Draw Christmas Holly With Watercolor Pencils

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How to Draw Holly with Watercolour Pencil

How to Draw Holly with Watercolour Pencil
(c) H South, licensed to About.com

Learn how to draw Holly for your Christmas greeting cards and decorations. Many tutorials show you how to draw a cartoon style Holly branch, but in this tutorial, we're going to use a natural look with soluble colored - watercolor pencil.

Begin by sketching the main outlines lightly. I've shown the lines quite heavily here so that they will display on the screen, but in a 'real' sketch I'd be drawing so lightly that you can barely see them. Use a very light touch, and dab with a kneadable eraser to remove excess graphite. Watercolor pencils do erase more easily than the standard waxy pencils, so you could use those directly for sketching, and so avoid having any gray graphite in your drawing if you wish. But do test them on a scrap piece first, as you'll want to be able to correct mistakes.

The great thing about sketching a plant is that there is a lot of room for error. Don't worry about making mistakes as the leaves curl into all kinds of shapes. Do try to get the Holly berries nice and smoothly rounded. If you do want to trace or use a grid, you'll find a large sized source image at the end of this tutorial, plus some links to other references.

Tip: If you are drawing a greeting card, make sure you have space on the left or top for the back of the card; it can help to draw a line where the fold will go so that you know how much space to use. Thick watercolor paper works well. Image Credit: This source image came from a creative commons collection that I've been unable to locate again, so I am presently unable to credit the photographer.

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Sketching the Holly in Watercolor Pencil

holly drawing
(c) H South, licensed to About.com, Inc

Next do some fairly solid shading with a light green over most of the holly leaves, reserving (leaving blank) the shiny highlight areas. How careful your shading depends on the effect you want. Take your time if you want a very smooth surface, or go for a more relaxed sketchy feel.

Then you add water! I like to use a good quality Taklon (synthetic) brush, round (with a point). In the Robert Wade brand that I prefer, a number 8 or 9 works well as a general-purpose choice. So a nice fat brush that still gives you a good point. Load it with water and tap off the excess on the side of your glass, then just brush over the shaded areas. Notice how I've moved some color from the shaded areas across lighter parts of the leaves where I've done less shading. If you work lightly and quickly you'll preserve more of the pencil texture, while using a firmer brush stroke and working the water around a little bit will completely dissolve the pencil.

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Adding Dark Green

Adding Dark Green to the Drawing
H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Wait until the light green is dry - you can use a hairdryer to speed this up - then add the darker green. Use touches of darker green and dark gray or brown in the more shadowy areas. If you're feeling adventurous, you can use touches of blue or purple to add interest to the shadows. Again, you can use a sketching or more careful shading technique depending on your aim. Remember that the more pencil you put down the darker the color will be, so you don't want to be too sketchy or your drawing will look wishy-washy. I've used a very informal mark-making approach here.

Note that the light changes on a shiny surface, so you'll sometimes want quite crisp, smooth edges to an area of color.

This layer of color will be a little more controlled than the lighter green underneath, so take care when loading your brush. Think about the areas of light and dark, and be careful to avoid the red berries. Work through the mid-toned areas first then into the shadows so that your darker hues don't dull the whole leaf.

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Painting the Holly Berries

H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Next, we'll paint the Holly berries. Make sure you pay attention to the highlights and don't paint over these, leave them white. These are fairly simple with plenty of red, and a bit of black in the shadows. If you're a purist and prefer to avoid black, go with a very dark green or blue in the shadows. (Do a test run first to check that you're happy with the result).

Be careful not to overload the brush with water when painting the berries, as they are small and you don't want the color to bleed over the page. Blot the brush a little first. Again, work around the lighter areas first then blend towards the shadows.

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The Finished Holly Sketch

The completed sketch. This image is copyright of H South and About.com, not to be reproduced on other websites. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc

Once your previous layers have dried, you can go back over to add color if you wish. If you've used a well-sized paper, you can also lift color if need be, by wetting the area and dabbing with blotting paper. This won't work on lightly sized paper, though, which absorbs the pigment quickly.

It's fun to scan a hand-painted piece and use digital media to experiment with backgrounds. Add your own fonts and holiday greetings to create a unique Christmas card or decorative piece.

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Christmas Holly Reference Image

Christmas Holly Reference Image
Creative Commons

Here's the full sized photograph to use as a reference image. You can also find excellent reference sources by doing an advanced search on Flickr for creative commons licensed images, as well as on Wikimedia Commons. Of course, a lot of the art happens in the camera lens so it's always best to take your own reference photos if you can obtain some real or good quality imitation holly.

Here are some examples of Holly reference photos:

Winter Holly Berries Photo
Holly Leaves
Delicate Winter Holly Holly Images on Wikimedia Commons