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How to Turn a Pencil Sketch Into a Digital Color Study Using the Procreate App

Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she has learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.

Learn how to create a quick drawing of the composition, with pencil on paper, then take a photo of the drawing with your iPad, and create a quick color study using the Procreate app.

Learn how to create a quick drawing of the composition, with pencil on paper, then take a photo of the drawing with your iPad, and create a quick color study using the Procreate app.

Do You Want to Learn How to Do a Color Study?

I love to paint, but I can’t say I love preparatory work such as preliminary sketches and color studies as much as I enjoy diving into the painting process. Nevertheless, I recognize that those prep sketches are very important. A painting often fails due to lack of planning.

In order to create a landscape that fulfilled all the requirements above, I relied on my prior landscape painting experience and on photos from the web to create a believable scene. You are welcome to create your own, copy mine, or follow a photo that you have.

When you prepare to do a landscape painting, take the following steps:

  1. Create a quick drawing of the composition with a pencil on paper.
  2. Take a photo of the drawing with your tablet.
  3. Make a quick color study using Procreate or a similar sketching app.

What You'll Need:

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • iPad Pro
  • Procreate or a similar sketching app

1. Plan the Composition

First, you need to decide the main elements you want to include in the painting.

In the example, I aimed to create a composition that included the following features:

  • A foreground field
  • A path tapering in the distance, showing linear perspective
  • Three relatively tall trees, in the middle ground
  • A body of water crossing behind the trees
  • A field in the background with a line of trees
  • Mountains in the distance
  • Clouds

2. Think About the Details

I made sure to include the following components:

  • The big trees overlap with the other elements of the landscape. This helps show positioning, scale, and relationship.
  • The foreground has a texture and color contrast that creates radiating lines, both in the path and the grass.
  • The clouds create movement and lines that carry the eye through the painting
  • The light source is consistent throughout, as far as the direction and color of the light. I included an arrow in the drawing to visually remind me of the light's direction.
  • The horizontal lines of the landscape have visual breaks to allow the viewer to move up past the water banks and the far tree line.
Quick drawing of a landscape scene to be used as a sketch for a painting by Robie Benve

Quick drawing of a landscape scene to be used as a sketch for a painting by Robie Benve

3. Create the Drawing

It's time to sketch the drawing! Here's how you can do it easily:

  1. Draw the composition with a pencil on paper. Make sure it's proportional in size to the canvas you are going to use.
  2. I drew mine on a 9"x12" paper (the same size as my canvas) but I could have drawn on a 3"x4" section and had it work great.
  3. Draw quickly without fussing about details. The main purpose is to position the elements respecting proportions and to give an indication of their relative value (lightness and darkness).
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Keep It Simple

When sketching, don't worry about fine details, small highlights, and subtle differences.

Think in terms of simple shapes and groups of tones.

4. Color Study on iPad With the Procreate App

Make a color study to be used as a reference during the painting. I chose to make the color study on my iPad Pro using a sketching app called Procreate. You may also use color pencils, watercolors, crayons, or any medium you like.

There is a little bit of a learning curve at the beginning on how to use the app, but you can reference good tutorials online that walk you through all steps. Those tutorials are really well done and teach much more than I will ever need to use. Just google "Procreate app tutorial" to find them.

5. Draw Lines First

The first thing I did was to create a new layer and start drawing the lines around the various elements and the ridges in the terrain.

  • I used a small-size brush tool and varied the colors depending on the element. I always try to use a color that adds interest and contrast.

6. Fill in the Shapes

Once you have your lines in place, start filling in the shapes with a bigger brush tip. Make the digital stroke semi-transparent.

You can do this on the same layer of the lines or create another layer and work on that to keep the pencil drawing, lines, and filling separate.

  • I "painted" the colors using my finger on the iPad screen.

7. Choose Your Colors

The rule of thumb when coloring a landscape is that things in the distance become lighter and cooler.

  • The mountains in the distance might look light violet or light blue.
  • Trees in the distance look duller and lighter than trees up-close.
  • Grass in the foreground is a more intense yellow-green. In the distance, it becomes a lighter color and leans more towards blue-green.

This is due to the effect of atmospheric perspective on how we see things in the distance.

Relax, It’s Just a Sketch!

Note that the overall quality of the drawing and the digital coloring is pretty rough.

The object of this exercise is not to create great digital artwork, but to create a reference to be used during the painting process.

  • It is much easier and faster to correct any wrong choices of colors on a digital app. When you don’t like something that you just did, you just undo the latest steps and start over.

Worst case scenario: You may have to restart the whole layer from scratch. You may realize that something you’ve done at the beginning is not working. However, it is still much faster than finding yourself in a rut after an hour of painting on canvas.

Advantages of Having a Color Study

  • While you make the color study, you are testing the color choices and how they look next to each other. You solve color decisions and issues before you start on your main piece.
  • By doing one or more color studies, you learn a lot about color and color relationships along the way.
  • It helps a great deal to have a color study as a visual reference when you start mixing paint and applying it to the canvas.
The acrylic landscape painting made from the sketches in this article.

The acrylic landscape painting made from the sketches in this article.

Enjoy Creating Your Color Study!

As a self-taught artist, I enjoy sharing with others what I've learned so far. I wrote this article hoping that it will help beginner artists in their creative process.

I hope you found it useful and enjoyable. Happy painting!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Robie Benve


Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on January 13, 2019:

Thanks a lot Glenn, I really appreciate your feedback. Glad you are intrigued by the app, lots of things can be done with it, including images for future articles. ;)

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on January 09, 2019:

I never tried my hand at painting, but I appreciate all kinds of creativity. Your explanation is clear and and your examples are intriguing, Robie. I have an iPad and thanks to you, I now am curious to give this a try with that app you mentioned. Your videos helped tremendously, too.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 25, 2018:

Hi Donna, I love my IPad, I got it for Christmas a couple of years ago and I have been using it a lot, for all kinds of things. Thanks a lot for your comment!

Donna Herron from USA on May 24, 2018:

Thanks for this great tutorial! I'm thinking of investing in an iPad and was wondering about the various things I could do with it. I hadn't really thought about the art applications I could use it for. Thanks for sharing this interesting use for painting and sketching.

Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 24, 2018:

Hi Linda, Procreate was recommended to me by a Micro Center employee, and I have to say I am very happy with the app. The things you can do with it are pretty amazing, though I use it only for quick sketches and to tweak compositions. Thanks a lot for your kind words, glad to hear you found the instruction and the video valuable. :)

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 22, 2018:

Your videos and instructions are great, Robie. Procreate looks like a wonderful app.