Skull and Crossbones… Timber Background Tutorial.

This skull and crosebones from Johanna Basford’s Lost Ocean colouring book was a slow process.  I picked the picture to work on with a limited palette.  I used only four pencils (Polychromos): light yellow, yellowish green, black and white to see just how interesting I could make the pic using just these.  I was pretty happy with the result except… it looked so lonely lost in a sea of white.  So, after some thought, I decided to add some kind of frame to it.  I had the idea of this ghostly image being the spirit of a drowned pirate haunting cursed ships at sea.  The scary phantom floating through a hole in the hull just before the sea water rushes in.

I started by loosely drawing in the timber panels and nails in gray lead (graphite pencil).



I decided to do the initial colouring with soft pastels using the method of rubbing the pastel onto a makeup remover pad and rubbing it in in long strokes along the panels.  I avoided anywhere that wasn’t going to be timber.  I used two tones of brown, a lighter tan and a darker brown.  I lay the brown first and then added large streaks of the darker colour to simulate the colouration of the timber.  i wasn’t too worried about getting an even colour as streaky, blotchy colour would look more natural. I used my new Mungyo pastels from South Korea.  These little pastels are quite soft, come in 64 colours and were very cheap!  I paid $17 Australian for them including free shipping.


After spraying workable mat fixative on the picture to protect the pastels…. Next I looked up photos on timber grain and using them as a reference I sketched in the grain using a very dark brown pencil.  The nail heads were done with dark gray and a white prismacolor pencil.  (Prismacolor white is opaque and will show up on a darker surface.)

Next I selected a dark bluey-green pastel and blushed in the background with a another makeup removal pad beong careful not to go over the timber.  I used a cotton tip to get into the corners.  I darkened the corners with a matching dark bluey green pencil (cobalt green) to make the timber edges stand out.  Finally I sprayed another layer of fixative and admired the result.

I’m happy with this experiement.  I suggest, though, that you try this technique on a scrap piece of paper until you’re happy with it before adding it to any of your pictures.  Hope you have fun with this.  Happy Colouring!

(If there is enough demand I will make a Youtube tutorial of me adding the timber background to another picture. 🙂 )


This tutorial is now available as a video on my Youtube channel.  Check it out here:




  1. Michelle W

    Thank you PETA for sharing your expertise – your work is truly amazing and I look forward to all your new posts as I am certain many people do so please keep posting. I loved your story about the skull and crossbones picture. I am quite sure Johanna Basford will be impressed. She may even wonder why she had not thought of the timber background? Peta, have you thought about doing a colouring book yourself? Your work is inspirational and your techniques interesting. Thanks again. Michelle ?

  2. Sandra Harris

    Amazing work Peta, I’ll have to think of another background now as you have claimed this one !

  3. Judi

    Wow, that is amazing. I am going to try it.

    I try most of the techniques you show, I just finished the Enchanted Forest using the pastel dawn background. Pretty happy with it!

  4. Leeanne

    Your artwork is beautiful and I love watching your tutorials, so I for one would be grateful if you do decide to do a video tutorial on this.

  5. Melvina Grose

    Peta this is amazing. I have been following you for a month now and I just love all of your work you have done. I have watched everyone of your youtube videos more than once to help me gain a better understanding on how to color with pencils and not so much a paintbrush. (I am a natural at oil painting) Color pencils are a lot different than oil paints and brushes. Watching your videos have made me so excited to color. I would LOVE for you to make a youtube video on how you were able to do the background in this picture. I would love to take a few tips from you on how you were able to do this free hand. I can’t draw but I can paint! LOL so with that being said I would love to take a few tips from you and how you were able to do draw and color the background to this picture. It is beyond stunning.

    From your faithful follower.

    Melvina Grose

  6. Michele Dietrich

    Peta please show a video of the process. I am in awe of your talent.

  7. els

    wahaaaaaa beautifull things you make 🙂 i am looking forward to new stuff

  8. Tracy

    Chiming in with everyone else – AMAZING! Plus, Peta I love that you don’t get hung up in having to use only the most expensive media. I saw some of these pastels at a craft store last weekend and passed on them since I hadn’t heard of them and I thought “those are WAY too cheap to be any good.” Your use of these and pencils like Marco Raffine help demonstrate that really great coloring can be done without breaking the bank (but it’s nice to mix in some other things when possible 😉

  9. Sharon Owens

    Beautiful Peta! Thanks so much for all your talent and inspiration! Yes…to any instructional videos!!!???

  10. Dorothee

    Hi. I just discovered the new passion of drawing and coloring. Your posts are great and my pictures are now developing into something interesting. Just one question: what do you think about using aquarell (water ) colors? Thanks. Dorothee

    1. Chaypeta (Post author)

      Watercolour pencils are just fine but you must remember that colouring book paper is not water colour paper and has not been ‘sized’ so it will buckle and wrinkle when wet. this happens in my Magical City pictures but it doesn’t bother me. test your watercolour pencils on a back page to see how the paper reacts before committing to them.


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