Limited Palette Sketching Using One-Point Perspective

design team - alicia drawing Sep 12, 2022
How to use a limited colour palette for sketching

When I sketch my travels, I love keeping it simple with just a sketchbook and a monoline pen, especially when I need to travel super light. But as a self-proclaimed color-lover, I can’t deprive myself of color for too long! I’ve adapted the techniques in Peggy’s book Mindful Sketching to work with the tools I usually turn to, like colored pencils and markers. I’ll show you my process as we sketch this scene from my Montana road trip using a limited color palette and one-point perspective. 

Hey everyone! I’m Alicia with The Pigeon Letters Design Team here with another travel-inspired sketchbook tutorial. I’m lucky enough to get to travel often and I’ve always got my sketchbook and art supplies with me when I do. I love encouraging other people to get started with a sketchbook practice, and I think sketching travels is a perfect place to start!





Want to watch the video tutorial?




Step 1: Choose A Color Palette

One way I love to make my art feel unique and not too lifelike is by picking a limited color palette in (mostly) unrealistic colors. I recommend sticking with about 3-5 colors that coordinate together - I’ve gone with four markers in three shades of blue plus a peachy orange, and then chose slightly darker pencils that would show up over the marker. 



Step 2: Find the Vanishing Point

Begin by finding the vanishing point in the reference photo. It’s easy to spot in this photo taken on the road in Montana: just find where the road seems to disappear into the mountains. I like to put a small dot on my paper so I can always visualize where my vanishing point will be.


Dive into Peggy Dean's Travel Journalling class to get more ideas and inspiration!



Step 3: Sketch the Main Shapes

Next, you’ll begin sketching the main shapes and lines in the image using a colored pencil. I like to begin with the horizon line if it is visible, as it is here in this photo. Sketch a straight line across the page and let it wobble just a bit; the mindful sketching process is all about embracing the imperfections!


The rest of the lines can be a bit tricky, so for a refresher on getting the perspective of your shapes correctly, refer to Mindful Sketching (page 43). The key idea to remember is that your non-vertical lines should meet at the vanishing point. To sketch the road, start at the vanishing point and draw two lines toward the bottom left and right corners of the page, using the reference photo to get the composition just right. Don’t worry about the lines on the road as you’ll add those later.



 The last two main lines in this project are the tree line and the mountain range. Lightly draw a jagged line just a bit above the horizon line. Make sure to vary the height here and there to account for larger and smaller trees in the distance. Then finally, sketch in the mountain range keeping in mind that it’s far in the distance so the mountains shouldn’t be too large. (See page 45 for a great tip on how to use your pencil to measure subjects in a reference image!)



Step 4: Color Base Shapes with Marker

Decide which colors will represent different areas of your image. I’ve chosen the lightest blue to be my road, the medium teal for the mountain range, and the darkest teal for the tree line. Fill in your shapes - you can fill them in solidly, or more brushy and sketchy depending on the look you are going for.



Step 5: Fill in  Marker Details

Before we finish with the markers, it’s time to add a few final areas of base color. Keep a light hand and make upward strokes to create the tall grass along the side of the road. Keep the strokes longer toward the foreground and gradually get smaller as you approach the vanishing point.

Lastly it’s time to add the sky. While you can choose to draw the clouds in with marker, I love utilizing negative space and coloring the sky instead. Once again, use a light hand and make brushy shapes to create the outlines of the clouds. Then fill in the remainder of the sky leaving the inside of the clouds white (for now).




Step 6: Add Details with Colored Pencil

The final step of adding color pencil detail really brings the whole piece together. Unlike in Mindful Sketching, we’ve worked backwards by filling in our color blocks first and now we’re going to add darker pencil outlines and details.

Start with the tall grass along the side of the road and make short, quick upward strokes on top of the marker strokes. Next, work on the tree line in the background by making vague tree-shaped scribbles. (Keep a gap in the treeline for the two larger roadside trees)



 Outline the side of the road beginning with the vanishing point and coming toward the foreground. Add in two shoulder lanes and the dashed center line, keeping the dashes very small in the background and longer as they reach the foreground.

Add the two roadside trees in on the left side of the image, starting with the smaller tree toward the background and then move forward to sketch the larger (closer) tree. Don’t forget to recall what you know about one-point perspective!

Take a darker pencil and draw the horizon line in again to make it stand out more, and then outline the shape of the mountain range as well.

Moving to the sky, use a light hand and very loose strokes to outline the clouds. Try to avoid making them look like stereotypical cartoon clouds and keep a sketchy style instead. Take a light pencil and add a little bit of shading to the bottoms of the clouds.



Finally, it’s time to add in the fence and the telephone poles - two relatively minor details that make a big impact when it comes to depicting one-point perspective! Starting at the vanishing point, draw small vertical lines and continue adding length to them (and space between them) as you move toward the foreground. Add the fence wires by drawing two light lines connecting the posts from background to foreground.


The telephone poles are done the same way: start at the vanishing point and make short and close vertical lines that get taller and farther apart as they approach the foreground. Add the cross post near the top of the pole and then lightly draw large C-curves connecting each pole with wires.


Last but not least, add a couple of birdies flying around!

I hope you’ve enjoyed creating this road trip scene with me. Next time you’re hitting the road - whether it’s across the country or across town, don’t forget your sketchbook!

If you follow this tutorial (or create your own sketch!) be sure to post it on social media and tag myself (@thealiciabruce) and @thepigeonletters! 







See all of Alicia’s tutorials here! 

Alicia is a 30-something photographer and artist with a love of color and a refusal to act her age. She favors a mix of pastel and bright colors, reminiscent of southern California and the 1960s, and is inspired by her travels around the world, wildflowers that might have been found in a hippie's flower crown, and lettering that has a little bit of flair to keep it whimsical.

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