Pastel pencil drawing - Annecy Reflections step-by-step

This pastel pencil drawing also uses hard pastels. The picture was commissioned by Caran d'Ache, Geneva. They asked for the picture to use in their publicity for a new line of 84 colours of pastel pencils and a matching 84 colours of what they call pastel cubes. The cubes are actually hard pastel Carre sticks which are manufactured using the same pastel material as the pencils but in woodless form. The new range was launched in January 2012.

Please note the copyright conditions attached to this pastel pencil drawing at the end of the tutorial. 

The picture was worked with pre-launch pencils supplied by the company off the production line. I had not seen the finished product when I completed the picture and I did not have the colour names so I cannot quote the colours I selected. BUT the specific choice of colours is not vital. Each artist working from the same reference will produce a different result, as there are many other factors influencing the end product. 

They turned out to be very good pencils with an excellent colour range. 

The notes below were written as the steps were completed. They were not written as a work of planned literature!

Pastel pencil drawing - Step-by-step with notes

The picture needs a warm sunny atmosphere to it to bring the feeling of a Summer afternoon so I have used a sheet of Colourfix pastel board in ‘sand’ (a pale yellow). Size is 30 x 40cm and it is mounted on to a firm drawing board.

Accurate drawing is necessary

With any picture involving architecture – and particularly water – we need to be sure that all verticals in buildings are actually vertical.  Anything out of true will create problems for reflections later.  If the scene is of a well known place, it is as well to be sure that the principal elements are correctly shown.  

For this reason I will carefully measure out the positions of most of the main parts of the buildings and put in lines for correct perspective of windows.  This will give me the framework on which the eventual picture can be hung.

We do not need to have every brick and every window detailed. If we wanted that, we wouldn't choose to work a pastel pencil drawing.  The main advantage of pastel is the ability to create the feeling of a place. For this reason I will restrict fine detail to the centre of interest – the area around the cafés on the waterside and the people walking along the promenade.  We don't want to do all the work for the viewer. Long term pleasure in a picture lies in seeing more and more into fairly loosely defined shapes.

Looking at my reference photograph, I will apply some changes to the immediate foreground to frame the view better. The waterside pedestrian way does not curve as much as I will show, but if I bring the railings and flower boxes more to the left, the view of the bridge and the reflections in the water will be framed nicely.

I have identified my main centre of interest – the area immediately under the left hand arch of the bridge.  I will increase the contrast of light and dark here to focus the eye of the viewer.This point is not far from the 'Golden section' or intersection of thirds which makes it an ideal for the composition.

The four stages of a pastel pencil drawing

Working a pastel picture of a landscape (and most other subjects) involves at least four stages.

  1. The line drawing to place the elements of the picture
  2. The Blocking in of tones and main colours to establish the shape and composition. This can best be done using pastel blocks or sticks but can be done with Pan pastel as well
  3. The establishing of some detail, using pastel pencils, following which the picture can be 'fixed' using a spray to hold the main pastel media in position. Colourfix board has a very fine grit surface to hold the dry pigment and needs only light fixing.
  4. Finally, extra detail can be added where required and highlights and contrasting darks confirmed.

If the original line drawing is correct, the pastel pencil drawing can be completed in a relatively loose way and still be recognisable by those who know the place. 

The outline drawing

I have chosen a brick red pastel pencil to draw out the framework of the picture. The red colour is much stronger than I need, but I have used it to show the outlining for the photograph ( right) .I have since removed all the surplus powder using a piece of sticky white Tac and this has taken the marks back to being just visible

My reference photo is approximately 20 x 27 cm. The laid out image is approximately 26 x 35cm with the added foreground.

The fact that there are three visible arches to the bridge is not immediately obvious in the reference.  I have lightened up a small sample of the area so that you can see what the actual scene includes.  I will not necessarily show the second and third arches, but it is essential to understand the details of the reference before we start – and resolve any areas that may be in doubt.

If we know what we are painting  there is a chance that the viewer of the eventual pastel pencil drawing will also understand what they are looking at.

The first step in adding colour is to look for the areas of light and dark.  We need an even layer of white pastel down on all light areas and areas that may need to have white detail. This includes the sky and the sky reflection in the water.  Similarly we need a warm dark tone down on areas of shadow leaving lighter areas with the natural sand shade of the paper.

My first thought was to swing the nearby railing round as a curve right across the immediate foreground as shown in the initial drawing above.

This did not work as well as I expected , so I will reduce the curve and bring the railing in at the centre line when I complete the blocking in process.

You can see from the image above that I have started with a layer of white pastel in the sky and the water areas and also white where there are major areas of white or light in the buildings.

White as a base coat of pastel, always allows us to get back to a light tone at a later point. The first layer of dry colour on the working surface locks itself down  to the paper and performs the task of a foundation.

Similarly, we can apply a dark shade of brown to the shadowed buildings to the left and to other areas of shadow, like the bridge, and although lighter tones of colour can be applied on the top, we can easily get back to the dark tone we applied first if we need to.  If you look at the blue of the water in the image on the right, you will see the nearer water is a darker blue.

I have applied blue first to the paper here and then white on the top. Further up the white was applied first and the blue after – this has produced two different results from the same colours.

Note the new line for the railings.  I have to decide on the pavement colour for the foreground and will use a reference from another photo  taken the same day.

This also gives me more information on the design of the railings and the way the pavement is filled with tables and chairs from the restaurants.

In the pastel image above,  you will see I have been working on the sky, the water and the skyline of the buildings.

With the previous base coat of pastel down on the sky and water, I can now work in a selection of the pastel cubes in white and pale blue to increase the colour in the top section of sky and the lower section of the water.  I am able to blend the dry pastel into the prior coating and easily achieve an even coat right over the edge of the building line.

I can still see my drawn line, though and work back the buildings to give a crisp edge.   I am enhancing the darks where possible as I want to keep the sunlit feel which needs dark shadows.  

If you refer back to the photograph, you will note that I have not included any detail in the far buildings behind the bridge as I want to keep these from fighting for attention.  

Where I have needed to work with my hand over existing pastel, I have used a section of clear perspex to protect the picture surface and this also protects light coloured areas from dry pastel dust falling on them from above.   

Note the shading in the sky goes to darker blue overhead. I have not tried to match the exact blue for the moment – that can await a later check towards the end.

I now want to look at how the pastel cube colour is laid down on the base surface and blended in.I have shown a series of images below and we will look at the working process.


1. The first image above shows a base coat of pastel applied to the footpath on the right foreground. This is loosely applied as you can see. This first layer establishes the colour as a brick red.

2. A second layer of white pastel on the top will lighten the base colour, but no blending takes place yet.

3. Thirdly,  horizontal lines of a light violet are applied, after which....

4. Finally the pastel is blended with the finger in horizontal strokes. This gives the flat feeling of the footpath with some grading of colour. The blocked-in colour here now balances the colours elsewhere and we can start to get a feel for the overall image. 

Apart from adding the footpath, I have now darkened the shadow wall of the left hand building and blended colour into the shadowed water on the left – much in the same way as I applied cube colour on the footpath.

Before I go on to add more detail to the centre block of buildings, I have established the line the railings will take in the front of the picture.I will be adding a lot of detail here later and quite a lot of flowers in the hanging boxes along the footpath edge.

As you can see I now have  an area to consider for my tables and chairs in the restaurants along the water edge for which I will use my second reference photograph.

This will be one of the last areas to be completed and in the meantime I need to concentrate on the area around the bridge and the buildings behind it.

Two technique points worth mentioning here are the need for fine points on the pastel pencils for which a sharp craft knife is essential. and also the use of a plastic guard to protect the surface near to where detail is to be worked. This guard, is (as you can see) clear plastic to enable the overall picture to be seen at all times and also to enable the side of the hand to rest on the working surface without causing damage to already worked pastel. The plastic is held in position by two blobs of tac to the outside area of the picture.

I  am now able to complete the central building behind the bridge and also some of the associated areas. I have also blocked in some colour to the two nearer buildings on the right and identified the lightest areas (around windows and a couple of sunshades etc) where I will need to keep the white for the end.  

I have also darkened the water and added shadow to the bridge so that the picture is starting to get it's final shape.

It is natural to work from top to bottom in the picture and as I am right handed, it is natural to work from the top left down and across the picture. This leaves the last steps to be to complete the bottom and right hand corner.

The next stage is to work the windows and shutters on the white building right of centre. This is slightly away from the main focus of interest so the detail will be less pronounced and the contrast in tones also lower.

The other matter to bring up here is the essential of keeping a fine point on the pastel pencil and turning the point regularly as you work. This keeps a good sharp point for fine detail.

In the next image we can see the roof line completed. The working daylight was different here with more sunlight and thus warmer colours, but I haven’t adjusted the photo.

I have included a detail of the windows and shadows on those upper levels so that you can see that the pastel  is effective even though the line is not as sharp as you would get with a wax coloured pencil.  This doesn't matter, as this part of the picture is away from the main focus and we just need to give a valid impression of the architecture.

Perspective issues

Now to consider the problems of perspective.

If you look again at the original photographic reference ,you will see that the eye level was about 1.75 metres above the pavement – natural eye height.

I have, however, changed the foreground and brought the railings round in a wider curve. The position of the railings, as they now show in the picture, are well below the previous level and we now have an assumed eye level of about 3 metres or more.

For this reason, I have changed the perspective in the nearest building on the right and our eye level is now much higher – the top of the window blinds need to have a different angle and we are now looking from a point nearly level with the first floor of the buildings. This will also give me a better opportunity to compose the detail of tables etc. outside the cafés.

I think the changed view will also suit the picture better.

In the first step of this part of the picture I decided to colour the first sunshade green to enable it to provide a sharp colour contrast with the red blind above.  This worked too well !  The effect was to bring the focus of the picture sharply over to the blinds from the arch of the bridge, which is not what I wanted.

I lifted the green pastel using a block of tacky putty and replaced the colour with blue as you now see.

The effect is still too pronounced and I may well darken the blue before I finish.  See a detail of the working of this area below. I will leave the lower edge of the blue sunshade incomplete for the present as I may want to make some changes later.

I have now carried on working round the pathway area in front of the buildings and included a couple of people walking away from the camera.  I have limited the detail here as I don’t want to too precise and attract too much attention to this area.

I have also blocked in the shapes of the flowers on the railing so that I can begin to get a feel for the way the final picture composition will work.

Yes, it is starting to come together.

The area in front of the railings in the bottom right hand corner is a little bare, but I don’t want to include any more people - that would divert attention from the main picture focus.  

The final picture may well be cropped off on the right and made narrower, so there may not be too much open space to worry about.  I will develop the tables and restaurant detail a little more and also develop the flowers on the curved railing,  and then make a further decision on the bottom right hand corner.

I have included some white boards - they might be advertising or they might be pictures on display by one of the many artists working along this pathway.  If they are kept subdued they may help to keep up the interest in the area without producing too much diversion. They will also enable me to introduce some shadow across the pathway to confirm the flatness of the path and the strength of the sunshine.

A little more work in this area and I can make a start on the water and the reflections.

Remember that there is still a major stage to come once all the details are in place, to balance the lights and darks  and  get the appearance of the picture right.  The pastel will then need fixing lightly and the highlights put back in after the fixing spray has darkened everything.

With the overall details now in place and the reflections in the water starting to be established, we can see the picture coming together.

It is essential to work from the actual picture itself to put in the reflections as the original reference has been varied as the picture has been worked.  

All reflections have to be exactly vertical to the elements they represent so a constant comparison has to be made between the picture above the water and the reflections - to make sure they match.

Some more work is going to be needed on the flowers and railings as well as the water surface incorporating more shadow.  

We must also remember that many features which are reflected in the water will be much darker than the originals as the view seen in the water surface is effectively that from a much lower level (about 3 metres under the water ) and more shadowed elements will feature in the building facias.

The latest stage of the work (below) may not appear to show much result, but among the areas worked on have been :

  1. the left hand building which has had some darkening and detail in the lower part of the wall alongside the river
  2. There has been work to the flowers along the rail with areas of shadow inserted.
  3. The railing has been defined and shadow applied to the footpath on the lower right.  
  4. The advertising boards have been completed,
  5. The sky re-worked to bring in darker blues both in the sky and in the reflection in the water and
  6. The reflection of the buildings and the river wall in the water have been almost completed.  Further work will be done to reflections and ripples in the the water after fixing.There is one more step to be taken before fixing the picture, the roof-lines will need to be re-defined where the blue pastel has been worked too close to existing edges.

I have cropped the photo of the picture back to get an idea of the final proportions of the work.

I think that the reduction on the right hand side is about correct and the darker footpath surface now provides a better base for the composition of the picture with the reds on that side balancing the blue of the reflected sky in the water. It is now more inviting to take a walk down that path!

I am still undecided about the light area under the bridge arch. It does what I intended in providing a focus, but is it the best option?     

A solution may be to work up an alternative of the light area under the main bridge arch on a piece of card, cut it out and lay it  on the artwork surface under the bridge to see what the effect would be.........

Time to apply the first level of fixative. This is a light varnish spray which is designed to hold down the loose powder of pastels, though pastel worked on a grit paper is fairly secure anyway.

The problem with fixative is that it tends to darken the colours of the pastel.

In this case the pastel has darkened very little between the two images shown here.The lower one has been fixed.

The image you see has had some final working after the fixative has been applied.

The left hand side windows have been re-worked, more detail has been applied to the water and the reflections in the water and some further shadows have been included to highlight the effect of the sunshine.  

A stronger blue has been added to the immediate foreground water to highlight the contrast between the reflected sky blue and the shadowed flowers and greenery along the railing.

We now have a triangle of focal points between the arch of the bridge, the reds and blues of the blinds on the cafes and the foreground flowers/water.

Annecy Reflections - Pastel and pastel pencil drawing 2012

From original photo by Peter Weatherill  2012

The finished work copyright is owned by the commissioner, Caran d’Ache


NOTE : the picture itself was commissioned by Caran d’Ache and the original is owned by them. The Company gave their express permission for this completed picture to be used by the artist in a tutorial exercise online, and therefore you are permitted to follow the notes and complete your own version of the picture using the original photo (which is copyright : Peter Weatherill  2012)

The picture, and the exercise, are not to be used for any commercial purpose without express permission from the copyright holders

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