Small Changes to Increase the Realism of Your Coloured Pencil Drawings

Feb 23, 2024
Small Changes to Increase the Realism of Your Coloured Pencil Drawings

When it comes to adding more realism to your coloured pencil drawings there are a couple of small changes you can make that are going to make a big difference, which is why I created this piece. To show my students how they can make their drawings softer and more realistic by just changing a few techniques.


I want to start by saying there is no right or wrong way, but I have drawn the right-hand side to appear more realistic to show you the differences. On the left-hand side, you can see there are more open details than on the right side. On the right side, you can see there are a lot fewer fur details but instead, there’s more value which makes the fur appear denser and darker.

When first starting to use coloured pencils, I find it can be quite scary to get your values correct. It can be difficult trying to get your darks dark enough and your lights light enough, and what tends to happen is that it all becomes a bit too light and then everything suffers. So, this was an exercise just to show a few areas where little tiny changes can be made so that your work can look more realistic, and as I say, there's nothing wrong with the left side at all and I'm not saying the right side is the epitome of realism. If I was doing this on its own, not as a demonstration, I'd probably bring a little bit more information into the techniques of the right side but I wanted to show a little bit of the extreme.

It's more about getting a softness, particularly with short-haired dogs, we want to show that it's short-haired. A lot of the time what happens is we tend to concentrate on the details because we're drawing realism and what happens is we put all of the details in and it starts to look more textured. And I had a lot of comments on this side actually that people were saying, 'Oh this looks like a wet dog and this looks like a dry dog.' And if you've got a Labrador or a black short head dog you'll know that when you look at that dog you can't see all of the individual hairs. If you look at any dog you can't see the individual hairs unless you're right up in its face. What you can see are the very subtle changes in lights and darks and that's kind of what I wanted to really portray in this, that actually we don't need to concentrate on the details, what we need to concentrate on are the values.

I started teaching in 2019 and have seen lots and lots of my student's work and what I've seen is that we all go through a stage, every single one of us who learns how to draw realism goes through the same process, different time scales but the same process. We start and we believe that realism comes from details, so details are what we concentrate on first. Then we go, 'Oh hang on a second, values are actually really important.' So then you start bringing values in as well as the details. And then you reach that point where it's like actually the details don't really matter, the details actually aren't the fur lines but are the little tiny changes in value in the fur and that's what's going to make something look nice and sleek and realistic. Now, this is all by the by, everybody has their own style, some people have quite a stylized realism where the hair is far more portrayed, it's maybe a little bit more like the left-hand side and I'm not saying that's wrong. What I'm saying is if you want a softer and smoother outcome, then concentrating on these values rather than trying to get all of the hair details in is going to give you the result that you want.

Black fur is fun to draw because it takes on the environment that the animal is in and reflects the colours around it. So with this one, I used blacks, some yellows, blues and, if you're one of my Ignite members, then you've got access to both videos of me drawing them and the techniques I used. It's just that the pencil strokes are different; they're smaller, and they're a little bit more carefully added, whereas, on the left-hand side, I’ve added quite strong fur strokes. On the right, I’ve concentrated on the darks rather than trying to bring all of the hairlines and everything like that in.

So, if you're struggling with getting your work realistic or you've kind of hit a wall and you're thinking "I can't get any further", look at how you're using your details, look at what you're concentrating on the most and if it’s your details then there's a massive development leap to take by dropping some of those details and starting to pick up on the tiny shift and subtle changes in values.


To watch me demonstrate this and talk you through this drawing, watch the video at the top of this page. You can also access the videos of me drawing both sides of this Labrador, by clicking here and find out what else the Ignite Membership has to offer.

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