Zen Coloring Project

Zen Coloring Project

This project is designed for travelers from America or Canada. Patriotic outlines of the Maple Leaf or The Bald Eagle are available within these directions. The idea behind this project can be made to apply to any shape. This is an introductory class of colored pencils and design concepts. We will learn what Zen Art is and how to develop a design. You can personalize your Zen creation with images meaningful to you. The following design such as flags of states that you may have traveled to serve as an example for the Zen Eagle. The Zen Maple leaf uses the flags of both countries and fabric patterns that a quilter might be familiar with. You could also personalize a design by using images of sport team emblems, hobby tools or just Zen doodles with favorite colors.

Skill level – beginner to advanced, all ages. This is a project that can be multi-generational. 

The following images were developed by Cora Newell and can be taught online or in a group class project.

Colored Pencil Techniques

Reducing Images

When developing a theme for your ZEN project be aware that if you are reducing something ( such as a flag pattern), most of it will not show up in the smaller space.

It is helpful to have an extra paper available to practice reducing before using a design on what will be your finished piece.

You will need to reduce each part of the design to a more simple image. Think of it as if you are looking at it from a distance. Would you be able to SEE details? How can you change the image to represent the details?

Example: The American Flag –  if reduced, you would not be able to see the detail of the stars.

With a blue pencil, draw a circle to represent a star. Don’t worry about how many circles to draw, just draw enough that you can read it as a white spot.

 Don’t worry about accurately lining up the circles, just fill the space you have available.  Once you have done that fill in the surrounding space.

When drawing the stripes be sure to leave enough space between each so you can see them as stripes.

Example: Canadian Maple Leaf – reduce each leaf to a more basic shape. Stop thinking of it as a leaf and reduce it to a simpler shape such as triangles. Create a stem with 3 branches, left, center and right.  Each leaf is one small and one larger triangle.

After creating the 3 leaves, add a connecting line tip to tip on the lower triangles, allowing for the center stem to show.

Pencil control

It is usually best to color areas with a light touch then repeat with more and more pressure to achieve the look you want. You can always add more color but you cannot remove it.

To achieve a smooth application of color you should hold the pencil at the far end and use a swirl motion.  Holding the pencil at the far end causes you to apply less pressure and you will create a soft blending of color.  The closer you hold the pencil to the tip the more pressure you naturally apply.

After filling the desired area with a soft blending motion, repeat the process with more and more pressure until you reach the intensity of color that you want.

To add dimension to an area, shade the edge with a darker color or even a regular lead pencil.

To create a bowed/curved effect, just darken 2 opposing edges or all 4.

If you have limited colors available remember that with Prisma Color brand pencils or a similar fine art pencil, you can layer them to create more colors. Fine art colored pencils have a higher wax content than cheaper pencils. The cheaper the pencil, the less likely to achieve quality results. When purchasing supplies check or ask about the wax content. Art suppliers such as Dick Blick offer their own brand which is comparable to Prisma at a lower price.


  • Yellow+ red = orange
  • Red+ yellow +blue = brown
  • Yellow+ blue = green
  • Red+ blue = purple

Zen Eagle

  1. If you choose to use the included eagle outline I suggest printing on card stock.
  2. Create inner shape guidelines. In the head area I chose long narrow shapes. To use this pattern, start at the inner face area and connect a line out to one of the angled edge areas, repeat. The beak should be tighter designs mostly geometric in nature. When creating shapes for the body think loosely of feathers or large loop areas mixed with box shapes.
  3. Identify what personal images, (PI) you would like to incorporate into your design. I chose flags that I have traveled to in my RV.  On a separate paper draw how you want your flags or design to look. Use this as a reference when you start merging your designs on the final image.
  4. BEAK Start your Zen designs in the beak  You can just doodle these free hand, as your Zen mojo directs you, or you can download some pattern ideas by googling “Free Zen Designs”.
  5. For the beak area you will need a color range based around yellows. I suggest at least 5 colors, light yellow, medium yellow, bright yellow, light orange, gold. The bottom beak should be slightly darker than the top beak.
  6. Add color. When complete, shade edges of lower beak with  a  raspberry or a tan color to give a recessed impression.
  7. EYE I recommend using 3 colors to define the eye.
  8. HEAD  Using a light color palette, lay color Zen patterns in the head This needs to have a lighter look than any other part of the bird so do not use a lead pencil to define zen design in this area, just use the colored pencils.
  9. The top line designs of the head should alternate between solid color and designed use of color. Be sure to include areas of white.
  10. BODY Starting with the body, develop feather tip shaped open areas that will hold your Zen patterns. Just doodle some connecting lines between the starting shapes, keep this loose. Try to avoid creating small shapes.
  11. Choose some of those areas to pencil in your flag/PI choices. Repeat your flag/PI images as many times as you would like but at least 3 times. Multiples of three tend to be visually pleasing
  12. I know the body of the bird will be the darkest colors because that is the coloring of an actual eagle. I know the beak will be the second darkest colors with the head in very light tones.
  13. Using a lead pencil lightly lay in your Zen designs in the loose spaces you previously established. As you move space to space alternate curved lines, sharp edges, circular patterns, stripes etc. You need to use this same idea when laying in color. You will basically have areas of blue, red and yellow, (primary colors). You can define edges with the use of green, purple and orange, (secondary colors). You can also define areas by the use of dark versus light colors.
  14. Add color to your flag/PI designs. The other body designs and color will be determined as you progress with the overall project and begin to start relating area to area.
  15. Do not worry about right or wrong choices. It is ART there are no rules. HAVE FUN.
  16. Final options are to return to the beak with an overlay of intense yellow in the entire beak, then use an orange to shade the curved edges and the bottom beak. Use a thin line sharpie to re-define the head and sides of body. I recommend not using the sharpie on the beak Additional light shading using the pencil on the outer edges of  the overall bird will add a dimensional look. This just adds emphasis and drama. 

To help you get started, click the following links to download printable PDF versions of the FIRST and SECOND pictures above.

Maple Leaf

  1. Trace an outline of a shape on drawing paper or print the included leaf image onto cardstock. (If you don’t have a lightbox to trace the image, you can produce the same result using the following steps; tape the printed image on a window OR tape the drawing paper on top of that and use a light pencil to trace the image.)
  2. Draw inner lines to breakdown large and medium size design areas.
  3. Using a light pencil, start introducing designs/patterns. When choosing designs be aware of areas to contrast or match pattern. Example if one area has lines the next might look good with circles or triangles. If you want a pattern to repeat throughout the piece such as a chain of boxes or a ribbon with a design, draw those in first. Let your image develop as a free flow art piece.
  4. Begin introducing color using Prismacolor Color Pencils or a similar pencil with a high wax content. Prismacolor is a brand of pencil. If you are purchasing from a professional art store, (Dick Blick, Joe’s Artarama) they may offer their own brands. You need quality pencils with high wax content to achieve blending and color intensity.
  5. I always try to continuously bounce between areas of primary, ( red, yellow, blue ) and secondary, ( orange, purple, green) colors for variety. If my design is a chain or ribbon I might link and repeat different shades of color, such as; red, orange, yellow.
  6. When you have completed your design there are several finishing steps to consider. These are all personal choices:
  7. Using a white pencil and pressing with medium to hard pressure go over any area of color that you want to appear more solid or smooth. Practice on a separate piece of paper to see how this effect changes the original color.
  8. Using either a regular lead pencil or a dark color choice, edge the entire image with a shading of dark to light as you work from the outer line in. Keep this light as you are doing it. You can always make it darker but once you start you cannot lighten it. You can darken the shading by applying with medium pressure and reducing the pressure as you work your way in or just repeat shading layer upon layer until you are happy with the result.
  9. Use a sharpie to outline or define any areas of choice.
  10. Sign your name. When framing, consider using a two layer matt. The final image typically looks nice with an inner intense color that has a white overlay matt and a colorful frame.

To help you get started, click the following links to download printable PDF versions of the FIRST and SECOND pictures above.

Create your own ZEN hand.

This project is easy, and fun.  Just trace your hand and develop a free flow art piece using  ZEN design elements that express the inner you with fine art color pencils. Other ideas would be tracing a friend or relatives hand and developing a design using images of their favorites.  When I created a design for a musical friend, I used the musical scale of their favorite song. I downloaded the information and drew the notes in different colors with the scale flowing through the design like a ribbon.  When children do this project they have used images such as kitty paws, hot rod flames etc.

Using a variety of decorative line patterns and color groupings, each person can create imagery uniquely matched to their own personality. This can be a fun multi-generational idea.

With this project you can create a whimsical personal portrait through the simple use of color and line that makes a great gift.

Copyright/ Cora Newell 2020