Step-by-step: The little ballerina by Zoe James Williams

The Little Ballerina by Zoe James Williams


I love attending ballet rehearsals to draw the dancers in their various poses. I draw very quickly using a pen or pencil initially. I have no option as they move very fast!  Practise makes perfect.


Drawing the figure, whether you’re in rehearsal or just out sketching in the park takes practice and observation. Take time to look at people even before you put pen to paper. If you’re using a pen don’t worry about making mistakes that you can’t rub out, you just carry on.  People like seeing the development of your drawing before their eyes. A few basics to remember when drawing people.

If you’re look for a realistic person, who is either pliéing or just walking along the street, it’s key to remember some simple proportional facts;

  • If you were to replicate the size of an average head, it should fit into the body 7.5 or 8 times
  • Shoulders are twice as broad as head
  • Size of foot is same length as from wrist to elbow
  • Hand is as big as face
  • Legs are approximately start at halfway from half way down body
  • If arms of the subject are straight and left to fall at the side, they drop at around in the middle of the thigh.
  • Childs/baby head is a quarter of its height.

Measurement tips

Look at the overall shape. Think in terms of individual shapes and break a person down into squares, triangles and circles, it will be especially helpful foreshortening.

For ease, use one body feature to place another. For example, the dancer in my images, her hand comes directly above her front leg. It’s key to not ignore the background and to use it as a measuring stick. The age old rule applies here, always look at the bigger picture.

Also make use of negative spaces. That is the space around the person or object you’re drawing. There is a triangular shape behind my subjects bent front leg. If that’s space is drawn incorrectly, the leg will also be wrong and your whole composition will begin incorrect.


Once I have the figure drawn, I add patches of colour to highlight the tutu and hair. When adding the colour with Inktense blocks (applied dry), you don’t have to remain in the line of your drawing.

Be bold but keep it simple! I used three Inktense blocks, blue, purple and ochre. The purple and blue was used on the tutu and for shadow. You’ll notice the colours compliment and mix nicely. The Ochre was added to the hair for a little bit of colour.


Using a Derwent Waterbrush, I then began to add water to where I had placed the colour. You can leave some white of the paper or spread out the colour as if using a wash. The Inktense colours are extremely vibrant especially when you add water to them. Due to their consistency, they dry permanently but further layers can be reapplied over if you so wish.

I added more Inktense colour block, (a mix of blue and purple) closer to the feet as that is where the shadow would be denser while slowly fading away the further we move away from the . If you are using a mix of colours, don’t forget to clean the brush in between as it could muddy your colours.

The Inktense range has a jewel like colour range and its vibrancy is part of its character you want to retain, be that dry or with a wash.


I continued to add the shadows on the left and below to bring out the ballerina, almost making her pop in front of the bright colours,and by using more water was able to dilute the colour to a lovely pale wash that wouldn’t take away from the figure.


To finish off the Ballerina, I added a little more purple to the edge of the shadow of the tutu and more blue and then wetted it again to allow the colours to blend. I then took a tissue and wiped it away in a diagonal angle so that the shadow blurred and faded away.


 Sketching is where the love of art began for me and the speed at which I sketch, means that I can capture the intensity and speed of their movement, rapidly. It’s really exciting and you can try it anywhere, be it in a theatre, on the bus or just on a park bench.

The image above was a quick sketch of a beautiful pas de deux. A blank page can be very intimidating in its scope and possibilities, so I pre-prepared some sheets of my sketch pad with a coloured wash of two colours using Derwent Watercolour pencils.

I used the side of the pencils diagonally and used a waterbrush to create a wash covering a broad area and waited for it to dry before going to the rehearsal.

I quickly sketched the couple with ink and then added Derwent Golden Brown 59 Watercolour Pencil to the skin and red and purple Inktense blocks in dry format to the dress of the ballerina in sweeping strokes, creating movement and speed due to the downwards strokes. I made sure I used the sticks in the same direction as the dress to avoid a disjointed feel.

I added some black Derwent Inktense to the man very lightly and when adding the water dragged some of the colour out to create washes.

Finally, I used a Derwent Waterbrush to add intensity to the colour on the left hand side of the dress, leaving the colour untouched towards the right to retain the dry lighter texture. This way, the silky material of the dress began to look more delicate and created movement as the romantic pas de deux swept around the ballroom.

About Zoe

Zoe is a contemporary figurative artist predominately known for her paintings of ballet. Zoe has painted key figures from the world of dance, notably principles from The Royal Ballet, Bolshoi and Mariinsky. With unique and privileged access behind the scenes and in rehearsals, Zoe is able to capture private intimate moments of the ephemeral life of a dancer by exploring not only their beauty and power but also their vulnerabilities. Zoe uses mixed media including Derwent’s Inktense range and the Derwent Watercolour Pencils.

Zoe was the first Artist in Residence at Swansea Grand Theatre and also teaches drawing and watercolour art classes in Mumbles and Swansea.

Zoe exhibits across the UK and has work in private collections worldwide including Xander Parish, Mariinsky Ballet,  Alina Cojocaru, English National Ballet and Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones amongst many others.  Her work can be seen in the collections of The Welsh National Opera,  Swansea Grand Theatre,


Instagram: @zoejameswilliams

Twitter: @zoeartist

Facebook: Zoe James-Williams