Carnation in coloured pencils
using a limited palette
'Carnation' by Edith Kavanagh Steel
Materials used were:
  • Faber Castell Coloured Pencils
  • Light Cad Yellow 9201-105
  • Madder 9201-142
  • Pink Madder Lake 9021-129
  • Light Green 9201-171
  • Cadmium Green Opaque 9201-174
  • Oxide Green 9201-278
  • Colourless Pencil
  • A soft paint brush to brush away and loose colour or graphite from the drawing.
  • A putty eraser or Blu-Tack
  • Two sheets of cheap typing paper
  • A 5H or harder graphite pencil
  • 140LB Fabriano smooth Watercolour paper
  • One sheet of tracing paper
  • The Carnation is also referred to as ' The Pink' by Florists, with two distinct divisions:
    pinks and carnations — carnations being the larger of the two.
  • The Greeks called it the 'divine flower' (dianthus) which it is still known by today.
  • The Romans called it 'Flos Jovis' or Jove's Flower.
  • Smaller carnations were called Gillyflowers and the Sweet William is known as the Bearded Pink.
  • The Carnation is the most bought flower for Mother's Day.

Feel free to download the free Carnation template drawing shown at the end of this tutorial. And Please if you would like it in a larger size.

My Daughter had bought me a lovely bunch of flowers which included some pink carnations. I hadn't attempted carnations before so decided to try. If you don't try things you don't learn.


My first step was to make a colour chart as seen below. I did this on a small piece of the 140lb watercolour paper that I had chosen for the finished artwork which would let me see if the paper and pencil texture agreed. Too much tooth on th paper would make the pencils look bitty so a smooth paper was needed. Since the artwork was to be detailed smooth watercolour paper was the best choice for this work.

I then began to make many sketches of the chosen carnation taking into acount the size, shape and, position of the flower to gain an acceptable composition on a small piece of cheap sketching paper. I then selected the coloured pencils I would use. I made a note of each colour at the side of the sketch as shown below.

From this chart, I reduced the original number of pencils needed to those you see on the downloadable drawing above. It is always best to choose too many coloured pencils in the first instance then reduce as applicable in my experience.

The next step was to do a quick drawing of a petal using my chosen colours. This gave me the chance to see the colours working on the paper in a petal shape. Many different petals were drawn and coloured in before I decided on the one you see below.

You will notice I used only two pencils for the flower itself. This is a limited palette but still very effective.

I drew the full flower onto cheap typing paper as in the downloadable free template, and when happy I transferred the drawing to my Fabriano 140lbs hot pressed (HP) watercolour paper using tracing paper.

Let's begin...

First, it is very important not to press hard on the watercolour paper as it leaves indents, which are undesirable on any art paper. I used a sheet of cheap typing paper to rest my hand on and to cover my whole of my drawing except for the area I was working on. This prevents the oils from your hands getting onto the artwork and stops you smudging your work.

Keep a soft paintbrush with you all the time to dust away any debris from the pencils - this is done regularly to ensure a clean working area all the time reducing any chance of smudges.

  1. I decided the light would be coming from the left so I kept the lightest areas on the left of the flower petals and stem and the darkest areas where there is little light on the right. I work from the lightest to the darkest.
  2. I began by very lightly allowing the Pink Madder Lake to just touch the paper. The lightest of pressures is very important here. I used small strokes, not circular ones which I do use but not on flowers because flower petals and stems are not designed in circles.
  3. At the base of each petal, where a shadow would occur I used Madder and again very lightly and with small strokes, as shown on the petal, I laid that on top of the Pink Madder Lake giving the two colours.

I did each petal separately until the full flower head was completed.

  1. I began the stem using Light Green, again with the lightest of touches.
  2. Cad Green was used over this colour to deepen it but only two-thirds of the area was covered to show a light side or sun lighted side to the flower.
  3. Oxide Green was used on the shadow side of the stem and leaves to show roundness.
  4. Oxide Green was used again to deepen the shadow areas.

I completed the Carnation using the above method.

When completed I used the colourless pencil and gently but firmly went over each petal individually so as not to smear the colours. This blends the colours together and stops any bloom. Remember to clean the colourless pencil after each petal, and section of the green areas too.

Your Carnation should now be complete.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief limited palette artwork.

If you have any questions please and I will be happy to answer them and help you where I can.

  Download a line drawing of the Carnation to trace
  Download a line drawing of the Carnation to print and paint

Best Wishes,

Edith Kavanagh Steel

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© Copyright Edith Kavanagh Steel 2015
Please for written permission to reproduce this tutorial.