Tutorial: Working with Yellow

DaffodilI have often heard people say how difficult it is to work with yellow. Getting the shadows to look realistic without being dull and drab can be a challenge but if you use a bit of color theory and a few complementary colors you can create something that is bright and full of depth. Follow along with me as I demonstrate how to use colored pencils to paint a daffodil.

Supplies: Throughout this demonstration I will be using Prismacolor Premiere pencils. If you are using another brand (I encourage you to use what you have on hand) just select similar colors to those listed below. Be sure to use the heaviest paper you have with the exception of printer paper, that is just too thin and too smooth of a paper to give you adequate results. For this tutorial I will be drawing in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook. The 100 lb. vellum surface is perfect for colored pencil studies.

Pencils Additional Supplies
Canary Yellow PC916 Daffodil
Yellow Ochre PC942 Drawing paper 80lb. or heavier
Goldenrod PC1034 HB graphite pencil
Spanish Orange PC1003 Kneaded eraser
Greyed Lavender PC1026 White plastic eraser
Lilac PC956 Eraser shield
Chartreuse PC989 Colorless Blender Pencil (PC1077 or similar)
Lime Peel PC1005 Artist tape (not masking tape)
Olive Green PC911
Ginger Root PC1084
Light Umber PC941
Dark Umber PC947
Warm Grey 50% PC1054
White PC938

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 meaning 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

SketchChoose a daffodil. I am using a daffodil I bought on my last trip to the market. You can use a reference photo for this tutorial but do try to get a fresh flower if you can. Drawing from life will really help improve your observational skills.

Spend some time studying your specimen. Notice how the petals radiate around the corona (ruffly trumpet part) and how the spathe (papery brown membrane) wraps around the stem. Pay attention to the negative spaces between the petals, 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. The corona is basically a cone shape that is surrounded by a circle of six petals (called the perianth). Depending on your viewpoint the circle maybe distorted to that it appears more elliptical. Just remember to draw what you see.

I chose to do a sketch of the back of the flower. I wanted to show as many of the different parts of the plant as possible in this piece. This is also a good perspective if you are new to drawing, there is very little, if any, foreshortening to worry about giving you more opportunity to focus on the techniques rather than becoming discouraged if your drawing is off.

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. My sketch also included some shadow detail, this was also removed before applying the colored pencil.

Step 2: Creating Form

Establising FormUsing your greyed lavender and lilac pencils add in the shadow areas on the corona and petals using small elliptical strokes. Use the lilac in the darkest areas and greyed lavender for softer shadows. The light is coming from the left so I kept the lilac mainly to the right side. At this stage don’t use too much of the lilac.

I also layered warm grey 50% along the shadow areas of the stem and spathe. If your spathe has wrinkles or bends be sure to indicate those. I did not indicate the veining in the spathe, those will be added in the later step. I also like to add a touch of greyed lavender to the stem to add more depth.

As you can see from my drawing above, I kept everything very light at this stage. I can always go back and add more shading once I’ve added the initial layers of color.

Step 3: Establishing Initial Color

The Petals and Corona:

Initial Color LayersLayer goldenrod in the darkest shadow areas on the right – just a couple of strokes of color are needed here. Goldenrod has a lot of brown in it so a little goes a long way. Layer Spanish orange, yellow ochre and canary yellow in the lighter areas, don’t use the Spanish orange on the right side, it is very bright and should only be used for the left petals and the shadow areas of the corona. Use the yellow ochre to create any folds in the corona.

You can use heavier pressure on the corona because it is brighter and more opaque than the petals which have a more delicate papery feel. For this part you want many layers of all the yellows to create a distinct separation between the corona and petals.

As you are adding the yellows if you notice that your shadows are turning reddish-brown you added too much lilac in the beginning step. Don’t worry, just add one or two light layers of lime peel to cool the brown (brown has a lot of red in it and the lime peel will neutralize the color).

The Stem and Spathe:

Layer chartreuse, lime peel and olive green over the stem. Begin coloring the spathe by adding a layer of ginger root to the entire surface then layer light umber and dark umber making sure to pay attention to how the light interacts with any folds or creases in the papery surface. Use dark umber to create the veining in the shadow area and light umber in the lighter areas.

Keep in Mind:

If at any time the shadow layers you added in Step 1 (greyed lavender and warm grey 50%) seem to have been lost add a layer over what you have. You may need to add another layer of your local color over that but as long as you are keeping your pressure light all will be fine.

If you have to lift off color and your vinyl or kneaded eraser isn’t working like you hoped take a small piece of artist tape, place it over the area you want removed, rub the tape gently then lift it off. Do not use regular masking tape as that could damage the fibers of your paper. This technique works really well for this study because yellow pencils have a lot of binder in them, the tape removes the wax and color whereas an eraser can often just smear the wax around.

Step 4: Refinement

Now it’s time to do something very important — put down your pencils and go enjoy a well deserved cup of tea (coffee, cocoa, etc.). You want to stop looking at your work for at least an hour if not longer. This break will allow you to come back to your work with fresh eyes to really be able to see what adjustments need to be made.

When you are rested, take a look at your painting and compare it to your flower. Are the shadows strong enough? Is there enough contrast between the petals and the corona? Does any area need to be blended a bit more? Do you have too much color so that one areas is out of balance from the rest of the painting?

If you compare my drawing from the previous step to the finished piece below you will see that I added more yellow to the corona to brighten it and I deepened the shadows on the petals and spathe to enhance the form. After every adjustment I stepped back from my work to check to make sure I wasn’t overworking any spots.

Step 5: Burnishing and Blending

Finished DrawingBefore you begin this step make sure you are satisfied with your drawing. Make any final adjustments before proceeding.

Take a very sharp colorless blender pencil and go over the corona using heavy pressure and small elliptical strokes. This process is called burnishing and it serves to blend the colors together and fill up any white spots on the paper with pigment.

Take your white pencil and go over the stem. If you look carefully at the stem of a daffodil you will notice that it has a milky appearance. The white pencil will help you create that effect. If you add too much white you can always add back the greens.

Use your eraser to remove any stray lines or marks from your paper. I use an 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.

Sign your drawing then step back and admire your work!

If you have any questions about this tutorial please leave a comment below or contact me directly via my contact form. If you liked this tutorial please click the Like button below or share this on your favorite social media site.

Thank you and happy drawing!


One thought on “Tutorial: Working with Yellow

  1. jurgen

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