How to draw a landscape with pastels

How to draw a landscape with pastels

Working with soft pastels

This article takes you through the whole process of creating a landscape using soft pastels and is based around a drawing commissioned by a client. The first thing to mention about using soft pastels is that they are very messy, so it’s best to wear something old, or to use an apron. You may also need to wash your hands frequently.

Use the best quality pastels you can afford, as they are softer and have better and more varied pigments. Faber Castell, make a really good range that is a joy to use.


Step 1

Enlarging your photo

Experienced artists feel comfortable working ‘in the field,’ but many people prefer to work from photographs, which have the benefit that you have a consistent recorded image to work from. In addition, you don’t have to worry about rushing your work to completion before the light goes, or in case it rains.

Take a range of photos of your subject, then choose one to work from, keeping the others for reference. You will then need to enlarge your photo to the size of drawing you want. To do this, buy a clear acetate sheet (art shops and stationers supply these). Draw a grid on the acetate, making the squares a consistent size, say half an inch or one centimetre.

Next, using a sheet of greaseproof, or tracing paper draw a second grid, making your squares two or three times larger than those on your acetate. In this example, the acetate has squares of 1cm and the greaseproof grid has squares of 3cm.

Step 2

Drawing your outline

Place the acetate grid over your photo and the greaseproof grid over your paper (as this makes your pencil lines easier to see). Study the acetate grid and exactly copy what is in each square into the corresponding square on your greaseproof, using a soft graphite pencil, such as a 6B. You now have an enlarged drawing on greaseproof. If you transferred this directly to your drawing page, the image would be reversed, so you need to correct that.

Turn the greaseproof paper over and follow your pencil lines with the 6B pencil quite firmly over a piece of scrap paper. When this is done, flip the paper, place it on to your drawing page and rub along each pencil line firmly. This transfers the pencil image the correct way round to your page, and you are ready to begin using the pastels.

Step 3

Drawing the sky

Choose a suitable pale blue for your sky and decide which direction the light is coming from. In this case the light is falling from the right, as if it is over the artists right shoulder. Make the sky darker at the edges and top of the page, and paler towards the horizon, by working the pastel harder in darker areas. To create a smooth, even look, smudge the pastel with a smudging stick, or your finger (fingers are cheaper when you are learning).

Leave irregular, blank areas of paper showing through, to suggest clouds, then use a pale flesh colour in the upper part of each of these blank areas to give the coulds more definition. Smudge the flesh colour upwards, blurring the cloud edge.

Step 4

The background

Next begin the bank of forest in the background, by blocking in the darkest shadows. If you use black for this, your finished picture will be ‘flat’ and muddy-looking, so use a deep, vibrant blue. Make the shadow darkest at the base of the trees and paler as you move upwards.

Next draw over the top of this blue with olive green, working the pastel in cirles to suggest tree shapes. Leave gaps so that the blue shows.

Finally, just touch bright yellow on to the olive green on the right-hand sides of the trees only, to suggest the fall of sunlight.

Step 5

Sketching the fields

Choose a sap green and block in all of the fields using the smudging technique. make the fields in the distance paler than those in the foreground.

Block the house in white, and use a pale blue to suggest shadow on areas that would be away from the sun.

Use the dark blue to draw shadows in the smaller tree-lines, and the olive green for the trees.

Step 6

Drawing the trees

Next draw in the trees. The process is the same for all of them, but the large tree to the foreground needs more detail on it’s trunk.

First sketch in the trunk and branches using a grey-brown. Highlight these with white to the right hand side, and the same pale blue you used for the house shadows on the left. Leave some gaps so that the original brown shows through.

Next, take the vibrant, deep blue and working in circles make the general shape of the tree. Then, this is the fun bit, take the olive green pastel and using a craft knife, scrape pigment from the stick on to the page over the dark blue, again, leave some blue showing through. Repeat this with a leaf green, then just a touch of bright yellow to highlight areas where the sun would reach. Take a large piece of scrap paper and press it firmly down over the tree shape, to push the pigment on to the page.

You may wish to practice this technique on a separate sheet first. When you are happy with your tree, spray it with fixative to keep the pastel from smudging. If you are learning and money is tight, use hairspray.

Step 7

Finishing off

Now it’s time to finish the detail of your picture.

Draw in the roof and windows of the house with grey-brown, then add shadows with the pale blue.

Draw detail in the grass using the sap green and olive green pastels to suggest shadow. At the front of the picture, draw in blades of grass, fading these as you go towards the background, to suggest persepctive.

Use the deep blue for the shadows beneath the trees.

Draw the sheep, using white for highlighs and pale blue-grey for shadows.

When you are happy with your picture, use the scraping technique again and just sprinkle a small area of bright red and a small area of white on to the grass in the foreground, to suggest wildflowers.

Finally, fix the whole drawing with spray and don’t forget to sign it.

Things Needed
• A sheet of acetate
• A sheet of greaseproof paper
• A sheet of cartridge paper
• Soft Pastels
• 6B graphite pencil
• Craft knife
• scrap paper
• fixative

Tips & Warnings
• Your drawing will be easier to manage if you tape it to a drawing board using low-tack tape.
• Try not to rest your hand on the drawing as you will smudge areas that you have already worked on.
• Hairspray is a cheap alternative to fixative if you are new to pastel drawing.
• Always keep windows open when using fixative — better still, spray drawings outdoors.


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