Botanical Drawing of Sage

Sage is a wonderful herb to draw and a great introduction to learning about layering in colored pencil. Follow along with me as I demonstrate how I use different shades of green to create this study.

Supplies: Throughout this demonstration I will be using Faber-Castell (FC) Polychromos pencils. Next to each color I have included similar pencils in the Prismacolor Premiere (PC) line. If you are using another brand make sure to use a nice selection of greens (at a minimum chose yellow green (chartreuse), light gray (earth) green, mid green, and dark green), red-violet, warm dark gray, and white.

Pencils Additional Supplies
FC170 May green (PC1005) Sprig of fresh sage
FC172 Earth Green (PC1020) Smooth drawing paper 80lb. or heavier
FC174 Chromium Green Oxide (PC911) HB graphite pencil
FC278 Chrome Oxide Green (PC908) Kneaded eraser
FC194 Red-violet (PC1029) White plastic eraser
FC274 Warm Grey V (PC1054) Eraser shield
FC101 White (PC938) White pastel pencil (optional)

Before We Begin: It may be helpful to read over this tutorial from beginning to end a couple of times to familiarize yourself with the steps involved. As you work on your drawing remember to use light pressure on the pencil and small elliptical strokes to apply the color. Colored pencil is a layering process so color is built up gradually. This allows you to make adjustments and it keeps the wax binder in the pencil from building up on your paper. Wax build up makes it very difficult if not impossible to add more color.

You may also find it helpful to test out your colors first on a scrap piece of paper. I always keep a piece nearby so that I can try out color combinations before using them on my finished work.

Step 1: Initial Drawing

Choose a sprig of fresh sage. I am using a sprig of common sage from my garden. Select a sprig that doesn’t have too many leaves. If you can find a specimen that shows the underside of one or two leaves or a leaf that curls that will make your piece even more dynamic and interesting. If you can’t get fresh sage, you can use a reference photo. Sage is readily available at most markets so do try to get fresh if you can.

Spend some time studying your specimen. Notice how the leaves attach to the stem. Pay attention to the negative spaces between the leaves, those shapes will help you in establishing correct proportions. Once you have taken your time to observe begin your line drawing. I like to start by putting in general lines then adding details. Once you are satisfied with your drawing take your kneaded eraser and lighten your pencil lines. You want to be able to see your drawing but it should not be too dark otherwise the excess graphite will get trapped by your colored pencil and detract from your finished piece. For purposes of this tutorial I scanned my drawing before lightening the lines so that you could see the composition.

Step 2: Creating Form

Using your warm gray pencil add in the shadow areas using small elliptical strokes. Use heavier pressure in the darkest areas and lighter pressure for softer shadows. I am right-handed so I begin at the top left to prevent my hand from dragging over the color. If you find this happening to you, just place a piece of scrap paper under your drawing hand.

At this stage I also added a light layer of red-violet along the stem edges. If you are using a different species of sage you may need to adjust the colors to more accurately represent what you see. Some varieties are all green and some even have purple leaves. Just draw what you see and all will be well.

I also add the cast shadows where leaves and stems cross in front of one another. This adds another touch of realism to the drawing.

Step 3: Establishing Initial Color

Layer your dark, mid, and earth green colors over the gray and work progressively into the white areas of the paper. As you move into the white areas use less pressure. We will be adding more color as we go along so do not worry if your drawing is very light at this stage.

Add the yellow-green to the lighter side of the stem. As you work on the stems if the green dulls the red-violet just add it back. Colored pencil is all about layering and adjusting. As artists we need to keep in mind that colors next to each other can cause areas to appear darker or lighter. By noticing these color shifts we can make adjustments as we go along.

Step 4: Refinement

Now it’s time to add more details. Take a step back from your work and analyze your drawing. Is it too light? Are the shadow areas dark enough so that you can distinguish each leaf from the other?

If you need to darken the shadow areas you can add additional layers of the warm gray over the greens. If I do this I always add another layer of green over top to blend all the layers together.

When you think you are almost done put your drawing aside for a few hours. Come back to it later with fresh eyes then make any adjustments you think are necessary.

Step 5: Blending

Before you begin this step make sure you are satisfied with your drawing. Turn your drawing upside down and make sure you don’t see any problem areas. Make any final adjustments before proceeding.

Once you are satisfied with your drawing take a very sharp white pencil (not the pastel pencil) and using small elliptical strokes begin blending all your colors. Use light to medium pressure. This blends the color and helps fill in the white spots in the paper tooth. It is fine to leave some white paper showing; it helps create the downy texture of the sage leaf.

Take your eraser and remove any stray lines or marks from your paper. I use the eraser shield at this stage, it helps me get right up to the edge of my drawing. If I notice that any of my edges are not crisp I will take a very sharp pencil and go over them. If you do this make sure to add the line to the inner edge of the drawing and be sure to blend it into the surrounding color.

Optional details

This step is entirely optional. Take your pastel pencil and using firm pressure add a series of dots over the leaves. This helps create the fuzz that is typical of so many varieties of sage. Be sure to add the dots in the same direction as the leaf veining. Don’t cover each leaf just put dots in the areas with the most visible fuzz. In my drawing the fuzziest spot was in the center with the two small leaves.

Sign your drawing then step back and admire your work!

If you have any questions about this tutorial or if there are particular subjects you would like me to demonstrate please leave a comment below or contact me directly via my contact form.