How to Draw a Shell Step by Step Tutorial for Beginners

Today, we’re going to show you how to draw beautiful, realistic shells using Arteza paper and colored pencils.

Shells are a fun art project to tackle. Each shell is made of multiple colors sweeping across the surface. The patterns are complex and unique to each and every shell. The shape of each shell reflects the mathematical beauty of nature.

Shells are especially great for colored pencils because the colors blend softly together.

Let’s get started.

Step 1. Identify Your Light Source

When you start drawing anything, whether, from real life or your imagination, it’s important to identify where your light source is coming from and keep it in mind while making all your decisions.

If you can draw from real life outside, you may find this easier. The reason is that the sun provides a powerful single light source.

Inside, you often get shadows from multiple light sources. These can cast complicated shadows.

To fix this, we can simply decide where we want our light source to be coming from. On our sheet of paper, we’ll give ourselves a guide. This will help us with both our highlights and shadows as we go along.

Step 2: Shape

Let’s start the actual drawing!

We’re going to start with outlining the basic shape of the shells.

When you look at the three shells we have here, you’ll see that, although they have very different shapes and curves to them, they all hold to the same pattern of getting progressively smaller toward the center, following the growth of the snail that grew them.

These are very different from clam shells, which have two parts and open and close.

Step 3: Highlight

Highlights are an important piece of your artwork.

They can give your subjects more depth and volume. Even without extra shading, the simple presence of highlights makes your drawing look more 3D.

When we’re using a medium like colored pencils, we’re not given a white, so we preserve the paper to bring out highlights. To do this, it can help to draw around the highlight so you don’t accidentally fill it in later.

Whatever we’re drawing on the shell – for example, the pattern on the outside – we’ll stop just as it comes to the highlight.

For the more craggy surfaces, we see that the highlight is broken up a bit.

Step 4: Shade

While highlights can help add volume, shadows can help define positions.

Remember when we defined where the light source is coming from earlier? We’ll use this direction to determine where the shadow is.

As we’re drawing, we’ll sketch in the shadow perpendicular from the light source.

The shadow is darkest close to the shell. We’ll draw a dark line right up next to it – sometimes called, cutting dark.

Step 5: Detail

Now that we have the basics of the shell in place, we’re going to fill in the details to really bring these shells to life.

First, in the parts of the shell that are closest to us, we’re going to use warm colors. Warmth tends to come forward, while cool tends to recede.

We’re also going to use the direction and source of the light to decide which colors to use. The colors are affected by how the light hits them and can change depending on the intensity of the light bouncing off it.

For areas where you may have too much coverage, you can scrape a bit of the color off.


Now, it’s your turn. You can start drawing your shells from the references you just saw here in this video - but we think it’s more fun to go find some shells that appeal to you and experiment drawing with those!

There’s no wrong way to express yourself in your drawings, so don’t be afraid. Pick up some colored pencils, a pad of paper, and relax while you sketch to your heart’s content.

Above all else, have fun. Remember: art is a journey, not a destination.

Be sure to check out other Arteza How to Draw videos for more great tutorials.

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