Coloured pencil drawings: learn how to compose a beautiful landscape

Discover the secrets to creating stunning landscape drawings with coloured pencils.

In this guide, we'll take you through the steps of composing a beautiful scene, complete with watercolour pencil underpainting. You'll learn how to create a focal point that grabs the viewer's attention, add depth and perspective, and bring your artwork to life with vibrant hues and intricate details.

Prepare to explore the full potential of your artistic skills as you delve into the world of coloured pencil drawings.

The main reference photo that Peter used for his drawing

Look closely now

Study the photo above. Possible focal points could be...

  • The arched bridge over the canal, half hidden by trees?
  • The narrow boat heading for the gap?
  • The sun filtering through the foliage and forming highlights on the water?
  • The bright “sky holes” in between the branches?

The focal point in this scene is crucial. However, the current composition is not quite working. To improve it, you could consider adding another boat closer to the viewer.

Improving the composition

Here is another photo that will work well as the angle of the boat duplicates the left edge of the canal. This boat has another splash of red and a dark shadow. It also offers a contrast in size which adds depth and perspective to the composition.

Grand Union canal CoventryA second photo of a narrow boat
Grand union canal merged boatsThe two photos merged

We have another photo that will work wonderfully. This boat has another splash of red, a dark shadow. It also offers a contrast in size which adds depth and perspective to our composition.

Objects appear larger and more detailed when close to us. But as the distance increase they seem smaller and less distinct. This phenomenon serves as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving.

Once you are satisfied with the composition, it is time to gather your art supplies.

You will need

In order to create an underpainting with watercolour pencils, it is necessary to use a high-quality watercolour paper. For the artwork showcased on this page, Fabriano 5 was carefully selected. However, you can choose any hot pressed paper that possesses the necessary tooth to accommodate the dry pencil that will be added in the later stages of this drawing.

When it comes to pencils, two renowned brands, Faber Castell and Caran d'Ache, offer both coloured and watercolour pencils in the same colour range. Both of these options offer a wide range of vibrant hues and would be suitable for your drawing.

The palette consisted of the following array of shades, carefully chosen to capture the picturesque canal scene.

Grass green

Yellow Ochre

Burnt Sienna

Paynes Grey

Palette of watercolour pencil pigments

For the underpainting you will also need a plastic or porcelain dish. a sharp craft knife and a paintbrush.

Begin with the underpainting

Your first task is to draw out the image and transfer it to your paper.

Gently scrape the pigments from the pencil tips and collect them in separate wells. Add water to each well, to create delicate washes. The plan here is to use two thin washes of colour rather than one thicker one.

Apply the washes with a flat watercolour brush leaving the sky and white areas on the boats and water as bare paper.

Once the painting is dry, use the watercolour pencils dry to add texture and depth to the foliage, by scribbling with the pencil. Use smooth horizontal strokes for the water.

Add the base colours to the narrowboats, leaving the white areas free of pigment.

First washes of colour for the drawing.

Add the base colours to the narrowboats, leaving the white areas free of pigment.

Photo showing the second layer of water colour pencil pigment.
Swatches of the watercolor pencils used in the pictured

Adding the dry pencil layers

The photo shows the range of greens from the Polychromos range, arranged in the order they were used for the painting in this demonstration.

Deepen the shadows beneath the overhanging branches on the right, using the darker tones at your disposal. Then tackle the water's surface, using horizontal strokes.

Next it’s time to add depth and dimension to the bridge brickwork. With the combination of Walnut brown and Sanguine, carefully draw the shadowy areas along the undersides of each brick leaving the sunlight top edges the white of the paper.

 Check out the garden arch tutorial for more practice at drawing bricks.

Adding depth to the foliage

Take a look at the image below, which reveals the original layers of watercolor pencil strokes on the trees in the upper right-hand side. This snapshot showcases the scribbles that bring the scene to life.

2 photos showing the build up of color on the bridge in the painting

The blend of colours in this overlapping image gives a glimpse into the beauty of the final painting.

Adding detail to the watercolor pencil trees

Add vitality to your foliage by exploring a rich palette of colors beyond just greens. Embrace the earthy tones of ochres, the warm hues of browns, and the depth of dark shades like sepia. By incorporating these colors, you can create a more authentic and realistic portrayal of nature's lush greenery.

Photographs can provide valuable insights for a more comprehensive understanding.

The water reflections

Depicting water can reveal hidden treasures beneath the surface of an image. Its rippling waves and the presence of boats disrupt the pristine reflections, yet maintain a connection with the surroundings. Don’t forget the sunlight highlighting lighter patches on the water's surface.

Take a moment to observe the colours captured in the reference photo. The lush greens, rich browns, and warm ochres beautifully mirror the natural hues found in the flourishing plants and majestic trees lining the canal bank.

Be sure not to overlook the intricate vertical lines that, although not immediately apparent, contribute to the overall sense of realism.

Peter depicts reflections in the water

Adding the narrowboats

Build up the depth of colour on the painted areas of the boats.

Allow for the glowing reflection on the side of the closer vessel by using grey and not black for that area. A slight shadow along the bottom edge and a ripple between that and the hull separates it from the dark reflection.

The complementary colours of red on the boat and green foliage behind really catch the eye, drawing it away from those darker shadows on the right of the picture.

Adding a shadow along the bottom edge of the boat

Below is the final scan of the demonstration painting. 

The completed coloured pencil drawing of the canal boats

To sum up

In the world of coloured pencil drawings, composition is key. It's not just about the vibrant hues or intricate details, but how you arrange and guide the viewer's eye through the picture.

As you've seen in this demonstration, even the smallest adjustments can make a world of difference. By adding another boat closer to the viewer, you created a sense of depth and perspective that draws the viewer in. 

So, the next time you pick up your coloured pencils, take a moment to carefully plan your composition. Find that focal point that grabs your attention and experiment with different elements to create a balanced and captivating piece of art. 

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