Tutorial: Drawing an Artichoke in Colored Pencil

One of the things I get asked the most about is how to create realistic looking leaves in colored pencil. This is an excellent topic for a tutorial so this demonstration will focus on coloring the leaves of an artichoke. I have listed all the supplies I used below but please use whatever you have in your art box. Most importantly, remember to keep your pencils sharp; not only will you be able to create fine lines, you will not have to press as hard to get the color to lay down. A sharp pencil fills in the paper tooth much easier than a dull one (and it keeps your hand from hurting).

Supplies: Throughout this demonstration I will be using Prismacolor Premier pencils. If you are using another brand make sure to use a nice selection of greens (at a minimum chose a light gray (earth) green, a middle value green, and a dark green), a dark red, a warm dark gray, and a light brown.

Pencils Additional Supplies
Lime Peel Smooth drawing paper 80lb. or heavier
Olive Green HB graphite pencil
Dark Green Kneaded eraser
Celadon Green White plastic eraser
Greyed Lavender Eraser shield
Sienna Brown Pencil sharpener
Mahogany Red Artichoke or reference photo
50% Warm Gray

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 work in the direction of the leaves. 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 your artichoke and spend some time studying it. Notice how the leaves overlap each other. On my artichoke the outer leaves are starting to open but the inner ones lie on top of each other. Once you have taken your time to observe begin your line drawing. I like to start by putting in general shapes 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 strokes that follow the curve of the leaves. Use heavier pressure in the darkest areas and lighter pressure for softer shadows. At the top of the artichoke I used greyed lavender for the shadowy areas. The greyed lavender is not as strong as the warm gray so it is a good shadow color in the brighter areas.

I also added some of the sienna brown and mahogany red to the leaf tips and any areas that had a brown undertone.

This process is sometimes referred to as underpainting. By applying the neutral gray and brown colors first you form a base on which to add additional layers of paint (or in our case colored pencil).

Step 3: Establishing Initial Color

Begin layering olive, lime peel, and celadon over the gray. I like to work from the darkest to lightest color. First add a layer of the olive green over the gray, then layer lime peel over the olive and extend it very slightly into the white area. Finally layer the celadon over the entire leaf. Use heavier pressure in the darkest areas. Keep layering your greens so that you slowly work color into the white areas of the paper. Use less pressure on your pencil the closer you get to the lighter areas. Make your pencil strokes follow the curve of each leaf.

You will be adding many layers of color before your drawing is completed so there is no need to worry if it looks very light at this stage. Remember, it is always easier to add more color than it is to remove color.

Step 4: Progression of Color

I worked from the outer leaves to the inner leaves. I did this because I like to move around my drawing as I work. I work for a little while one side of the drawing then I moved to the other. I don’t completely finish one section before moving on. This keeps the drawing balanced and it gives me time to make corrections in value.

As I was layering the greens I noticed that there was not enough contrast to differentiate one leaf from another. To correct this problem I used the dark green pencil right along the edge of a few of the leaves. Don’t draw a continuous line like you would to outline something, instead make a thin broken line along the edge. This small addition really helps distinguish one leaf from another. The reason this works is that dark green had a lot of blue in it which works well as a shadow color to help create the illusion of depth.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Once you are satisfied with the coloring of your artichoke 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.

I like the look of botanical plates so I added the name of my plant in a cursive script using a very sharp olive green pencil. You could also add a border around your drawing or just leave it as is.

Sign your drawing then step back and admire your work!


You can apply the techniques of layering green over a base of gray to other leaves. If you are drawing tulips, irises, or orchids you can substitute chartreuse (yellow green) for the celadon. If the leaves are darker like those of a hydrangea you may want to add a layer of blue in the greens to more closely match the colors. Even if you have a pencil that exactly matches the color of your subject you will create a much more interesting and vibrant finished piece if you mix your own colors.

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.

Until next time…keep those pencils sharp!