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How to Paint Nature's Bounty using Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

Posted on Wed 17 Apr 2013

I am an avid observer and am fascinated by reflections in water, the effects of light, texture and the natural forms and surfaces of trees and rocks. I am particularly interested in the ways in which nature embellishes and arranges both natural and man-made objects and structures and am often drawn to the smaller features and nooks and crannies within the landscape as much as the wider view. Recently, I have embarked on a series of detailed studies of pebbles and rock forms. The local geology here where I live in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is very diverse and this diversity is wonderfully demonstrated in the pebbles and rocks found along this coastline. The variety of colours, patterns, shapes and textures appears to be infinite. In fact no two pebbles are identical!

Wave-Washed Pebbles and a Mermaid's Purse, coloured pencil, (40x40cm)

Choice of media

My work is, characteristically, very precise and highly detailed. Coloured pencils are ideal as they allow me to maintain control over the marks that I make and enable me to achieve a high degree of detail. Nowadays, the coloured pencil artist is spoilt for choice. There is a brand, type and a range of colours to suit every preference and eventuality.

One of Derwent’s most popular ranges, for both professional and amateur artists alike, is the Coloursoft range. Launched in 2006, these pencils were developed to provide easy-to-apply, dense, bold and vibrant colour. I was one of a panel of professional artists asked to test these pencils extensively before they were released to the market and from the outset I was impressed with the quality and performance they deliver. They provide strong, rich colours with excellent coverage; they maintain a good point under reasonable pressure for rendering fine detail, and they blend together and burnish effectively. They tick all the right boxes for me, with the result that they have since been very much part of my armoury. Just recently Derwent have extended their original range of 72 colours by an additional 12, which adds even greater variety and subtlety to the available colours.

Nature Embellishes An Old Stone Wall, mixed media, (30x30cm)

The subject

For this feature I have chosen to produce a picture to add to my series of pebbles and rock-forms. Under the sea wall at the top end of a nearby beach is a substantial bank of pebbles, and among the pebbles is a liberal sprinkling of other objects in the form of mussel, limpet, top and razor shells. From previous experience I know that coloured pencil is the perfect medium with which to render this type of subject, which requires sharpness of detail and an extensive range of subtle and blended colours. In addition this subject is ideal for honing observational and drawing skills as well as associated techniques such as shading, blending, lifting, burnishing and sgraffito.

To begin, I take a variety of photographs from a vertical viewpoint so that I have a choice of compositions to select from. For this particular subject it is best to take the photographs out of direct sunlight, preferably on a bright day with cloud cover. When the light is even and diffused it softens the shadows and shows up the colours in the pebbles more effectively.

Bright sunlight will result in hard, stark shadows and bleached-out colours. Wet pebbles add a different dimension by deepening, darkening and enhancing the colours as well as a reflective sheen. I derive an enormous amount of pleasure in attempting to replicate the subtle and sometimes exquisite tones and blends of colour and texture – some pebbles are smooth, others rough and pitted. Some pebbles display intrusions of quartz that show up as contrasting white veins, running parallel or criss-crossing, sometimes bold and sometimes filament-like. All these characteristics create an infinite variety of fascinating natural patterns and designs.

Derwent Coloursoft pencils proved to be ideal for this subject. To ensure that the colour hues and blends were accurate I experimented continually on a spare piece of white mount-board alongside the picture. I used a variety of pencil strokes to achieve textural and mottling effects that include cross-hatching, diagonal and circular strokes and stippling with well sharpened pencils. The colours were blended in a variety of ways using a colourless blending pencil, a ball of soft tissue and, occasionally, my finger-tips. As I said previously, this is the perfect subject for developing your drawing skills and, in particular, your techniques with coloured pencils. The next time you’re on a pebble beach, look closely – you too might well find yourself transfixed, absorbed in a world of infinite colours, shapes, textures and patterns.

Pebble And Rock Study 1, mixed media, (30x30cm)

DEMONSTRATION Pebbles and Shells


  • High white Daler-Rowney Studland mountboard
  • Derwent Coloursoft pencils in the entire range of 84 colours
  • HB Derwent Graphic pencil
  • Clear acetate with 4cm squared grid
  • Eraser and battery-powered eraser
  • Scalpel with 10A blade
  • Blending pencil
  • Soft tissues
  • Winsor & Newton Artists’ Fixative

I chose the Daler-Rowney Studland mountboard because it is smooth – ideal for rendering high detail – yet has sufficient tooth to take coloured pencil effectively, as well as pastel, watercolour, ink and marker. The surface is resilient and will withstand a substantial amount of layering, blending and erasing without too much deterioration.



I selected a photograph that encapsulated a composition that I wanted, along with some additional reference photographs of sea shells and other items that I might want to include. Having cropped and masked the (20.5x30.5cm) photographic print to a square format, I placed a 4cm grid, drawn on clear acetate, between the mask and the photograph – this helped me to replicate the composition accurately on the support. My drawing was to be 25cm square, an enlargement of 125 per cent, so I drew a grid of 20 5cm squares, very lightly in blue pencil, on my support. Next, using an HB Derwent Graphic pencil, I drew the subject as accurately as possible, using some artistic licence to embellish the composition with a selection of shells. Once complete I surrounded the outline drawing with masking tape, in order to focus my attention on the working area


Firstly I carefully erased the light blue grid lines then studied the reference to establish the basic hues on each pebble and selected the relevant pencils and sharpened them ready for use. My choice included a selection of warm and cool blues and greys, mauves, ochres and russets and, from the new range, seaweed, pine, henna, cinnamon and deep powder blue. The pebbles were lightly rendered with basic foundation colours and rough blends


When using coloured pencils it is logical to work from the top of the picture down, to keep the picture clean and prevent smudging or marking finished detail. I covered the bottom two thirds with a sheet of clean layout paper secured with two pieces of tape, leaving the top third clear to work on. This also protected the surface from any greasy contamination from the skin on my hand. Working from left to right (because I am right-handed) I added the detail, pebble by pebble


Once the rendering was basically complete I added the finishing touches. With half-closed eyes I assessed which areas required some adjustment to the tones – usually strengthening and darkening – and worked on these areas until I was satisfied. I also adjusted texture, highlights and edges using a scalpel (see above). You could use a sharp modelling knife to scratch out and a battery-operated eraser to lift out colour. If a broader area requires lightening this can generally be achieved with carefully controlled use of a clean, standard pencil rubber. Finally, I gave a light spray with pencil fixative before removing the masking tape.

Pebbles and Shells, Derwent Coloursoft pencils on white Daler-Rowney Studland mountboard, (25x25cm)

Graham Brace was born in Pembrokeshire and studied graphic design at Cardiff College of Art. He worked in advertising for eight years and ran a graphic design and advertising business for over 20 years before taking up painting and drawing seriously.
Graham now works as a full-time professional artist and illustrator producing landscape and seascape paintings and a range of limited-edition prints. Private and corporate commissions take up much of his time and in recent years he has undertaken major illustration projects for conservation and heritage bodies. His work has been widely published and he has exhibited in one-man and group exhibitions throughout Pembrokeshire and other parts of the UK. Graham is a founder member of the United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society (UKCPS).

For more information about Derwent Coloursoft pencils and to find your nearest stockist please visit

Click here to read a report on Derwent Coloursoft Special Edition set by Linda Birch, taken from the June 2013 issue of Leisure Painter

This feature is taken from the June 2013 issue of The Artist

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How to Paint Nature's Bounty using Derwent Coloursoft Pencils


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  • Right! now to get my coloursoft pencils out and give it a go! thankyou, lovely pictures!

    Posted by Anne Pitts on Sun 10 Nov 15:52:09
  • Thank you for the tutorial. It helped me a lot on my drawing techniques. I mention this page with link attached on my blog. I hope you don't mind :)

    Posted by Fina Lau on Mon 10 Nov 15:08:37
  • Great job! Really original photography and telling stories through your pictures.Yes we all love art :) We would be lost without it. recommend my favorite artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frida Kahlo, Roberto Matta Gabino amaya cacho and Pablo Picasso. Thank you for your nice comment on my work too :)

    Posted by Victoria apel on Wed 20 Sep 02:34:00