Learn How to Draw Flowers in Pen, Ink, and Pastel

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How to Draw Flowers in Pen, Ink, and Color

Learn to draw flowers of all kinds, from simple daisies to complex roses, using a range of techniques. Try crisp line drawing and expressive, expressionist drawing, and learn to use colored pencil and pastel.

This guide will take you through various steps and give you helpful tips on successful flower drawing as well as resources for developing that technique.

Drawing Flowers: Where to Start

To begin with, you need a good subject or model. Drawing from life is ideal, as you can visualize the form and change the lighting and arrangement as you wish.

It's also a good idea to take a photograph as well because light changes and flowers wilt.

Choose a bloom with even color and a good, clear shape to make your job easier. For this example, I chose a tea rose with a partly open bloom, which seemed to lend itself well to line drawing

Choose the Paper

The "support" or paper you choose for can make all the difference. A heavyweight watercolor paper is ideal for ink drawing. Regular drawing paper -- preferably cotton rather than wood pulp -- may also be used.

Test a sample to see whether your chosen paper will allow the ink to 'bleed' into its fibers.

  • A pure white paper looks crisp, while a creamy tone adds warmth.
  • Softer dip-pens and fiber tips work well with textured paper and this adds interest, as in this example.
  • If using a hard-tipped drafting pen, a smoother surface will look better.

Choose Your Pen

A traditional dip pen, as used in this rose sketch, allows variation in line, which adds interest and elegance to the drawing.

Drafting pens can look rather mechanical, as they give a very definite line with no variation in weight (thickness). This look can be very effective, however, particularly if you are able to use a very smooth, continuous, confident line.

Flower Drawing Tip

If you aren't confident with a pen, try drawing a very light sketch in pencil first, then do the ink line.

You may choose to use a very even, regular line weight for a crisp, illustrative look. Alternatively, vary the weight and lift the pen for a lighter line where the petal curves away from you.

Step-By-Step Flowers in Ink Tutorials

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Sketch Flowers in Outline

Chrysanthemum sketch in pen and ink. Not to be used as clipart. This. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Flowers are the perfect subject for freehand sketching in line because of their natural, organic shapes and natural variations. 'Mistakes' don't matter very much, so you can freely explore mark-making and be creative and expressive in your approach. 

Even though your lines are casual, be sure to observe your subject carefully. Once you have it firmly in your mind, then start sketching.

Materials for Pen Sketching

When taking a more relaxed approach, a dip pen is a good choice. Its flexible tip will give the most interesting and varied line weight.

You'll want a fairly sturdy paper, preferably hot-pressed cotton. If using a wood pulp-based paper, choose a smooth, well-sized surface that won't catch in the pen.

Vary Your Line

When sketching flowers in pen and ink, try varying your line weight by using hard, medium and light pressure. Use dark, stronger lines and hatched shading in the darker areas and very light, loose lines on the brighter areas of the flower.

Keep in mind that you don't have to outline every petal. You can just suggest the tips with a curve or use short strokes to suggest the direction of the petals.

Hatching Shadows

A useful sketching technique is to hatch shadows under the petals rather than outlining every petal precisely. In this way, you create the effect of a light-toned petal against a darker background or shadow, with a soft, natural edge.

Short, stippled marks suggest the stamens at the center of the bloom.

Notice that some petals will be foreshortened - some looking longer and some shorter - when the flower is at an angle to the viewer.

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Roses in Pen and Ink: A Creative Approach

Flower sketch in ink. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

We see a lot of carefully executed rose drawings with a very tight, precise technique. But taking a more informal approach can give pleasing results.

This rose sketch is an example of using texture and line weight to create life and interest in a flower drawing. If you're used to more tightly realist drawing, try exaggerating the line weight, using both light and heavy pressure, and loose, even scribbly, marks to suggest overlapping petals and foliage.

Try drawing several roses, including buds and leaves, to create a simple, relaxed composition. Don't be obsessive about drawing every petal, but try to suggest the overall shape and flow.

Pen-and-ink is an ideal medium for this - try using a felt tip if you don't have a dip pen. Using ink prevents you from messing around trying to 'fix' mistakes - they have to be part of the design. Try keeping your lines as fresh and clean as possible.

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Expressive Sketching - Roses in Ink

H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Try sketching a loose arrangement of blooms - just laid in a heap - rather than an artificial formal arrangement.

  • Don't obsess over the outline of each petal, but rather try to suggest the overall shapes and textures.
  • Use hatching and scumbling to add detail and texture in the shadows.
  • Using a variety of flowers, some with more defined shapes such as tulips or lilies, and some with looser forms, such as David Austin roses, helps to add structure and interest.
  • Try adding variation by making one or two blooms slightly more exact and some looser and more abstract.
  • Use waterproof ink and add a colored wash across the blooms.
  • If using digital media, this can work well layered over a manipulated photograph to combine elements of realism and abstraction.
  • An informal composition like this can work well when combined with a crisp geometric element, such as a precisely drawn frame or pattern. 

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Drawing Flowers in Pastel and Coloured Pencil

pastel Chrysanthemum sketch
H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

While you can do very detailed work with pastel, it is particularly effective when used for bold, simple compositions like this one. The petals on the (artificial) subjects were very solid in color, so variations were added to create texture and interest.

I've sketched the outline of the blue flower in black and the pink one using pale pink pastel. Using colored medium to sketch lightly, rather than a graphite pencil, ensures that your drawing won't have odd gray lines. Graphite can also repel other media and it compresses the paper so it can be difficult to overwork and erase.

With the basic shape laid out, petals are built up in bold, broad areas of the main colors. Lighter and darker hues are added to create variation, texture, and form.

  • Background shading in contrasting colors adds energy, especially in the foreground, which pushes the closer bloom towards the viewer.
  • Black pastel can create a visual black hole - the centers here are too dense, so I lift off some color with a kneadable eraser and add touches of purple and dark green.

The colored paper acts as a unifying factor in the drawing, showing through here and there to pull it all together. For best results, choose a contrasting color. The gray here is a little close to the blue, but the use of bright and dark hues prevents it from looking flat.

For a step-by-step demonstration of flower drawing with colored pencil, take a look at this tutorial: Rose Drawing in Colored Pencil.