OCAD Studio: Limited Palette Portrait in Oils Part 1

Sketching in the Underdrawing





    • Small canvas or a panel prepared with a mid grey/brown value.
    • 2-3 flat brushes (¼-1 inch wide)
    • 2 small pointed brushes
    • Piece of soft charcoal


  • Titanium White Oil Paint
  • Cadmium Red Oil Paint
  • Yellow Ochre Oil Paint
  • Ivory Black Oil Paint


  • Palette
  • Easel
  • Thinner (I recommend odourless mineral spirits (OMS))
  • Linseed Oil
  • Painting rag or kitchen paper towel for wiping back and cleaning



  1. Working from life or from a reference, begin lightly sketching in the main shapes lightly with charcoal. As always, begin with the largest proportions before refining the lines and shapes. Try to use primarily straight lines as these are easy to correct and look confident. Don’t draw too heavily with the charcoal as this will darken your paint when you work over the top of the underdrawing.
  2. It’s best to take measurements with your eye rather than with a tool, but if necessary, you can use a spare brush to check that the proportions in your painting match the reference or sitter.
  3. Once you have lightly sketched in the major lines and shapes with charcoal you can switch to paint. Mix all four colours to make a mid-dark value muddy/neutral colour. Using a small brush dipped in OMS, work over the top of your charcoal underdrawing, tracing over the charcoal lines.
  4. If you need to make any corrections, dip a clean brush into your pot of mineral spirits and use it to wipe away the mistake. If any marks remain (or too much mineral spirits) you can use a clean piece of kitchen towel or rag to wipe away the excess.
  5. Once the line drawing is loosely sketched in, you can begin filling in the shapes with diluted paint (the same mixture you were using for the line drawing). To speed things up, you can switch to a broader brush for this step.
  6. Sometimes adding a tone to the shadow shapes will make you notice mistakes that you may have missed when it was a line drawing. Take the time to make any final corrections to the shadow shapes before leaving it to dry.
  7. Once you’re happy with the shapes, wash your brushes and palette and leave the painting until dry to the touch (at least 2-3 days).


OCAD Studio: Quick Sketching Trees

Although trees seem very complex, they needn’t be daunting when you try to sketch them. It’s possible to give a great impression of a tree without adding lots of detail. In fact, many of the best landscape drawings and paintings simply suggest the shape or texture of a tree, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps, these simple impressions feel natural and lively – just like real trees.

This lesson will show you how to use a few simple steps to make great sketches of trees.

Tree Shapes/ Silhouettes

Here is a selection of different tree shapes that you may come across when landscape sketching.

  • Pyramidal – Pine trees and other conifers.

  • Layered/Crowned – Most deciduous trees, such as Oaks, Birches and Maple trees.

  • Columnar – Cypress and Poplars

  • Weeping – Trees growing next to rivers, such as weeping willows.



I like to start with the edge of the tree, I lightly and loosely catch the rhythms of the tree’s shape. I treat the leaves as a volume when I sketch trees, rather than lots of individual shapes and just draw a jagged outside contour for the whole tree.



Once the outside contour has been sketched in, I look for any significant holes in the foliage. These are referred to as ‘skyholes’ as the sky will show through them. Some types of trees (those with dense foliage, such as Conifers and Cypress) are unlikely to ever have any skyholes but broader, less densely leaved trees will often have gaps. If I spot any of the ‘skyholes’ lightly sketch them in the same way that I sketched in the outside of the tree.


Giving the Tree Form


I find it best to treat the tree’s foliage as a simple form; if the tree is layered it will be spherical whereas a columnar tree will be a tapering cylindrical form etc. I start by roughly hatching the form of the tree. It needn’t be too neat as a rougher application will feel more like a mass of of leaves. After sketching in this large form I will look for slightly smaller masses within the foliage. The nature of these masses will vary depending on the type of tree. A layered tree will usually be divide up into a few smaller spherical clumps whereas a conifer will have overlapping layers from the top to bottom.

I avoid copying the tree painstakingly or relying on lines too much. I just try to capture the feel and general form of the tree with quick and loose shading.


The amount of trunk visible will vary depending on the type of tree, but all tree trunks are essentially cylindrical, so fairly simple to shade in. I usually make the trunk a bit neater than the foliage as this contrast helps to reinforce the looser texture of the leaves.


Grouping distant trees

Drawing groups of distant trees is even simpler than drawing individual trees. I just lightly sketch in the general rhythm of the treeline, along with any significant gaps within the group of trees. Then I loosely shade in the whole mass before adding any noticeably dark accents. It’s best to make sure that distant groups of trees are more loosely sketched in than trees in the foreground so that they sit back in the picture rather than drawing the viewer’s attention.

OCAD Studio: Sketching a Glass




  • Pencil
  • Sharpener
  • Easer
  • Sheet of white paper (loose or in sketchbook)




  1. Choose a simple drinking glass to begin with (ideally similar to the one in the video). Avoid anything too ornate as this will mean that the reflections are much more complex.
  2. Begin by lightly sketching in the basic form of the glass. This will likely be a cylindrical prism – two ellipses connected by two parallel lines.
  3. The base will have a thickness, so the bottom of the glass will have an extra ellipse.
  4. Now begin searching for any dark shapes that make up the edges of the glass. These will give structure to your reflections. There are usually two thin dark shapes running from the base of the glass up to the rim.  
  5. The base should have some interesting dark shapes and gradients running from one edge to the other. The rim will also have a thin dark line as well as a clear highlight.
  6. Now that you have noted all the darker smaller reflective shapes you can begin adding subtle tones and gradients to the rest of the glass. Observe how these tones change as they shift across the glass.
  7. The glass is transparent, but areas where the glass is thicker will cast a soft shadow on the ground plane. The shadow will be sharper and darker nearer the glass and softer when it’s further away from the glass. I also recommend giving the background a slight tone so that your highlights stand out.
  8. Once the glass and background has been shaded in, you can finish by enhancing the highlights by erasing them more. They should stand out because they will be the lightest parts of the drawing.


* As a variation, you can work on toned paper and use a white pencil for the lighter tones and highlights. This will save the trouble of shading in the whole drawing and make the highlights even brighter.

Task 3: Universal forms in Charcoal

Task 2: Draw each of the universal forms (Cone Cylinder, Cube and Sphere) using Charcoal to create the illusion of 3-Dimensional forms with highlights and shadows

A wide range of artists use charcoal to create incredible artworks. We are going to build up tonal drawing knowledge further and also see how this medium can be used to great effect.


Georgia O’Keeffe:

Joel Colo:

Leonardo Da Vinci:


Using Charcoal

I will demonstrate a couple of kinds of charcoal for this task.

Compressed charcoal is a powdered charcoal that has been mixed with gum binder and then compressed into sticks. To determine how hard or soft that compressed block will be depends on the amount of binder. Charcoal Pencils are created in the same way and you can use all these types for this task- A mixture is best!

Vine charcoal is another kind, made from burning pieces of wood into a harder or softer product. This type of charcoal stick tends to be messier than compressed charcoal but can give you great results. Powdered charcoal is exactly what it sounds like – charcoal in powder form that is great for covering large areas.


To begin we are essential going to work backwards 🙂

Cover your page with charcoal and use tissue to smudge the charcoal into a nice smooth base on the page. I would recommend using paper like brown parcel paper or something of a mid-tone with texture to it. Smooth white paper doesn’t work the same.

Be sure to put newspaper down to catch all that dust!

Try your best not to rest your hand on the page when you are drawing as charcoal smudges easily.

Using a putty rubber you can begin to mark away the highlights of the form you wish to draw…then slowly work back in the dark areas of shadow to build up your tonal range (see task 2 for more information on tonal scales). To achieve a bright highlight to showcase the full tonal range, you can use white chalk or soft pastel to really extend to those brightest tones.

Join me for a demonstration soon and I am sure you will be excited to get going with a charcoal drawing-It is one of my favourites 🙂


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