Traditional-Drawing Tutorial: Draw a Skull and Rose with Pencils and Watercolours

In this tutorial, I've chosen a skull and rose to draw, as they're great images to learn from... and rather forgiving. They're also hugely popular images in the world of tattooing. I'm working in this sector and I found myself doing a lot of them.

In this tutorial you will get an insight to how I work with pencils to get realistic results and also learn how to incorporate water-colours into your pencil drawings to add some colour! I won't be focusing on how to draw the images themselves, it's more about shading, pencil techniques and the journey taken when completing a piece of art from start to finish with lots of useful tips along the way.

The best thing about pencils and water-colours is they are so cheap and practical and you can set up anywhere and turn over a piece of art very quick compared to other mediums.

I tried to do this tutorial with beginners in mind but I think it's more suited to artists with some basic drawing skills under their belt but I'm sure beginners could take something from it, too!

End result:
Draw a Skull and Rose with Pencils and Watercolours Final Image

avatar mystweave

Views: 74894
Score: 8.8 / 10
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Practice tutorial


Step 1

Materials - 8B, 7B, 6B, 4B, & HB pencils
- Scalpel or Stanley knife
- Sharpener
- Eraser
- Smudge sticks
- Small paint brush
- Water paints
- General purpose art paper

Step 2

Here is my reference that I took myself and I wanted to share it because I do refer to it throughout the tutorial.

Step 3

Here we have a line drawing of the skull & rose, I took a photocopy of the skull & held it up to a window and lightly traced out the main features with a HB pencil. I then pencil in a rose, I have some rose books and you can get ideas from them to draw your own but I like to draw them simpler then they are in real life and give them more of a stylized feel. It can be frightening looking at your line drawing and wondering how to make sense of it, but just follow your reference and find the easy bits to start with and it will all come together in the end.

Step 4

Looking closely at my reference I take my 8B pencil and fill in any areas that are solid black, 8B's are a must for this task as they are solid black and not Grey like the other pencils, you may need to use a blade to sharpen them because they don't seem to like sharpeners because they're so thick. Laying down the darkest black first also helps set the overall contrast and now I have something to set my other shades against.

Step 5

Ok for anyone who hasn't used a smudge stick I recommend getting some! They're like tightly rolled paper sticks shaped like a pencil and you use them to smudge shaded pencil into smooth gradients, much the same as using your fingers to smooth things out the smudge stick works the same, only more practical and can be found at most local art shops.

Now I take my HB pencil and lightly shade in a wash of grey, using the side of my pencil over the majority of the skull, leaving the hi-lights to shine through and then take my smudge stick and smooth it all out to create a soft wash effect. You can press harder to make sections darker as you go, always referring to your reference. It's all pretty rough, no need to take to much care yet, it's all about building up the layers.

Step 6

Now I take my 6B & 7B pencils and start filling in the eyes and nose. I look at each section as a bunch of shapes and shades, rather than an eye socket. However I did stray from the reference a little and if you are comfortable doing so then by all means do it. I use the reference up to a certain point and then find myself doing my own thing and that's what its all about, we don't want to be robots just copying stuff straight out, add your own flavor.

Step 7

Onto the mouth and it's treated the same as the eyes, but I mainly used a HB pencil, you can push really hard with these and still get a very dark shade. The teeth were a little tricky and once again I strayed from the reference and I have also added more texture and you can add holes or black out a tooth completely for an added effect. I would say to try and follow what you see in the reference focusing on the shapes and different subtle shades as best you can. I may come back and add more details in later stages, but lets move on and shade the rest of the skull.

Step 8

Now I'm building up layers with a 4B pencil, you can see here the roughness of the pencil lines before I hit them with the smudge stick to smooth them out, these rough lines can be a desired effect too and leaving some in can help add texture to your piece. You can also add more weight to your lines as I have done here by thickening them with a sharp 8B pencil. We will leave the top of the skull, because I think I will fade it into some smoke or something but I'm undecided at this stage so I'll leave it.

Step 9

I have now smoothed out those pencil lines and went back in with my 4B to darken areas and then repeat the smoothing process, slowly building up layers to give it more depth. I would like to point out that I have been using the same paper for the last few years but just run out so for this tutorial I have used a different brand of paper and I'm finding it much more difficult to build layers because it is so smooth and doesn't offer any bite. I suggest trying different types of paper and always use an acid free brand.

Step 10

I decided to leave the top of the skull as it is in the reference , I tried a few different ideas but none were successful so this is what I am going with. I took my 8B pencil which is already much shorter then when I started due to excessive sharpening with a scalpel. If you tend to butcher pencils with a knife, try using a combination of the two, sharpen the pencil in the sharpener and then bring it to a sharp point with the knife. I fill in the large area with the 8B, then switch to a 7B, 6B, 4B and finish the fade with a HB, then I smooth it all out with the smudge stick. Make sure there are no little bits of your eraser lying around as these tend to get under your paper and create inconsistencies in your shading.

Step 11

Ok now we are getting more creative, I have to say I didn't really give much thought to the composition of this picture before I started and there have been a few things bugging me that I couldn't put my finger on. It was to do with the flow and it wasn't quite working. A simple idea to break the square boarder up with some drips has done the trick and I'm now feeling better about the piece as a whole.

Another thing I usually do is work on a larger piece of paper then the drawing itself , for example this picture is A4 but I've done it in the centre of an A3 piece of paper leaving a large boarder of extra space if I should come to need it. I also find this extra space helps my pencil flow, so my hand is always on paper and not hanging off the edge.

I have taken my HB pencil and went back over the skull adding texture and small details. I do this by adding small dots and cracks. I then take an eraser and cut the edges off with a scalpel to give a sharp edge and then go and erase small sections for hi-lights. Be careful not to go overboard with this step, less is more! I'm guilty of taking things to far, it's one of the more satisfying steps, so try to keep things in check.

Step 12

I went along and put a rough boarder around the whole picture to give it a torn card look and finished shading the background with my smudge stick. After making some minor adjustments to the rose I take my smudge stick and with the residue already left on it I shade some of the darker areas of the rose, this step could be left out because I am going to paint the rose it might not be desirable to have the pencil show through your paint but for this tutorial I will leave some pencil in and see what happens.

Step 13

Finally we come to the rose. I take a small pointed paintbrush (any sort will do) and some red and purple water paint and place some onto a plastic takeaway lid with a glass of water on standby. I'm using a quality brand water paint, but I started out using the really cheap stuff and it works great but if you plan to sell your work, or have it last many years, I'd go with a better brand. I start by dipping my brush in water, then mixing in some paint and then just wash on a nice thin layer of red. I'm re-dipping my brush in water to thin the paint out more, as I get towards the edges where the rose is lighter. If you want areas darker, then just water the paint down less or add a touch of purple. Don't use black to darken it because it will be too over powering. Start really light and build up layers to your desired opacity. I might add normal paper is fine for water colour, just be careful not to go over board with excess water to avoid the paper buckling too much.

Step 14

Here I have added the final touches. Some green to the leafs, but also some light brown, to tone it down a little. I also added some blue to the rose and I have reflected all the colours onto the skull just to help it blend in and become one with the rose. Simply add a light wash over the pencil to achieve this effect, but remember LESS IS MORE. I have also added some white dots to the rose and as intended it has taken on a more stylized or cartoon look rather then being realistic. And finally some brown wash in the background for added effect. I could've used any colour combination's and this is the time to have some fun and really get creative.

Well I hope you enjoyed this insight into my work and picked up some useful tips along the way! More of my work can be found on my website at

Some general tips:

- Have a scrap piece of paper to practice your water colour on before you go onto you art.

- Have fun with your art, it's just a picture if it doesn't turn out it was still good practice.

- Remember the rule " Paint what you see not what you know" but know when to break it.

- Get yourself some smudge sticks!

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avatar nightwarmer

Great Tutorial! Lot's of cool hints and tipps along the way!!! Cheers, man!

(5 years and 2176 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Cool tutorial, I really liked it! I love working with watercolors.

(5 years and 2170 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

That's fantastic, awesome shading, and the stark outline reminds me of tattooing. Thanks for the hints ^^

(5 years and 2168 days ago)
avatar mystweave
mystweave says:

Thanks peoples, hopefully do another one soon but still not sure what direction would be appreciated? Anymore feedback would be good and might help me develop a better tutorial for my second attempt. cheers

(5 years and 2167 days ago)
avatar EmiK
EmiK says:

Great tutorial and tips = )

(5 years and 2145 days ago)
avatar alwani
alwani says:

i like it , thank you it is Great tutorial

(5 years and 2124 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

it looks really nice

(5 years and 2096 days ago)
no avatar
McCool says:

That is awesome. I will have to give this one a go. My daughter will love!

(5 years and 1972 days ago)
no avatar
[banned] says:

awsome pic

(5 years and 1582 days ago)

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