View Full Version : Need Help drawing rocks

06-05-2005, 11:21 AM
I am having a very difficult time drawing what looks like it should be so easy- these are red rocks in Sedona, Arizona- I just can't get the layers, cracks, black areas, etc. to look right. I end up with a pretty horrible mess and have tried to draw similar rocks over and over. The only 'luck' I have had is when my teacher totally changed them to the point where they just looked like large rocks and you could not tell anything about the 'real thing'. Here is the picture I am trying to use (I am sorry the thumbnail turned out all blue, but if you click on it it seems ok).

06-05-2005, 11:46 AM

I don't know if you've seen my Sedonna painting, but it came out pretty bad.
I had the same problem. What I can tell you is that the use of purples/violets helped alot. At least made it less dull.
On technical issues I cannot help.
Let me see if I can find the link for the thread of my painting to see if someone gave advises than can be helpfull for you.



06-05-2005, 11:49 AM
thank you very much Jose- mine is so bad I would hate for my dog to see it!
Well, yours turned out much better than mine- I would be happy with it! The yellow helps make the rocks look more curved too. Will try again on larger paper - and will try the violets too!

06-05-2005, 01:09 PM
Have you tried going at it the other way around? Instead of drawing the cracks and crevices into the rocks, can you start with a dark shape and then draw in the lights on top? Just a thought.

06-05-2005, 01:27 PM
It is very difficult to get these formations to look "real"- and for good reason: We're attracted to them in the first place because they look so unreal!! So keep that in mind when you think about trying to incorporate 'em into a piece.

I've found that oh-so-perfect-for-photography light (really quite flat) makes it even more difficult; these kinds of formations are easier to capture if they're lit by no-nonsense directional lighting. So keep your eyes open for another pic of 'em but with better lighting.

Now, that said, I can show you whar I managed doing the same kind of rocks (kinda) from The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. I avoided black, went to maroons and dark browns for shadows, and made sure the lit parts of the rocks had s kim of coral over them to give me proper volume. If your photo is big enough, you might want to crop in and grab just an edge of one, with some sky and greenery, and practice the colours first in a more abstract manner so you aren't so worried about making it look like THAT rock. Once you've got a handle on your colours, you'll be able to get an accurate rendition of THAT formation without worrying colours.



06-05-2005, 01:31 PM
Linda has the right idea, I think! First thing to do away with is BLACK...photos show shadows as flat black, but they're not if you really look at them...there's STUFF in those shadows and lots of reflectivity goin' on. I'd lay down a mid to dark shade for the cracks, etc. but put it all over the rock area then go back with your lights, starting with the darkest light and working toward the lightest, THEN look at those cracks and crevices again and darken where you must with COLOR...violets, dark dark blues, etc. For some reason these kinds of rocks are a lot like putting the creases on an old lady's face...if you draw them on at the last they look like they've been drawn on at the last and not convincing at all.

I know you like earth colors a LOT, but try to treat them as oranges and yellows in your mind's eye and use the complementary colors for the shadows...all that being said, however, since those rocks are distant...you'll need to make sure they're toned down a notch at the end....maybe with a delicate grey/blue scumble...just barely whispered on there....but you can worry about that later.

Geez, hope I didn't confuselate ya too much! :D

06-05-2005, 02:02 PM
Thank you all- I think the biggest problem I have is trying to make them mostly the same shade of reddish brown. My second biggest problem is that I spent years drawing the stratigraphy of rocks- just the formations and especially the faults and the offsets of those so I keep trying to put in the horizontal layers in minute detail, then there are the vertical cracks, the erosion spots near the bottom, etc. I can't see many light areas, but my big problem is that I am trying to draw them as we did in oil companies and with geological software- with all of the formations distinct so any other geologist could tell exactly what formation you were drawing if they knew the area. So I can't see the forest for the trees so to speak! I love the garden of the gods picture, have been there and you really captured the spirit of the place. I think that is where my big transition is- from capturing accurate geology to capturing the spirit of the place. I am also guilty of using black for the shadows, and need to fill in the lighter and darker errors, and you are correct that I am going about it backwards- doing the cracks first!
thanks a bunch,

06-05-2005, 02:10 PM
Best bet would be to getcha some paper, and practice doing a clump of rocks different ways...everybody comes up with a little bit different method that works for them. Play around with some of the ideas in here, then try some of your own. You'll work it out best by fiddling with it hands-on and I'll bet you're not doing nearly as bad as you think!

06-05-2005, 03:21 PM
I am giving it another shot on big paper- it is looking much better this time- I like SweetBabyJ's vivid blue sky- think I will darken mine.

06-05-2005, 03:57 PM
Ok, here is a 2nd attempt at these red rocks- perhaps I should stick to fruit :D

06-05-2005, 04:43 PM
Now see? That wasn't so hard, was it???? This isn't bad at all! Believe me, I've seen LOTS worse!

I like the foreground...looks realistic enough but doesn't conflict with the rocks. Glad the rocks don't have nasty black slashes, too! I think all you need now is to find three values of that earthy red...the lightest you've got, a middle tone of same color, and a darker one...use those to add some more striations as you see them in the photo...they won't cause problems if it's the same HUE, just different values of it and then that yellowy white line...or was it two? The shadows look good, but could be deepened here and there...NOT the whole shadow, but the tucked back in part where it would be darkest. Float those clouds and you got it! (float 'em by softening up the edges and don't forget clouds have shadows too, altho a lot more subtle).

Overall, this is a good ptg. Just a few tweaks and you'll be really crazy about it!

06-05-2005, 04:51 PM
Well I sure wish you would come over and tweek it for me! But I need to get cleaned up since I wipe all the pastels off on my jeans to clean them- my husband said this was a new record- and we have a pig! Anyway, I will tweek away a bit later... still need to track down one of the kids...

06-05-2005, 04:56 PM
Hi again,

There's this oil painter called Brad Marshall. I really like his work. On it you can find some rocks painting. Why don't you take a peek ? Or even email him asking ? I suppose that oils colours can sometimes be applied to pastels or give you an idea.
Don't be shy, go and ask !


06-05-2005, 05:04 PM
Those are good reference paintings to study! Good link, Jose!

06-05-2005, 07:12 PM
Jose- I really loved the bradmarshall link- in particular, his pictures of the grand canyon, (my first victims of trying to do rocks were grand canyon ones). But he gets the stratigraphic sequence, faults, everything just right. It is there, but he does not get all hung up on them. I love the light on his picture too- the grand canyon pics I have tried to draw were pretty much the same color (like the sedona ones), but he brings them to life.

Ok Sooz, I will work on those shades, shadows, and making the clouds float instead of looking like cement.

And thank you to everyone else- I am re-reading it all and will try to soak up all the suggestions!

Jose- have written to Brad- hope he does not recommend that I work at McDonalds!

Deborah Secor
06-06-2005, 01:35 AM
Let me share a couple of thoughts with you. First off, think of painting rocks (not drawing--subtle difference!) as capturing three values: the light, medium and dark areas. Find the light areas where the sun hits hardest, the dark areas of shade AND the half-light sides, where the sun sorta slides down but isn't shade or sunlight--the middle values.

The most color usually resides in the middle values, since the light bleaches out color and the shadows dim it. But remember that the rock is the same color in the sun, shade or half-light areas, only the VALUE (lightness or darkness) of it changes. So this means that your light sandstone is pale peachy-orange, your shady sandstone is dark rusty-orange, and your half-light side of the sandstone is medium orangey-peach. Notice that orange is in all the values...

Instead of beginning with ANY details, start with large shapes. Squint like crazy to see the rock shapes, the values (light-medium-dark) and the colors. Think BIG--not small.

I'm gonna share a little painting I did just to see if it explains a bit better than my words... This is no great painting, but maybe it will show you what I mean.
I used pink and peach on the light side, orange and magenta in the big half-light slope, and dark purples over the rusts in the deepest shadows... I know it isn't the exacting look you want to achieve, but maybe if you start like this, and then allow yourself to add some of the details, you'll end up happier. (By the way, this was a very small painting, about 7x7", give or take...)

My little painting looks quite primitive compared to Marshall's work. But ya gotta start somewhere--right? :wink2: Also remember he's painting in oils. Pastels take a little different approach, although they relate. Go look at Brad Faegre (http://www.faegrefineart.com/)



Hope this helps--and I hope you get more of what you really want from Brad Marshall!


06-06-2005, 09:27 AM
Deborah- I love your picture- thanks so much for you and Jose sharing your work. Marshall's is really wonderful too. And Linda, I WAS going about it backwards- drawing in the horizontal lines, faults, etc. first, then filling in. You guys also have clouds that 'float'. I feel like I have such a long way to go, but I sure have enough pastels to get there!! I think SweetBabyJ had a good idea too- I had full sunlight on all the rocks- if there were shadows and brighter areas would look much better- I will just have to go back to Sedona and work on it- we made a flying pass by there a few years ago, not knowing how beautiful it was.

06-06-2005, 11:59 AM
Deborah- your picture is certainly a great start- I wiped the rocks clean except the terra cotta color, and also realized while squinting like mad at the original picture (which my printer had faded) that there are indeed some lights and a lot of darks- so if the kids give me a break (summer vacation uug), I will give another shot. Then will go over them with the horizontal layers and the cracks (which in my original picture were greatly exaggerated- almost left out entirely in the one I posted) I can't imagine drawing PEOPLE if I am having this much trouble with rocks!

06-06-2005, 12:18 PM
Hey, rocks are just as individual as people and just as hard to master sometimes! You do have a little more leeway in that if you put the nose on a human wrong it's gonna REALLY show up, but everything's a challenge til you learn how to do it.

Deb's got a wonderful way of teaching these things, so you're in the right place! Thanks, Deb!!

06-06-2005, 01:31 PM
I emailed Brad Marshall, as Jose recommended, and he quickly replied with this info:

If you enjoy art, then you should do it. You will only improve the more you do. Think of someone learning a musical instrument. If the cannot play a Bach fugue when they start, it doesn't mean they should give up.
As for your work. Yes it is rough, you need to study. I would recommend two things. First there are several excellent art technique books that would be of great help. (I often refer to the ones I have). Two that I would recommend are "Alla Prima" by Richard Schmid, I can't praise this book highly enough. Another is "Painting with Light and Color" by Kevin Macpherson, a wonderful modern plein air artist.
I would also say you need to go to some workshops or classes. If there isn't a convenient art school near you, there are probably some good weekend landscape workshops you can attend.
I have found that painting on location is essential to landscape work. That is not to say you can't use photos as reference. But you must have real observations you can rely on.
There are some basic fundamentals when it comes to art. Learn those and the rest builds on it. It's very important at this stage to think of your work as learning exercises and not worry about the finished results. It's the process not the outcome that matters. You may think I am an accomplished artist, but I still approach sketching and quick studies like this.
As I said if this is what you enjoy, keep going. The joy is in the doing.
Brad Marshall
You can see my work at:

06-06-2005, 02:03 PM
Wow! What a nice response!!! See? He agrees with moi! :D

06-06-2005, 08:13 PM
Hi again,

maybe you know these and maybe you don't.
I think that I want to paint that one with the baloon or the one with the couple.




06-06-2005, 09:43 PM
Great photos Jose! I like the baloon one, and the 7 pools one the best.

06-09-2005, 11:04 AM
Hi- I did another couple of mountain pictures that were pretty horrible- this one turned out better. Since it was from a magazine, I changed some stuff but it would violate the copyright to use it for anything other than study- so I used paper for the background.

06-09-2005, 12:06 PM

I see improvement over the last one.
Am I noticing some lack of patience here ?
I seems that you want to hurry up your painting. Am I right or wrong ?
I just got this idea : try looking the net for palletes used by artists. Maybe you find a painting that suits you and the colours used. Even if it's oil painting. My still life silver pitcher was done reading from the magazine what colours the artist used, since I didn't have a clue on how to paint silver.



06-09-2005, 01:53 PM
Well, I practed on 2 other mountain paintings that I took all day with and they ended up being horrible. This one was copied from the front page of a magazine, and was done much quicker, but I thought it turned out much nicer than the others had. I hold up the pastel to the page and try like mad to match the color used in the original.... of course, I have a long way to go, and I think I have a book that tells you a palette to use for a particular picture, so perhaps I will try that! Thanks very much for your comments Jose!

06-09-2005, 06:20 PM
That one shows a LOT of improvement! The formation actually has shape this time and the shadows are cool, not just dark. Very good! Maybe you just need to paint more and worry less?

06-09-2005, 06:24 PM
As for choosing a palette...a trick I've used from time to time is to open a picture you like in Photoshop (or similar program) and use the eye dropper to isolate the various colors used throughout the picture, then draw a swatch of that color as a sort of "key". When you've sampled enough places you'll wind up with a fairly accurate palette of colors which you can then match to your pastels. Easy and surprising sometimes, too! Often the colors you THINK you see just aren't there at all and other ones you'd have never guessed are.

Deborah Secor
06-09-2005, 06:35 PM
Hi purples! I agree, this one is improving. It seems you're 'seeing' the massing and values better!

I wrote an article about how to paint mountains for The Pastel Journal a while back. I hope you don't mind if I plunk a bit of it in here for you to think about. I'm sure there's a few things that apply, and some that don't.

Mountains can pose some unique challenges to the artist. Doing a complete study so that you come to better understand the unique aspects of these massive ranges allows you to resolve such issues as scale, form, value, and details. This can be done as a separate sketch or as an underdrawing.

Of all concerns, the issue of scale is often the toughest one to sort out. The inexperienced artist sometimes decides that in order to show the massive mountains, she should try to fill the entire picture plane with nothing else. Mountains crowd the scene, with very little sky or foreground, but become oddly dwarfed by the context, or the lack of context, of the painting. Instead of massive crags these appear to be mere hills. This is in part because surrounding elements serve to show the grandeur of the peaks. In a framework of sky and foreground, relative scale becomes apparent. Without elements to compare to the mountains, the viewer has no grasp of their size and will often assume they are far smaller. By including clouds above or trees and grass in front, or both of these, the viewer has a comparison by which to grasp the scale.

Due to the effects of aerial perspective certain elements begin to change as the mountains recede. First and most noticeable is that everything becomes cooler in color and lighter in value. The intensity of warm colors fades. Slowly detail is lost, edges soften and the contrast in value diminishes.

In his book Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, written in 1929, respected art instructor John Carlson explains that as one looks sideways through the progressively thickening atmosphere it is as if there were curtains of air hanging at regular intervals, like veils through which you see. Another way to picture this is to think of one square mile blocks of slightly bluish air stacked sideways and upwards, filling the distance. The farther away an object is, the more blocks you must look through and therefore the paler and bluer things become, until the most distant range of giant mountains is reduced to a mere line that is nearly sky blue. Leonardo da Vinci, the consummate eyewitness of physical effects, noted this bluing of objects with increased distance. In the 1500s he observed that if an object “is to be five times as distant, make it five times bluer.” His advice still applies today.

The only exception to this visual rule is white. In the distance white becomes slightly dull and warm, a pale pink or yellow. Distant snow is not the same bright white as that in the foreground. Clouds atop the far peaks are somewhat yellowed by distance, enhanced by pollution. The values of all the colors become paler in the distance. For instance, although you know that the mountains in the distance are made of the same rock, with the same trees, bushes and meadow grasses as those closer to you, the values appear to be muted and grayer. Test this by squinting your eyes so that the distracting color fades away.

When painting mountains, carefully select the proper value for the entire mass to begin with and then delineate the slight differences in value seen in each range, adhering closely to the original value mass unless there is a great jump in distance.

It is very easy to fall into a little trap when painting mountains. The general value of mountains is medium-dark, which means they are not as light as the sky or as dark as the trees, and are slightly darker than the medium-light of the ground. However, as you paint downwards from the sky, you usually encounter the mountains next, and have no basis to compare values. This means that until you establish the value over the entire piece you cannot adequately decide the correct value of the mountains. They almost always seem to be too dark at first, but are easily lightened in pastels. While we generally assign mountains a medium-dark value, that usually refers to the tree-covered lower slopes. In fact, the rocky faces of the high mountains of the west are often a medium value due to the color of the exposed rock, sheer cliff faces and the lack of trees.

Okay--that's enough, though I wrote a lot more. :rolleyes: Hope it helps some. I'd remind you to think of scale--make the range less than one-third of the painting, so that you can show the relationship to trees and sky. And I suggest you go look at mountains, if you have any nearby! I just spent the day painting on location and the distant mountains were a good part of what I saw. It really helps to see with your eyes when you can.

Keep painting mountains! It's the best way to learn!! Have fun.


06-11-2005, 09:56 AM
Jose, Sooz, Deborah- thank you very much- I was not taking pastel journal at that time- but I am going to print it out and make reference to it a lot- have not tried the photoshop thing sooz...
take care,

06-12-2005, 01:58 PM
Hi ! New to forums here. just wondering what type of materials were used to make ic one and two respectively? pencils,sticks?

06-12-2005, 03:18 PM
I used Great Americans for the first, and Mt. Vision pastels on the second- both soft pastels.

06-12-2005, 06:40 PM
Nice work.

06-13-2005, 12:07 AM
Um, are you sure you weren't looking at the other pictues people posted to help me?