One of the questions I hear most often is how to color grayscale, so I took photos and notes of my latest colored page as I worked on it to try show you what I did.
For this grayscale tutorial I will be using a copy of Arentine H. Arendsen’s Dutch Flowers: A Vintage Grayscale Adult Coloring Book https://amzn.to/2OVCPUU and a set of 72 Schpirerr Farben Coloring Pencils. https://amzn.to/2RmjLS4
I colored directly in the grayscale coloring book. I slipped a couple of pages behind the page I was working on to keep from having indentations in the page beneath, so that I could color it without issues later.
I would recommend pencils or markers for coloring grayscale, but not gel pens (I’d say gel pens if you’re really good at shading with gel pens.. there is a person who is coloring this book with glitter pens and doing a gorgeous job) but to start out I’d suggest you try pencils or markers that are somewhat transparent so the darks can show through. I prefer to color grayscale with pencils, but some colorists add base layers in markers and then add more color with pencils. There is no one way to do this, use whatever media you are most comfortable with, this post illustrates what I did for this page.
Grayscale Coloring Overview
Some people are intimidated by coloring grayscale . Grayscale coloring pages are pictures with the shading already figured out for you. Try not to overthink coloring grayscale. You can try coloring it with just flat colors and be done (letting the darks show through), or add more pressure in the dark areas if you want more pronounced shading. Some think it’s supposed to be hard, be but it’s actually easier than coloring line art because the thinking about shading has already been done for you.
There are several ways to color grayscale. What I do is I pick an area and a color (light, medium, dark), color the darker areas first, then add a layer of medium color (either the same color with less pressure, or a lighter shade) over the medium gray areas, then add a very light or no color over the light areas. I work lightly and don’t press too hard so I can keep layering and build up color slowly.
Here are my three colors, I will be using Light Yellow (40), Bumblebee (50), and Vanilla Flower (80)
I start by adding a layer of Vanilla Flower to the darker areas of the flower I am coloring.
Here is what it looks like after I colored the darks
Then I used the Bumblebee pencil and added a light layer over the dark, and also extended beyond the darks and colored some of the medium shades of gray.
Next I’ll go over the darks and mediums with the light color (Light Yellow) and extend beyond the colored areas to add more color to the flowers. I left a little white in the lightest areas.
Because the three shades I used were very similar, the flower looks a little flat. To add depth and interest, I pick a couple of colors that are nearby in the color wheel. I picked a brighter color, this orange pencil (180) because it’s a dark color, I went over the darker areas. They really pop after having it added.
The orange is bright, so I tone it down a little with a more neutral shade to continue to add depth. I used this Maple (110) pencil to help blend the orange into the flower and add a golden hue. I sometimes err on the side of going too light with the pencils I start with because it’s always easier to add more dark colors to a coloring page than it is to remove them.
Next I will start working on the other flower on the page. I wanted to make this one pink, so I pick my dark, medium, and light colors. I used Magenta (250), Carnation (260), and Pink Lemonade (270)
I start by using the Magenta pencil and coloring in the darker areas of the flower, working gently with a light layer.
Then I added the second color (Carnation), again going over the darker area first, and beyond it to cover the medium gray.
Next I added a soft layer of the next color, Pink Lemonade over the darks and mediums and beyond. I worked to add a very light layer and colored with less and less pressure to fade the color to white in the lightest areas of the flower.
For my next part of this page, I started work on the stems and buds. for these type of flowers, the flower stems are a different, warmer color than the leaves. so I add a warm color as a base color, I picked this Yellow (60) pencil and went over the darker areas. This layer will help add warmth to the subsequent layers.
Then I started adding some greens, I chose this warmer, Olive Green (580).
I did soft layers and added a little more and a little more each time, another warm green, cypress tree (590).
To liven up the colors, I picked a pretty Lime Green (570) and added it as my light color over all of the stems, adding less pressure to the lightest areas of the image.
I moved on to the rest of the stems and leaves next. I picked this Olive Green (580) as my dark and added a soft layer to all the darker areas of the leaves and stems.
Here is a closer view of the picture above showing how I colored the darks on the stems and leaves.
Next I added my medium color over the darks, and beyond to the medium grays and very lightly over the lights. I used Apple Green (560)
The leaves were looking good, but the color looked flat. So I added a layer of Lime (570) green to all the leaves and stems to add depth and more interest. It perked up the leaves considerably!
Next I added a little more contrast to the darks and depths to the color of the leaves and stems by adding some Cypress Tree (590) to the darks, adding more pressure to the darkest areas, and a little less to the other darks.
The main page is colored. I went back and added a little color to the yellow flower, and added this color also to the warm parts of the stems and buds to add emphasis to the warmth of those parts of the picture. I used some Light Yellow (40) to go over the yellow flower again and add more depth to the colors. I added more pressure to the darker areas, trying to define the shape of the flower petals.
Then I went over the flower again to add a little more definition to the lighter areas of the petals and make sure they were distinct. I used a light, warm color, Wheat (020) for this, and also added a layer to the warm areas of the stems and buds. These light layers add a nice depth to the colors add realism, and keep them from looking flat/canned.
I then colored the background. Although this was a flat background, I used a gradation of four different colors from top to bottom to add interest: Blue Lagoon (470) on top fourth of the background, adding less pressure at the bottom of the layer, then slowly blended the second quarter of the background into a swath of Cerulean (460) across the background, next I used Summer Sky (450), and segued into Cobalt Blue (440) at the bottom. To add more interest I added a little bit of Deep Blue (420) to the very bottom.
The background is a large flat area and shows more texture. One thing that could be done to soften the texture is to add some alcohol to blend the colors. You can find more information on how to blend colored pencils in my post about colored pencil blending.
So there you have it, a breakdown of what I did to color this page. This was my first time using Schpirerr Farben pencils and they worked well for grayscale, I was able to make multiple light layers and they did not feel gummy or sticky. They work well for blending and layering. I will test them on line art next to see how they perform.
This grayscale book is not as detailed as others I have published, like Arthur Rackham’s Fairies and Nymphs. That book has images with small details, and I had to make sure my pencils were sharp when coloring pages from that book.
You can try this page with different media, but what I’d recommend is that you pick something that is fairly transparent so the shadows show underneath. The beauty of this type of coloring is that the lights and darks are already figured out for you. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!