Coloured pencil still life tutorial

This coloured pencil still life is an idea beginner project. This exercise took approximately two hours to reach the point shown. You could take much longer and produce a more 'finished' picture, but this example shows you a range of basic techniques in a short time. 

You can use any brand of artists coloured pencils for this project. 

In the demonstration Caran d'Ache Pablo pencils were used. A different brand will produce slightly different colours and results. Students on workshop sessions have used Faber Castell Polychromos or Derwent Coloursoft dry point coloured pencils for this but you could equally well use Staedtler Karat, Derwent or Caran d'Ache Supracolour watercolour pencils. 

If you do use watercolour pencils (also known as aquarelles) they should be used dry for this exercise. Twelve basic colours are needed. 

Outline sheet (PDF)

Full exercise notes PDF

The photo reference we will work from

Sketch out your picture onto your paper with a graphite pencil. Keep the lines as light as you can get them. Don't worry too much about getting the shapes exact as to the photo as all fruit is differently shaped so as long as they look similar that will be good enough.  However if you would rather trace my ouline you can download this from the link above the reference photo. 

Coloured pencil still life - the orange

We start with the orange, and also use a Cream or Pale Yellow pencil. This gives the warm under-colour. 

Using small circular strokes, scribble lightly and work your way around the inside of the circle you have drawn for the orange. 

I have left the highlight, but you can lift this later with a kneaded eraser or blue tac if you wish. Sometimes this helps by giving a softer edge around the highlight. 

Add a middle Yellow on top, and then a light Orange to the darkest areas. Introduce a middle Green to the area around the base and the stalk and then blend all over with the light Yellow. 

By applying a light blending layer over the top of the previous colour layers, this merges and beds down the colour. Use a lighter shade of the colours for blending or even an Ivory or White pencil. 

Repeat the whole process again with the same colours, this time with more pressure, and then introduce a darker Orange into the appropriate areas. 

All the layers should be laid down with circular strokes. When blending follow the curve of the fruit. Your hand naturally draws a curve with the wrist at the centre, remember this and ensure that as you work up to a rounded edge you work from inside the curve - move the paper position if necessary.

Coloured pencil still life - the apple

To work the apple we need to use a totally different pencil stroke.  In this case we follow the direction of the apple skin at all times, and shade with a series of curved lines. 

Starting with pale yellow/cream as the undercoat, we work around the shape in the light areas, then do the same for the red areas using Light Red (a bluish red rather than an orange one). 

We build up layers progressively, adding some light Orange to the Yellow and some Green into the Red to darken the shadow areas. 

The whole fruit is blended with the cream pencil and then the previous colours are re-applied which will result in much stronger colour all around. 

A darker Red is then introduced to the red areas and Sepia or Bistre is used for the stalk area and the darkest shadows.

Coloured pencil still life - the banana

The yellow of the banana is very close to that of the apple in the photo, so we need to adjust the colours a little to make our image read better.

 Green is added and the darker areas are taken back with a warm brown - brown ochre was used in this case with sepia to intensify the really dark areas. 

The spots and blemishes are up to your artistic nature. 

Keep all your shading strokes going lengthwise on the banana. You should be able to blend with the mid yellow over the edges of the three fruits to remove any trace of white paper at the edges.

Finally burnish by pressing heavily with your Cream pencil. 

Coloured pencil still life - the background

I have sketched in the cloth background using a light Blue and a Cool Grey but have not spent any great time on it. I used a loose cross hatching stroke which gives the impression of woven fabric.

The essential step is to define the plate edge and the shadows under it, and then either go for a dark background to highlight the fruit (as in the photo) or a lighter background which takes more of a back seat. The choice is yours. 

In this lesson you have learned that layers build colour. The early layers define the main colour and later layers shift the colour without radically changing it. 

You have also learned that the type of pencil stroke makes a lot of difference to the final result. 

Fruit Bowl is copyright Peter Weatherill 2005-2020