Drawing Specific Textures

When looking for a high level of realism from a photographic reference, some artists prefer to work on a small area at a time, carefully rendering each area of value. This approach can be successful with any texture, as you are observing small areas and rendering them minutely. If using this method, do a working drawing first to check your composition, and do the contour drawing lightly but precisely. You can also obtain a high level of realism when working from life, particularly if you take a very methodical approach to building a precise structure and contour drawing.

Shiny Surfaces

Most shiny surfaces have several complex elements. These include reflection, surface quality—including cast light and shadow—and in the case of glass, the background elements observed through the transparent areas. A general impression can be conveyed when sketching by implying these qualities with carefully chosen abbreviations of the visual effects. You know that wiggly line that cartoonists always do across windows, or the little curving four-square shape on balloons? They are suggested reflections.

Highlights are probably the most important feature of drawing shiny surfaces, as these tell viewers that they are looking at a highly reflective surface. Observe these closely and reserve them carefully. If possible, choose a smooth surface for any drawing that involves a shiny surface. Coarse sketching paper won't allow you to get the smooth, even values you need, and it can be a little resistant to erasing; you need to be sure that your highlights are crisp and bright. Glass has transparent and semitransparent areas where background elements show through, sometimes with refraction (bending of light). Also look for reflections of the surroundings. The distortions in these reflections can tell the viewer a great deal about the shape of the glass. You may also observe surface detail if there are any painted details, tints in the glass, fingerprints, or other marks.

Glass is a complex surface, transmitting and reflecting light.

Crisp details and bright highlights are the key to shiny metal.

The degree of reflection from a metal surface depends on the type of metal and how highly finished it is. Highly polished metal is probably the easiest to draw; it is simply a case of closely observing the reflections on the surface. Rather than worrying about the color of the metal (gold, brass, copper), focus on the local tone and draw a small portion at a time, being sure to reserve highlights carefully. Colored metals will impart a hue to the reflections, but so long as you accurately observe each small area, the overall effect will be accurate.

Metal that has been scuffed, such as a spoon from the cutlery drawer, is the most difficult to draw, as the small scratches create a faint, dark indent with a light edge.

Jewelry can have very bright highlights or more muted ones, depending on the degree of polish and wear. Usually a jewel will have clearer highlights than the surrounding metal. Use a sharp pencil to carefully delineate precise facets. Pearls have a soft sheen, with a reflective surface, so use a blending stump very lightly to soften the modeling without filling the grain of the paper. Deepen dark values around jewelry to intensify the lights.

Notice the soft sheen and reflective surface of these pearls.


Fabric is a ridiculously broad term when speaking about texture. From velvet to watered silk taffeta, from an ethereal ballet skirt to a luxuriously embroidered gown—fabrics offer a mind-boggling array of colors and textures. So how do you approach drawing the stuff?

Let's break it up into some manageable components:

Structure: How does the fabric hang and fold? Does it have stiffness, or does it flow? Does it cling to the surface beneath, or does it drape loosely off projecting points?

Surface quality: Does the fabric have a velvety surface, an obvious weave, or a smooth surface? Is the pattern printed or woven?

Light: How much light is reflected from the highlights? Smooth cotton might have a faint sheen, while velvet has muted highlights. Very sheer fabrics can be highly reflective, while some will be transparent enough that you can see right through them.

By observing these qualities in your subject, you're already halfway to drawing them. For smooth, reflective fabrics, use an approach similar to drawing metal: Create a smoothly shaded surface using medium-grade pencils, accurately represent crisp lights and shadows, and use a blending stump or hard-grade pencil to soften obvious paper grain. Use an eraser to lift out lighter areas.

For transparent fabrics, draw what you can see through it—sometimes drawing it a little stronger than needed and even drawing what you can't quite see under the fabric. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks, then use an eraser to “draw” the fabric, adding shading where there is a shadow on the surface. An eraser is also useful for lifting out lace patterns.

For coarse weaves, light shading with a soft pencil or stippling can be used to draw the dark gaps in the weave. This can then be shaded over to create the surface value.

Drawing printed patterns is largely a matter of patience. When sketching, try to avoid becoming too involved in patterns, handling them in a similar manner to other surface elements in your drawing.

When drawing any continuous feature—such as a tree branch, wood grain, a linear pattern, or any straight edge—that is broken by a surface detail or a small foreground object, continue drawing the line straight through, very lightly, before placing the interrupting detail. That way you'll avoid having any awkward-looking discontinuity in the line.


Timber is probably one of the most difficult textures to draw, and like fabric, comes in myriad types. Natural wood finishes are easier to draw than cheap laminates or stained pine, as the manufactured surface already looks artificial, which makes it look even more artificial when rendered in pencil. You'll need to consider the grain and color of the timber you are drawing, as well as any surface shine and surface patina (marks, dirt, or finger smudges). Correct perspective is essential when drawing timber, because its linear grain highlights any errors. Sketch the perspective elements first, doing a contour drawing and indicating any joins between strips of timber. Once you are happy with these, lightly draw the dark grain of the timber. Take your time and observe all the elements carefully.

Shade the body color of the timber surface, lightly blending with a stump as needed and working up the grain pattern. Use an eraser to lift out any surface highlights or light marks, then draw any dark marks and cast shadows across the surface. These may be crisp or blurred depending on the level of polish.

A drawing of a timber surface

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