I know what you’re thinking: Who cares about drawing realistic dirt? What possible difference does it make?
For many artists, dirt is. . . well, just dirt, and not nearly as interesting as water or as monumental as mountains. A few swipes of color and a little bit of shading is all you really need. Right?
For most subjects, that’s probably true. But if you enjoy making landscapes or other outdoor scenes, it’s important to know how to draw dirt in a manner that fits your subject and style.
That’s I’m sharing a few basic tips for drawing realistic dirt.
Maybe you’ve never thought about how you draw dirt before! If so, that’s OK. It’s not the most glamorous subject and the most notice it gets is either in the form of rocks, or as an unimportant part of the overall composition.
That’s a shame.
Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil
It isn’t that difficult to draw almost any kind of soil so it looks believable and fits into the overall composition as though it’s meant to be there, rather than an afterthought.
Let’s look at a few of them.
A Few of My Favorite Methods
Here’s a portrait I drew sometime ago. I used watercolor pencils with watercolor paper to lay down the foundation, then finished with regular colored pencils.
The setting was a specific racetrack with a distinctive color of sand. There were also specific types of soil and cover on the winner’s circle, which is visible in the middle ground on the left. Since this was a “moment in time” portrait, all those things had to be correct.
Here’s a detail of the track and winner’s circle. As you can see, there isn’t much detail. The portrait was just too small for that (only 8 x 10.)
But there is still a distinct difference between the sand on the track and the ground in the winner’s circle.
How I Did It
I laid down washes of color in several layers, letting each wash dry completely before adding the next.
The initial wash was a red-gold base color that covered everything. Next came layers of darker, cooler browns in the shadows and to add details. Final details were added with traditional pencils.
I worked on four versions of this portrait before getting it right. One of them was entirely traditional colored pencils, and I documented that process for an EmptyEasel article. Read How to Draw Realistic Dirt, Ground, & Soil with Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel for more tips.
Traditional Colored Pencils
The Sentinel, shown below, was drawn entirely with traditional colored pencils.
How I Did It
This path is a little outside the ordinary because it didn’t appear in the original composition. I finished the entire piece, then decided it needed something to more clearly direct the eye to the trees. What could be better than a path?
So I had to first lift as much color as possible with an eraser. Next, I added the path by layering fresh color over the areas that had been erased. The end result was much more satisfactory.
The same method—without the erasing of course—can be used for any drawing. For step-by-step instructions, read How to Correct Mistakes or Rework a Finished Colored Pencil Drawing on EmptyEasel.
Interesting Drawing Surfaces
Sometimes all you need to do is find the right support. A colored paper or unique surface texture, and you’re halfway there.
That was the case with this miniature drawing. I used a piece of cured Silver Maple for the support. The drawing was an experiment. I wanted to see how well colored pencil worked on wood (it works beautifully).
How I Did It
Ironically, this one was the easiest of all. I simply used the wood grain for the exposed soil along the bottom of the composition. A few accents and details made the wood look like dirt for this miniature drawing.
The bottom line is that it isn’t that difficult to make any patch of ground in your composition look like it belongs there. Any one of these tips will help you do it, or you can think outside the box and find your own ideas!
I’m always trying to draw dirt, gravel and other textures similar since I often draw old historical-type pictures back before they had paved streets. Sometimes I get it right the first time & sometimes it takes a couple shots at getting it to look right. It’s not as easy as you’d think it would be. You’re absolutely right!