green Landscape 31

About all I could do at this point was cool down areas with blue washes, as I did in the middle distance below, or warm them up with yellow washes, as I did in front of the cast shadow (above).

Green Landscape 32

The Finished Drawing

I’m not at all pleased with the appearance of the drawing when viewed up close, but seen as a whole, it’s not bad.

For an experiment.

Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil

Is it finished? I rather think it is, but not because I’m satisfied with the results. The reason I think it’s finished is that I simply don’t know what else to do with it!

But I can say that there are some things I want to try in the future. Just maybe in a different order.

Have you ever mixed your colored pencils with other mediums? What did you do and how did it turn out?

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Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 1 Report

It was a short week and busy, so not much time to draw. But I did manage to get outside early Friday evening (September 2) and found a sapling growing next to a larger tree a few feet from our front porch.

The Method I Used

I started the drawing with a long stroke of French Grey 20% along the right side of the tree. I used the side of a blunted pencil to draw that stroke with medium pressure, since I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of time to draw.

Next, I used the same type of stroke and pressure to draw the opposite side of the tree with French Grey 70%. With the trunk and branches thus defined, I layered each color, overlapping colors and layers to establish the basic light and dark values.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 1 Detail 1

 

I drew the leaves and leaf clusters with the side of a spring green pencil. This time, the strokes were short and followed the direction of the leaves. I drew individual leaves, but used one or two strokes for each one and let the shape of each stroke define the leaves.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 1 Detail 2

 

Here’s the full drawing.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 1

Time Spent Drawing

20 to 30 minutes. It was late in the afternoon or early evening when I finally got outside, so there wasn’t a lot of time to draw before the light began to fade.

What I Learned

Choose Drawing Time More Thoughtfully. It was late enough in the afternoon that the shadows crept up the tree quickly. By the time I finished, nearly all of the tree was in the shadow of the house. When I want to do more detailed drawings, I need to chose a time of day when the light doesn’t change quite so quickly.

Allow More Time to Draw. I didn’t check the time when I began drawing or when I stopped, but it wasn’t more than 20 or 30 minutes. This drawing is only about half finished. It was my intention to work on it again the next day. Plans change, though, and there was no time to finish the drawing. So I need to allow more time to do more detailed drawings.

Or…

Choose Smaller Subjects. I need to choose smaller subjects to draw or focus on smaller parts of larger subjects.

The bottom line? I’m not as fast or as accurate in drawing as I thought I was. That’s not a surprise. I tend to over-estimate a lot of things.

But that’s okay. This challenge is all about learning. I learned a lot with this little drawing.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Spring Green
  • French Grey 20%
  • French Grey 70%
  • Cream

Drawing Distance in a Landscape

If you draw landscapes, accurately drawing distance should be high on your list of acquired drawing skils. Especially if the landscapes you prefer to draw feature wide open views and lots of sky.

In today’s post, I’m adding final colors over the far distance and middle distance.

Drawing Distance in a Landscape

As you’ll recall from the previous post, I sealed the under drawing with retouch varnish so bath tissue wouldn’t smear the greens while I added the sky.

I’m still working over the first layer of retouch varnish. I’ve been able to do next to no blending between the under drawing and next color layers, but there isn’t much difference between the way this drawing is shaping up and the way more traditionally drawn landscapes have developed.

Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Drawing Distance in a Landscape

Let’s divide the process into two steps. The far distance and the middle distance (otherwise known as the middle ground.)

The Far Distance

Step 1

I began by finishing the most distant row of trees. Because these trees are so far in the background, they look much more blue than the trees in the middle ground or foreground. That’s due to a phenomenon called aerial perspective.

TIP: Aerial perspective refers to the way air changes the appearance of things. The further away something is, the bluer and paler it appears. The level of visible detail is also reduced with distance.

Because the greens should be lighter, bluer, and somewhat gray, I chose jade green. I used a blunted pencil with light pressure to layer jade green over the distant trees with circular strokes.

Drawing Distance - Adding Jade Green to the Distant Trees

There isn’t much difference afterward, but every layer contributes to the development of the drawing. Don’t be discouraged if your drawings don’t seem to make much progress in the early stages. Drawing with colored pencil is a slow, but steady process.

Drawing Distance - Green Landscape with Jade Green Added

Step 2

Next, I layered limepeel over the distant trees and the patch of flat land in front of them. I used the same pressure—light—but used short horizontal strokes both in the trees and the flat land.

Drawing Distance - Green Landscape with Limepeel Added

Step 3

In order to correctly draw the distance, I need something to compare it to, so I layered olive green into the next nearest row of trees. Again, I used light pressure and circular and horizontal strokes. But rather than cover all of the area, I worked in the shadows and middle values.

I used the side of the pencil to layer olive green into the area beyond those trees.

TIP: When using the side of the pencil, hold the pencil near the back. This will allow you to apply very light pressure to the pencil and will be helpful in laying down an even layer of color with no pencil strokes.

Drawing Distance - Adding Dark Green Colored Pencil to a Green Under Drawing

Step 4

To finish the distance, I layered dark green over the most distant trees with medium pressure, then added slate gray with slightly heavier pressure.

You’ll notice in the detail below that I’ve added very subtle light and dark values to indicate the direction of the light and to add a little form to those trees. It’s not much. Just enough to show that they are trees rather than a solid, green wall.

Drawing Distance - Drawing of Trees in the Distance

Step 5

The grassy meadow in front of them was finished with yellow chartreuse applied with medium pressure in a horizontal stroking pattern. I covered the entire area, then added a few darker areas with dark green, also applied with medium pressure. Limepeel was then applied over most of the meadow.

Finally, I burnished with powder blue to duplicate the look of aerial perspective and softened the line between the bottom of the trees and the meadow by using sticky stuff to lift a little color.

The Middle Distance

Step 6

The trees between the distant meadow and meadow in the foreground were drawn with the same colors, beginning with dark green lightly applied. Next I added a darker layer of dark green applied with medium pressure. To darken the green, I used dark brown in the shadows, then warmed the greens with a layer of yellow chartreuse.

Step 7

My landscape drawings very rarely end up the way they begin. There always seems to be a course correction along the way.

For this drawing, I decided to create a hill in the middle distance.

So I added shadows with slate gray, olive green, a thin layer of dark brown, then dark green. I stroked each color along the contour of the hill until it looked the way I wanted it. I began with medium pressure and increased pressure very slightly with each color.

The sunlit area was drawn with limepeel and yellow chartreuse, then burnished with powder blue along the edge between the top of the hill and the trees. I used a short, up-and-down stroke across the edge to soften it. That wasn’t quite what I wanted so I added cream over the same area and in the same pattern.

Next, I burnished with short vertical strokes of olive green in the shadows, limepeel in the middle values, and cream in the lightest areas.

Drawing Distance - Drawing of the Middle Distance of a Landscape

The complete drawing.

So far!

Drawing Distance - Colored Pencil Landscape with Far and Middle Distance Completed

One thing I should point out is the risk of examining your drawings too closely. I’m not at all happy with the look of the details of the distance or middle distance. I don’t like the way the colors are working, the level of detail, or the gradations.

But those things don’t make much difference to the way the drawing looks when viewed as a whole.

Nor will they be obvious in the finished drawing.

It is important to pay attention to the way you put color on the paper, to the edges, and to the gradations in color and value, but don’t get so obsessed with them that you lose sight of the big picture!

Conclusion

Knowing how to draw distance in a landscape is key to creating a realistic illusion of distance. This isn’t the only way to create that illusion. It may not even be the best way, depending on your working methods and subject.

So I encourage you to experiment until you find the method that works best for you.

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.

red-under-drawing-landscape-greens-colored-pencil

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.

color-wheel

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 EmptyEasel.com. 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.