Margaret Shaw - Artwork - Summer Grasses Tutorial

Here’s the drawing that we’re going to work from.  My drawing was inspired from a sketch that I did one morning on a field trip (literally) where I found the variety and shapes of the summer grasses quite enchanting.  It was interesting to study these and, if you get the opportunity, on a fine day, head for a grassy area and try this drawing from life.

To help throughout your drawing, I suggest you view on screen or download / print the finished piece

You’re going to complete this drawing on an A4 piece of paper.
You can see that for an A4 piece of Paper you’ll mark out a grid of 3 columns horizontally each measuring 99 mm and 5 columns vertically each measuring 42 mm.  This will help you get the main grasses in the right place.
Mark out the grid on your paper as described. Don’t be heavy handed with the grid lines as you’ll want to remove the marks as you start to complete the drawing.

Using the grid as a guide draw the stems of the grasses. You don’t need to be too accurate with these stems.

You need 12 stems nicely spaced.

  • Make a note of the heights – grasses are varied in height.
  • The stems aren’t straight
  • Try to do each stem in one smooth flow, then mark off the “branches”

If you’re not happy with a line, then draw in the new line before erasing the old one. Experience has shown that if you erase the incorrect line first you’re likely to re-draw it exactly the same way.

I sometimes find it helpful to drawn on the reference image to give myself a feel for where things are going. Here's the link to the finished piece that you can download and print at A4.

I’ve also provided the gridded drawing for download and A4 print so you can trace it. By tracing something you are still drawing and with more experience you’ll trace less and less..

The next stage is to remove the grid lines so you have the outline grasses to fill in (I did say don’t be heavy handed with the grid). If you have been heavy handed with the grid – trace your drawing and transfer it onto a fresh piece of paper.

Before we start to fill in the picture, a little practice.  We need to be able to create a range of tones with our pencil.

On a spare piece of paper draw a grid (mine’s 1cm squares).  Then see how many tones you can get from your pencil.  Use the lightest touch to draw the lightest grid and at the other end press on hard to get the darkest grid

Here’s my attempt – not too many tones but enough to give me a range.

If you have pencils with different leads than you can get a wider range. H pencils give the lightest tones and B pencils give the darkest tones.  But, as with this exercise, you can get a range with just the one pencil.

If pencil drawing is something you’d like to continue with, consider buying a set of different pencils H’s to B’s. The H’s are used for light tones and the B’s for dark tones. The B’s are softer and much easier on the fingers when blending. My sets are Derwent and Winsor & Newton.  However, for this series of tutorials I promised just one pencil.

You’re going to work one grass stem at a time.  To keep paper pristine whilst you are working on each of the grasses, have a piece of paper covering the work piece so that you can put your hand down and not mess up the paper or any completed work.

The most difficult part of each grass is the heads so think about having a practice on a spare piece of paper for any you are uncertain about before committing to the finished piece.

Don’t forget to have a break.  Detailed work can be quite tiring on the fingers so rest and have a stretch.  You can leave pencil work as long as you want – nothing to spoil.  Unless you have helpful pets or children who decide that you need some help with your drawing.

As you are working you may find it easier to angle your work.

Starting at the left with Grass 1.  Pressing on heavily thicken the stem.  Where the “branches” come off – they leave the stem at quite a sharp angle and are not quite as thick as the main stem.  See if you can achieve a point at the end. 

To form the grass head:

  • lighter short lines
  • close together
  • worked centre out from the bottom of the head to the top of the head
  • pointing at an upwards angle at each side
  • by the time you reach the tip of the grass the centre one should be straight out from the end of the branch

Grass 2.  Thicken the stem with a heavy hand.  Start from the bottom of the stem and work towards the top.  Where the branches come off the main stem, they do so with a curve – try to bring the curve out without lifting your pencil off the paper.  Make your curve round enough so the grass heads hang downwards at different angles.  Except for the top one which points right andupwards.

The grass heads are strawberry shaped so drawing a light strawberry shape may help – fine line out of the end of the branch and a heart drawn round that

Darker small pencil lines at the base of each grass and lighter lines to make the shape.  If you find that you can see the pencil outline, then take a sliver of eraser and gently erase the line with the sharp edge of the sliver.  You will find as you work through the grasses the sliver of eraser may get dirty and you end up spreading the pencil rather than removing it.  Clean the eraser on a spare piece of paper.

Here's grass 2 completed

Grass 3 – same as Grass 1 but shorter in length, and more grass heads closer together.

Grass 4.  Usual darken and thicken the stem.  Similar to grass 2 the branches come off at a curve, but not quite as round. 

There are 3 shapes in the grass head

  • left semi open fan ( this may cross under the grass head from grass 2)
  • right open fan
  • top banana  

Draw in the shape of the heads lightly as a guide.

For the left and right grass heads, short dark lines at the base with lighter lines on the outside making the fan heads.

For the top grass head – short dark line coming from the stem with lighter line to the end forming the banana shape.

Grass 5.  Thicken and darken stem.   For the grass head draw in an arrow shape squarish at the bottom. 

Lines on the right of the grass are larger than the lines on the left.  Light lines first to fill in and then shorter heavier lines in the middle.

Grass 6.  Thicken and darken stem.  The grass splits at the top to create 2 grass heads, one larger than the other.  From the top of the branches create two oval shapes.

Then fill in lightly with fine pencil marks.  Note that the lower right grass head goes over the next stem.

6 grasses completed so ½ way through.  Sit back and have a look at the work so far.  Hope that you like what you’re seeing – is there anything that needs a tweak?  Or is it time for a break?

Grass 7 stem goes behind grass head 6.  If you have gaps in that grass head a couple of heavy dots will make it appear that you can see the stem through the grass.

Grass head on the right go to the side.  Grass heads of the left go sideways and upwards.  Top grass head bends over slightly to the right.  Draw centre line of the grasses and then create a teardrop shape

Fine long lines from the centre to the middle fill in the grass shape with a dark area where the stem joins the head.

Grass 8.  Is similar to grass 5 with the arrow shape but angles to the right.

Long lines to fill in the shape with short dark lines in the centre.

Grass 9.  Darken and thicken the stem to branch area.  Grass heads look like 6 seed pods stacked -  2 at the bottom, 3 in the middle and 1 at the top.

Dark lines at the base of the pods and longer straight lines as the fill.

Grass 10.  Small grass head comes off the middle of the stem.  Splits at the top into a larger grass head and
a long thin leaf.
Note from the outline drawing a change of angle – the grass head needs to slope more to the left.  Oval shape for the grass heads.

Small lines form the shape similar to grass 2.  Small darker lines in a star shape at the base of the grass head.
For the longleaf – work from the edge of the leaf inwards with dark shading and leave a white line in the middle.

Grass 11 same as one and three – just longer heads.

Grass 12 (right).  The top splits into three and each of the three splits into three again. 

Tiny dots and dashes around the grass head lines fill in the shapes

Tall Grasses done.  Is there anything that needs tweaking?  Any blotches that need removing?

You now come to the bottom of the picture where you are going to put simple smaller grasses. The grasses at the bottom do not want to be longer than the main grass surrounding them.  They need to be spaced between the main grasses yet appear random.

Start with thick ones and make them like the leaf on grass 11 with a white line  - I’ve done 5 but you could do more or less if you prefer.

Then some filled in thick short grasses. Again I did 5 but you can do more or less.

Next some mini versions of grass 1 but with only one grass head.  I’ve put in 13 – you can do more or less, the main thing is that these grasses are different heights -some bend and some are straight.

Now just some plain lines of different lengths to fill in the gaps. Try to avoid the longer ones going too far into the 12 main grasses.  Finally at the bottom short heavy dark lines to give a base that flicks out at the side.

Once all complete have a review.  Are there any whites that need to have smudges remove and are there any tones that need to be darkened?  Once you’re happy sign your work – I decided to sign on the bottom left. 

If you’re pleased with what you’ve done its quite amazing what a mount and frame can do for a piece of artwork.

A4 is a standard size and you should be able to buy a mount and frame without much difficulty.

If you’ve enjoyed this tutorial – let me know and I’d like to see your finished pieces 

E mail me your comments or send me photos of your finished pieces to –