Learn How to Draw a Rose in Colored Pencil

a single red rose
T Holmes, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Roses are a popular subject for artists and they're very fun to draw. The delicate shape of the petals, subtle differences in color and shade, and it's simple sophistication make it a perfect subject. 

In this lesson, we'll walk through the steps needed to draw a rose using colored pencil. The tutorial is easy to follow and it all begins with the right materials and a beautiful flower.

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A Red Rose Is the Perfect Subject

The Materials You Need

A good set of colored pencils will help you achieve the various tones of a rose. The standard set of 24 Prismacolor Premier colored pencils is a good choice for beginners, though you can use the pencils of your choice.

An eraser and pencil sharpener should be on hand as well. You might also find it useful to have a colorless blender pencil. This helps smooth your shading and can add to the soft look of the rose petals.

For the paper, choose one with a bright white base for the most dramatic effect. A smooth texture will also help, so consider something like a white Stonehenge paper or a good Bristol board.

Choose Your Flower for Reference

A good subject is important. If you have a rose garden, can sit in a public garden, or want to buy a fresh rose, then do try to draw from life. Your work will have much more internal "life" and a more convincing three-dimensional look.

If you want to draw from a photograph, ensure it is a public domain image that you can legitimately use.

The photograph used in the example is by Tiffany Holmes at Stock Exchange. It was chosen because it's a nice open bloom and is still crisp but not too tight. The photo itself is quite clear and the simple angled composition is very pleasant.

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Create a Grayscale Rose Value Reference

greyscale or sepia helps you to see value
T. Holmes, licensed to About.com, Inc.

It can be a challenge to see values in a strongly colored subject like a rose. To give you a better idea of the subject's tonal mapping, you can desaturate a photograph in a paint program. This eliminates the color and allows you to see it in grayscale, which is, essentially, all that tones are.

At the same time, you can also heighten the contrast and brightness to help you see how the light falls on the flower. For a warm, neutral look, a sepia filter can be added.

Consider creating several versions of the photo and use all of them as a reference while drawing. The original will give you ideas for color and shading, the grayscale is good for tone, and adjusting brightness and contrast can help with lighting. All of this is used to help form a three-dimensional mental picture from which to draw.

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Draw the Outline of the Rose

H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The first step is to draw the outline of the rose petals. Think about your composition and make sure that you have enough space for the stem and the full bloom on your paper.

Also, consider if you'll be framing the drawing in the future. If so, leave a border to allow for the mat.

Freehand Sketching

Drawing the rose freehand gives you more a relaxed and energetic drawing. You should try to allow for imperfections and not become frustrated by any lack of accuracy later in the process.

When freehand drawing, you might find it best to work from the inside-out while keeping the interior detail fairly minimal until you have loosely sketched the entire bloom and stem. This allows you to adjust proportions if need be.

If working from a photograph and if accuracy is important to you, you can go ahead and trace some guidelines if you wish.

Draw with a Light Touch

Work very lightly at first and be aware of highlights. The edges of the rose petals are light, so you don't want them outlined in dark pencil.

Use the red colored pencil to very lightly sketch the main shapes, working from the inside out. 

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Shading the Rose's Base Color

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With the outline complete, you can begin layering color into your rose.

Start with a foundation that will allow you to blend light and dark tones later. Your rose may be a little different, but the example base color is done with a rich, slightly cool red (Prismacolor PC924 Crimson Red).

Start with Light Shades

Many of these shaded areas are going to be darker, but it's best to begin by laying down a fairly even and light layer of color. This will stop the paper fibers from grabbing the pigment, which makes it hard to blend.

For the same reason, it's a good idea to shade some areas with a colorless blender pencil (like Prismacolor PC1077). Add this foundation where the lightest colors will be on the petals.

While shading, aim for a fairly smooth surface. One way to achieve this is to use more of a circular motion with the pencil. If you are using strong directional shading, think about the contours of the shape you're working on. Use the direction of the marks to suggest this as you layer the color.

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Shading the Rose's Undertones

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The surface of an object is rarely a completely solid color, even if the actual surface is painted a single color. Shadows and direct, indirect, and reflected light all create variations on a surface.

In this rose, you can see a blue-violet undertone in many areas, so this is shaded in before adding another layer of red. For this, Prismacolor PC932 Violet is a good choice. 

You have a lot of room for error in this kind of layering, so don't be afraid to experiment. Try different colors and ways of applying layers to get interesting effects.

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Shading the Dark Areas and Shadows

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The rose is starting to take shape. Now we need to build up some of the darker tones.

With a limited selection of colors, you'll need to layer dark pencils rather than just choosing a deep red. Green might be a good option, but if you want the shadows in the rose petals to be very dark, black is a better choice.

Looking at the reference photo, you can see dark veins in the petals, so try to follow these as you draw. Be very careful to preserve the lights at this stage because it's easier to add than subtract from a drawing.

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Building Layers of Color

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More colors are layered onto the rose drawing and you can use a combination of reds to do this. For example, PC924 Crimson Red is the main color and a little PC922 Poppy Red is used towards the edges.

Small circular strokes pick up the layers underneath and the surface quickly becomes solid and almost burnished. It's surprising how quickly you can build colors using this method.

Using other colors of red, orange, or any other color—depending on the effect you're after—helps to keep the eye from becoming tired. It makes the colors look as rich as possible, which is what's great about working with colored pencils.

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Adding More Undertones

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There are some very deep, dark areas on this rose, so layers are continually built up.

To add variation and coolness, a bit of Violet Blue PC933 and Indigo Blue PC901 are used in the outer petals. Shade lightly at first and work over the area in one pencil then the other, overlapping as you go.

Some directional shading is used as well. This suggests the curve and texture of the petals.

Notice that the edges of the petals are barely outlined. By bringing the shadows up to them, the "outline" will be formed by the contrast between the lighter petal and the dark shadow.

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Adding the Final Layers of Color

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The process of layering is continued on each petal. Begin layering the dark tones with red in the shadows. Then, bring the red forward to the tips of the petals using various red pencils.

Using the red pencils with a colorless blender on the edges of the petals keeps them bright and luminous. Where they are too dull, a little pink or white can be used. However, minimize the use of white as it can look dull at times. You can also use an eraser to remove a little color and add white for better contrast.

It seems like a lot of drawing has happened at this stage. In reality, it's just a continuation of the process as you work your way around the petals. Continue referring to your reference source to check where lights and darks need to be and refine the details as you see fit.

Burnish If You Like

You can also continue layering, working heavily on the drawing to create a burnished surface. Burnishing means that you've layered until no more pencil ​can be added. This creates a rich, jewel-like surface.

Burnishing does not work well on some soft papers. You may need to stop short of a completely burnished surface.

Draw the Stem and Leaves

Once the bloom is complete, you're ready to add the stem and leaves. In the example, a foundation layer is drawn lightly using PC946 Dark Brown and PC909 Dark Green.

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The Finished Rose Drawing

rose drawing in colored pencil
H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

To finish the rose drawing, you simply need to complete the leaves and add some shadows.

Finish the Leaves and Stem

Use the same approach of layering undertones as you did on the petals. Add lights and then more base color, but consider keeping the leaves and stem a little lighter than the bloom. This will make sure that the beautiful flower remains the focus of the drawing.

To finish these parts, a combination of PC946 Dark Brown, PC912 Apple Green, PC1034 Goldenrod, and PC908 Dark Green were used in the example.

Add Your Main Shadow

A shadow helps place the object on a surface so it doesn't look like it's floating in space.

Keep your shading horizontal so the surface looks flat and not sloped. Adding a layer of colorless blender first helps keep the shading smooth on a toothy paper. Black is then used to lightly shade in the shadow and an eraser can be used to soften the graduation.