Mastering Paper by FiftyThree: Drawing Textures

If you’ve been following along you now know all my Paper techniques1 and tricks for painting basic landscapes. Trees, grass, skies, clouds, water, and waves — all the parts for building a solid landscape foundation. This next tutorial in my Mastering Paper series will cover techniques for creating textures like bricks, wood grain, concrete, and rocks.

Drawing Bricks

Bricks can be quite the monotonous subject to draw because of their repetitive shape. Getting the perspective right can also be quite challenging if you’re trying to capture a brick road or wall that isn’t perfectly flat.

I’m not going to try and explain perspective or how to set a vanishing point because it’s beyond the scope of this guide. Instead, the approach I like to take is to sketch lightly with the pencil — creating guidelines to paint around. An easy way to do this is follow along where the cement is between the bricks and sketch your lines there. A photo reference is a big help here.

Screenshot of brick guide
Depending on the orientation of the bricks you may end up with guides resembling this.

Sketching Guidelines

The color of pencil doesn’t really matter, just make it something light (a gray perhaps). A Pogo Connect stylus comes in handy allowing you can to produce lighter lines by gently applying pressure as you draw.

ProTip: Drawing Straight Lines

An iPad smart cover, piece of cardboard, or a book placed on the screen can all be used to help draw straight lines if you don’t have a ruler nearby.

With a few guidelines placed, use the color mixer to create a base for the bricks. The mixture I decided on was a brown with some red and orange thrown in. Remember to mix a color about 25% lighter than what you’d like to end up with. We’ll be applying several layers of color to the bricks — if you mix it too dark you’ll end up with bricks that are almost black and lack dimension.

Screenshot of rusty brown color
To determine if you mixed the color light enough, paint a few layers of watercolor to the side and check the results.

Laying Bricks with Watercolor

When blocking out bricks, I prefer using the watercolor brush versus the marker. Simply put, it leaves you with a jagged edge that’s closer to real life. Painting small bricks is next to impossible if you don’t use a styli like FiftyThree’s Pencil or a Pogo Connect Smart Pen. Without one of them you’re limited to one brush size — which is quite wide for this sort of detail work.

Screenshot comparing bricks
Marker bricks vs. watercolor bricks

As you paint each brick, work a row at a time, using the lines to guide you. For each row, take care to stagger bricks depending on the bonding pattern you’re going for and avoid stacking them vertically — doing so will look unnatural.

Screenshot of brick placement painted with the brush
Example of a Stretcher bond. Notice how each successive brick is staggered?

Once all the bricks have been laid, err painted — apply a second coat of watercolor to each. Painting fast and messy will add texture and a more natural look to the bricks.

Screenshot of additional brick layers
Layers of watercolor don't need to be exact. Apply until you reach a color to your liking.

Cement Lines

When coloring the cement between the bricks I usually handle it in three different ways.

  1. Don’t do anything and leave it blank so the background color shows through.
  2. Mix a light gray and paint with the brush over all of the bricks, covering the spaces between them.
  3. Mix a light gray and use the marker tool to cover the bricks and spaces between them. Unlike the watercolor brush, a gray marker won’t mess with the brick color — unless it’s really dark.
Screenshot of cement styles
Blank cement vs. cement and brick painted with gray

At this point you could call it a day and consider the bricks finished. If you want to add some additional detail here are a few areas to focus on.

ProTip: Uniformity is the Enemy

Varying brick color is a nice way to add visual interest and break up the space. Painting random bricks with a red or orange mix usually produces favorable results.

Adding Detail to the Bricks

Add shadows to each of the bricks. Using a darker mix of the rusty brown from before (or a dark gray), paint shadow shapes on the bricks. You don’t want to cover the entire brick, just one of the corners depending on where the light is positioned in the scene.

Screenshot of adding shadows to bricks

Using this same color (possibly with more black mixed in), a stroke of pencil below each brick is used to add small shadows. It can also be used to draw in cracks or add texture to the bricks.

Screenshot of adding cracks to bricks

I use the same technique but with a light orange color to draw in brick highlights and accentuate the cracks.

Screenshot of brick highlight color Screenshot of adding brick highlights
Drawing subtle highlights on each brick using a light orange color.

To finish off the bricks I’ll use a mixture of gray to further refine the spaces between the bricks and correct any shapes I don’t like. This step is completely optional and really depends on how crisp you want your edges to look.

Screenshot of refining brick edges with gray
Refine brick edges using the pencil tool and a color that matches the cement.

Drawing Wood Grain

Wood color varies quite a bit so I’m going to focus more on the process and less on the color. The basic idea is to lay down a medium base coat and then work lighter colors on top of it.

Selecting a Base Color

Determine what the mid-tone color of the wood is. Using the following photograph of wood as a reference, we can determine that it’s somewhere around a medium brown.

Wood reference photograph Screenshot of medium brown color mix
Mix your mid-tone color to match the photo, then reduce the brightness about 10%, and increase the saturation a bit.

This becomes the base color and will be used to paint the wood’s shape with watercolor. For this first coat of watercolor, paint slowly to create an even and continuous tone. The idea with this base is to set the overall tone of the wood. We don’t want to go too dark or too light because we’ll be applying shadows and highlights and need enough contrast for the grain effect to work.

Screenshot of wood base layer
After a few more applications of watercolor you should have something that looks like this, matching the reference photo.

Penciling in Grain Texture

Now begins the fun of penciling in wood grain textures. Start by selecting the medium brown from before and mixing it about 10% darker. Depending on the temperature of the wood’s color it might be better to mix in a dark red to warm it, or a bluish green to cool it. Color is fairly subjective so you might have to play with the hue if the color shifts out of harmony from the base.

Using the pencil tool, begin sketching in fuzzy lines to represent wood grain. If you look back at our photo reference the grains go up and down — that’s the direction to follow.

Screenshot of wood grain strokes
Keep the strokes loose and light to create a fuzzy and incomplete line. It helps to enhance the wood grain effect.

Without changing the color switch to the brush and splash in the wood’s darker spots. You may have to lighten the color some if it goes black too fast. Ideally you’ll build up the dark with several layers versus just to create richer tones.

ProTip: More Layers = Smoother Gradients

Don’t try and take the fast way out by painting with darker tones. Start light and build them up with multiple glazes. The results always look better and more natural.

Screenshot of adding darkness to the wood

Adding Details

Black or an appropriate dark color can be used to draw in deeper cracks using the same fuzzy line technique from before. If wood knots exist, use this color to create oval shapes and fill them. If you keep these pencil strokes loose and sketchy they’ll match the other textures and unite visually.

Screenshot of wood cracks
Using the pencil tool and a dark color like black, draw in deeper cracks and knots in the wood.

For a final pass, mix a lighter variation of our base color. With this color and the pencil tool selected, sketch in a few highlights to add subtle texture to the wood. Keeping these strokes loose and fuzzy will help avoid over-powering the wood grain lines we drew earlier.

Screenshot of wood highlight colorScreenshot of wood highlights
Enhancing the wood grain effect by adding highlights using fuzzy pencil strokes.

Drawing Asphalt, Gravel, and Rocks

When drawing sidewalks, roads, or any sort of rocky terrain I adapt the following process to fit most situations.

  1. Decide on a base color for the rocks.
  2. Paint several layers on top of each other using this base color and the paint brush tool.
  3. Mix up a darker variant of the base color.
  4. Sketch in random pencil strokes to add texture.

Painting a Base

Here’s how it boils down in visual form. First mix up a base color to paint with. For the purpose of this guide let’s go with a gray blue.

Screenshot of asphalt base color mix

Using the watercolor brush, paint a slow and even base layer. Keep adding layers until you’re happy with the color. You want it to make up the mid tone of your gravel, rocks, asphalt, or pebbles, so don’t go too dark or light because we want an adequate contrast between the shadows and highlights we’ll be adding next.

Screenshot of asphalt base

Applying Texture

Going back to the color mixer, add in black or darken it with the sliders. You’re looking to reproduce a dark variation of the base we just painted. Next select the pencil tool, zoom in, and begin sketching specks of dirt and cracks. Keep these strokes loose and fairly random by moving around quickly — the fuzzier the better.

Screenshot of adding dirt and shadow

ProTip: Bluetooth Styli to the Rescue

Hate to sound like a broken record, but using FiftyThree’s Pencil or a Pogo Connect Smart Pen really does make using the pencil tool better. Building up tones becomes gradual and efficient by giving you more control over a stroke by varying the direction or amount of pressure applied.

Using the exact same technique, mix a lighter color of the base and speckle in dirt and asphalt highlights.

Screenshot of adding dirt highlights

Painting Large Rocks

When drawing pebbles and large rocks, use the watercolor brush to create oval shapes instead. Don’t linger in a spot too long, the goal is to keep these shapes irregular and loose.

Screenshot of pebble shapesScreenshot of pebble shapes with color variations
For more variation feel free to vary the color of the rocks by adding red or blue to the mix.

Using the pencil tool, draw in shadow lines along the bottom of each rock paying attention to where light is positioned. If the light is on the left, apply a shadow line to the bottom and right edges. If the light is coming from the right, add your shadows to the left. A reference photo will help you accurately determine their placement.

Screenshot of rock shadows in pencil

Harmonizing the Rocks

To harmonize the rock’s color I’ll apply a layer or two of light gray (or variation of the base) over them all. This helps tie the shadow, highlight, and base colors together by tinting them.

Screenshot of harmonizing color

Depending on the color of this harmonizing layer, the highlights and shadows from before may have flattened out. To counter this, feel free to freshen them up using the pencil tool and color mixes from before.

Variations on a Theme

Using all of these techniques I was able to create a variety of backdrops for the portraits in my PaperFaces Project. Below are a few finished pieces to show what is possible just by varying the color and composition.

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Watch for the Next Tutorial

In the next part I’ll share all of my skin tone cheat sheets that serve as a starting point for my PaperFaces portraits. Learn how I use shape, color, and the watercolor brush to enhance the realism of a portrait with little effort.

  1. I like to draw loose and quick, and avoid anything that takes the fun and energy from the experience. My techniques focus more on getting the best results in the least amount of time, because who really wants to spend more than an hour on a drawing?



Superb tutorial once again, I shall have some fun trying these out over the next few days, thanx, the wood grain looks amazing!!

Benjamin Thwaite

Benjamin Thwaite

I just found your site a few days ago, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading all your tips on how to master Paper and I’m having a lot of fun! These are awesome tips and I hope to become a better artist, thank you for sharing your knowledge!

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