Landscape drawing in colour pencil

Have you considered creating a landscape drawing in coloured pencil? Maybe this medium is not the first to come to mind when portraying a wide open space, expanses of water and dramatic skies? How can they be drawn with the tiny tip of a coloured pencil?

Other pages of this site offer some techniques for getting round the linear nature of applying pencil pigment to paper and smoothing out the layers of colour. You will also find free tutorials here showing the step by step process of completing a landscape drawing in this medium

In this section, however, we will look at different elements of the landscape and how they can be rendered in pencil. 

If you prefer to use a brush, have you considered watercolour pencils? They allow you to soften the dry pigment with a damp brush and blend the colours.  They can be used as the foundation and further details and depth of colour can be built up with wax type pencils on top. 

Coloured pencils offer a number of advantages for the casual artist. The cleanliness and convenience of using pencils along with the benefit of being able to achieve detail easily, means that Peter uses them for many commissions, particularly where accuracy of building details are required. 

Let's look at a few of the points to be considered when tackling a landscape drawing in coloured pencil.


Just because your reference has elements in particular positions doesn't mean that you have to slavishly duplicate them. It may help to move things about a little - or even omit them altogether.

Bear in mind the principle of having your point of maximum interest close to a Golden Section point. This focal point is usually where the lightest light meets the darkest dark, or where two strong complementary colours juxtapose. 

We have a section that covers composition in more detail. 


Keep in mind the benefit of keeping your strong and warm colours to the foreground and your weaker and cooler colour to the background. This may not be apparent from your reference, but by apply the principle of arial perspective to your landscape drawing you will help the viewer separate the elements. This will help to achieve a properly balanced image with parts of the picture in their proper layers (foreground, middle ground and background).

Linear perspective is also important to get right. You don't want your drawing to look 'off kilter' by getting your rooflines and buildings wrong. 


Many landscape drawings contain trees and they frighten some artists. But panic not! There are a number of pages on the site related to how to draw trees and foliage. including a step by step tutorial. 

Try to keep your branch strokes following the direction of growth. Turn the paper upside down or sideways if it helps you to achieve this. 

Lightly marking the perimeter of the leaf area before you start can assist you in getting the correct shape for your trees. This is also a good plan for leafless winter trees, by planning the space which the bare branches will cover you can keep control of the overall shape. 

Remember that trees are three dimensional and not all branches will stick out to the left or right. Some will point directly at the viewer, for example. Others will cut across background branches, likely offering a contrast in tone. Work out in advance how you will approach working this. If the branch is light against dark you may need to sketch in it in and then work the background as a negative shape. 

Foliage is best worked with a scribble stroke. Make sure you include areas of shadow and also use a variety of colours for foliage - even in summer there will be areas of brown and gold, not just green.

Use an eraser to open out areas of sky where you have applied a light base coat. This is also useful in adding 'bird holes' in trees after you have worked the foliage. Using an eraser will offer you the chance to obtain soft edges where the pencil point would have produced a harder line. This technique will also allow you to show the edge line of trees along a skyline. 

Don't forget that an eraser can also be used to lift out areas in trees where snow lays on the branches. 

Drawing buildings and hard textures in your landscape drawing

Houses and barns can be built from many different materials and close study is required to ensure you depict them correctly in your landscape drawings. 

A light circular stroke is best to avoid forming any unwanted lines. Always work from 'inside' a shape and turn the paper as required to keep edge marking within your shapes and worked in the natural curve of the wrist movement. 

Stone renders best leaving some of the highlights and grain of the paper showing, so don't overwork or burnish your stones unless they are wet and/or polished. 

Watch out for areas of shadow where rocks and stones overlap each other. 

The variety of these hard, rough landscape elements is vast so we will look in more detail at how we can suggest these textures in our landscape drawing. 


Moving water can be burnished with white, still water with light blue. Keep your strokes linear and horizontal unless you are showing reflections on the surface. The bed of a stream or pool may be stony which might be better rendered with circular strokes. 

Reflections in still water

If you are drawing reflections look to see what is actually showing, rather than what you think you see. If in any doubt turn your reference and your landscape drawing upside down to ensure you don't feed your own imagination into the picture if you want a realistic result. 

Make sure your reflections are accurately shown in a direct line with the original subject. Also take care that sky colours and shapes are correctly lined up in the water reflections. Take care over tree lines and position of buildings.

Water reflections are affected by the position of the eye above the surface of the water. The higher the eye position, the more care you need to apply over what will actually be seen in a reflection. 

We will also look at how to draw a boat and its reflection

Waves and sea

Look for different colours as the light shows through wave tops. Your eraser will lift out foam and spray. 

Keep your colder blues to the horizon and your warmer, more turquoise blues in the foreground - even if your reference does not show this. As the waves lap the sand closer to you the sea surface becomes more sandy coloured. 

Grass and small bushes

Look for opportunities to overlap lights against darks and vice versa. Take taller grasses in light tones into areas of shadow by working the shadow back into the grass area. Darker grasses against a light background can be worked with upward strokes of a sharp pencil. Let off the pressure as you end your stroke to allow the grass to come to a point instead of a blunt tip. 

Lawns and short grass with have areas of gold and light ochre in summer where the surface has dried out, and even tall grass will have dry stems which are very light or even show as white. Plan for your contrasts. 

Skies and clouds

Look at at an actual blue sky and record the range of blues you see, from darker blues above your head to paler shades on the horizon. 

Clouds are easier to lift out with an eraser than to 'draw around'. They are usually shadowed at the base, away from the sunlight above, and may include a host of colours. Beware of painting the 'ten ton cloud' - so solid looking it defies gravity!

Take yourself back to your childhood and lay on the grass looking up at the clouds. Note how layers become closer as you start to see clouds more horizontally as they near the horizon. Looking at clouds in this way will help you understand them better. You don't need to be a meteorologist to include believable clouds in your coloured pencil drawing. 

Clouds do not always run from left to right across the sky. They swirl and form patterns in all directions depending on the wind.

You can use almost all the colours in your pencil tin in your skies, apart from green. 

There is a whole page on the site covering techniques for drawing clouds

Light sources and shadows

In rural scenes, your light will usually come from a single source. Make sure you are consistent. 

In townscapes your light may come from several directions and needs to be carefully observed, as do shadows. 

Straight lines

If a line in your landscape drawing relates to a built object such as a wall or fence, there is no sin in using a ruler if the line needs to be properly shown. Most houses have vertical walls. Most horizons are level. The viewer expects them to be so, and it is only polite to humour him or her. 

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