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How to Draw Realistic Sand

Updated April 17, 2017

Sand is a common element of drawings of beach and desert landscapes. Drawing sand can present a dilemma to artists because it's impossible to drawing each grain of sand and communicating its texture seems like a daunting task. Conveying the look of sand through pencil marks can be practised by following a few basic steps.

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  1. Draw flat areas of sand using gentle shading. Sand often covers vast flat areas, such as on undisturbed beaches where there are virtually no structural forms. An inexperienced artist may see this and feel like there is nothing to draw, but subtle degrees of shadow can be seen in flat areas. Gently shade these areas with a blunted pencil point. Use subtle curves to make the surface look contoured. Experiment with shading in different shapes to convey more complex contours.

  2. Draw sand dunes and mountains using precise lines and dramatic shadows. First draw the lines indicating the sides and ridge of the dune. Indicate the arcs of the ridge with a curved or "S" shaped line. Then shade in one side of the ridge. Visualise the angle that the sun is hitting the dune to determine how far to extend the shadow. The taller the dune and the lower the sun is in the sky, the further the shadow will stretch. The highest point or arc of the ridge will have the longest shadow. Use the technique of Step 1 to add variations in the dune and the surrounding regions of sand.

  3. Draw rippling sands with shading and your eraser. Draw the shadowed trough of each ripple with a light line, or avoid lines and just use shading. Also experiment by uniformly shading the whole area and then drawing the crest of each ripple with a kneaded eraser. In this case you are drawing the light rather than the shadow.

  4. Combine techniques to create complex sand structures. In deserts, sand ripples often appear over larger dune structures. Draw the large dune sides and ridges, and then sketch ripples contouring over the curved sides of the dune. On sandy beaches traversed by many people, all sorts of random shapes evolve in the sand surface. Draw these by playing with various shapes of shadow and miniature ridges.

  5. Tip

    Look at pictures of deserts and beaches to see how sand forms shapes at different scales.

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Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Drawing paper
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Photo reference (optional)

About the Author

Greg Turin is an artist and certified art educator with over five years of experience writing about art. His work can be found at websites such as Deviant Art and Sonic Eclectic. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Binghamton University as well as a Master of Arts in art education from Brooklyn College. He has learned and taught guitar since 2001.

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