Landscape drawing in colour pencil

Have you ever considered creating a landscape drawing in coloured pencil? Tiny pencil tips can help you create great texture and line quality sometimes difficult to achieve with different artists mediums.

Pencils offer the added benefit of being clean, convenient and capable of producing fine detail easily. However, coloured pencil artists begin with a light wash of colour, then build up more layers, eventually adding enough detail to create a convincing landscape drawing. 

We have a complete tutorial for the picture above, but let's start here by looking at the different elements of a landscape and how they can be rendered in pencil.

Before we move on, don't forget that you can enjoy the benefits of both pencil and brushwork by choosing watercolour pencils which allow you to soften the dry pigment and move it around fluidly.

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

Composition

Just because an element appears in a photographic reference doesn't mean that you have to slavishly replicate it. It may help to move it around a little or omit it entirely.

Think about placing your focal point (the main area of interest) where the lightest light meets the darkest dark. Ideally, you will position this according to the rule of thirds or the Golden Section.

We have a section on the site that covers composition in more detail. 

Perspective

Try to work arial perspective into your landscapes - it will help your viewer separate the elements and will create a properly balanced image.

Keeping foreground and background colours clearly differentiated enables you to create a sense of depth in your drawing.

Linear perspective is also an essential element for a convincing piece of artwork. You don't want your buildings to look 'off kilter' by getting the angles wrong.

Your light source

In rural scenes your light will come from a single direction (although it may be diffused by trees or other obstacles).

In townscapes your light may come from several directions and therefore needs to be carefully observed. You could have lamps alongside a road or shining from inside houses to contend with.

A light source could cast a different hue of light depending on the time of day. At sunrise it could be more orange, whereas a cloudless sky will create a blue cast.

You can learn more about colour temperature in our colour theory section.

Elements within your composition

Trees

Landscape drawings often contain trees which artists' can find extremely challenging due to the variety of foliage shapes, textures and colours.

The first thing to consider is the basic shape of a tree and we talk about this in detail on the how to draw trees and foliage page.

Our second workshop shows how to draw a hillside covered in trees and bushes. It teaches you what to look for when drawing trees.

We also have a tutorial showing how to draw the tree shown here using watercolour pencils, which then links to further landscape lessons.

The most compelling feature of trees is their three-dimensionality. Some branches will stick out from behind others, and these may cross in front or behind the main trunk. You will need to plan where your main light source is and set that as your point of reference. As you work, note the contrast in tone between the light and shaded areas.

Planning the position of the leaves on the branches will help to control the shape of the finished tree.

Your foliage should form a hazy mass of colour, not a precise outline. In autumn, golds and browns rather than greens are best, but in spring use plenty of greens and yellows.

You can use an eraser to thin out the foliage and create "sky holes" among your branches. An eraser is also useful for softening the top edges of the foliage so your trees don't end in a definite line.

When drawing winter trees, your erase can also lift out pigment to create snow lying on the branches. 

Grasses

Look for opportunities to overlap lights and darks within your composition. This can help your grassy areas appear more realistic.

I find it helps to draw the shaded areas between the blades of grass first. Varying the pressure on my pencil can create abstract shapes that represent layers that are not immediately visible at a quick glance. They offer hints of things going on in the shadows without making them too obvious.

Ensure you have blades of grass which cross over and pass behind others adding further depth. Those that are closer to the viewer can cause shadows across more distant grasses, but do keep your light direction in mind as you work.

Ariel perspective comes into play here too - distant grass will be paler and have less detail. Exagerating this will increase the sense of distance.

In summer the blades of grass may dry out, turning golden, while the stems themselves can turn white. The grass will be much greener and lusher in wet weather.

Our tutorial of Brokken Bridge illustrates watercolour pencil techniques for foreground grass. 

Skies and clouds

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

If you use light pressure when drawing your skies you will find that clouds lift out easily with an eraser ensuring soft edges and not distinct lines.

Adding shadows to the bottom of your clouds show that the light from the sun overhead is not reaching them directly adding realism to your art. However, be wary of making these too dark or you will end up with clouds that appear so heavy they defy gravity!

Do you remember lying on the grass and looking up at the sky when you were a child? Try it again and study the shapes and sizes of the clouds, note how they change depending on whether you look directly overhead or off to the distance. Observation like this is immensely valuable to an artist.

You have your whole pencil collection available to you when drawing skies and clouds, except the greens!

Check out our page covering various techniques for drawing clouds.

Stone and brick in landscape drawing

Stones or rocks often appear within the landscape, whether these are occur naturally or are used by man to form structures such as walls or buildings.

Although you can depict their texture with a scribble stroke, careful attention to detail is still required to take note of the shadows and highlights.

The weather depicted in your landscape drawing will also determine the techniques you will use. If it has been raining you can burnish your stones to make them appear wet and shiny. In dryer conditions, you can leave the tooth of the paper showing to emphasize the grainy texture of the rocks.

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. 

Water

Rivers, ponds and lakes are popular additions in landscape drawing.

Then of course we have the mighty ocean although we are then moving into the realms of seascapes where you can really play with colour and contrast it against the foam and spray of the waves. Here you would keep your cooler colours at the horizon and change to turquoise in the foreground.

Amateur artists often make the mistake of making all water in their drawings blue, when in fact the colours from the surrounding landscape are reflected in it.

The wind (or lack of it) will affect how accurately elements are reflected in the surface. Careful observation is necessary rather than guesswork here.

If you find yourself struggling, turn your reference photograph and drawing upside down so that your eye only sees shapes and colours. This helps you focus on seeing rather than naming things.

We go into more detail about drawing reflections in water with the help of illustrations and photographs here. If you want to place a boat on your water, we also provide an exercise on another page that will help get the boat's proportions correct.


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