How to Draw Flames

Add More Fire to Your Next Art Piece (Literally)

Now that fall is officially in full swing, I can’t help but think of bonfires, toasted marshmallows and chilly nights curled under a blanket by the fireplace. And, when it comes to making art, you can really pack a “fiery” (pun  intended) punch by incorporating the vibrant colors and dramatic flare (again, intended) of flames.

How to Draw Flames and Fire | How to Paint Flames and Fire | Artist Daily
Camp Fire by Winslow Homer, oil on canvas

Although we all know what flames are and what fire looks like — lit matches, burning candles, campfires, wildfires and even houses on fire–creating fire effects in your art can be a little tricky. What’s more, adding flames to the mix can mean anything from superpowers to sci-fi disasters to people gathering together for warmth and comfort.

To get you started on the right track, here are the fundamentals of drawing flames, from the basic shapes and colors to halo effects and more. Enjoy!

Understanding the Shape of Flames

Drawing flames and fire can be a little more complicated than drawing a series of cylinders, circles and squares. But there are a few “basic” rules to keep in mind when it comes to mastering the shapes and movements.

1. Tears are Good

No matter the kind of flame you are drawing, you will almost always start with a teardrop or triangular shape that is fuller and wider at the base and tapers to a point at the top of the flame.

Add dimension by overlapping these teardrop shapes so your fire looks like it has depth and movement

2. Add Curves

No flame stands perfectly still. Play around with curving lines for the body of your fire. I’ve heard these called: s-shape, snake lines, seaweed and curvilinear. Go with whatever works for you.

Just keep your strokes fluid and your wrist loose. Make a few practice sketch lines before you attempt your final drawing.

Magdalene with the Smoking Flame by George de La Tour.
Magdalene with the Smoking Flame by George de La Tour

3. Have Fun

For more cartoonish flames or like the kind you see on a hot rod car, you will want to outline your flames in black and then color them in. Color transition can be less subtle with this approach.

For more realistic flames like you would see in the real world (candles, fire places and bonefires), you can forego the outline and use broken lines of color to create your flames. Your colors used can be more subtle.

4. Add some Flare

For a more dramatic flame, you can always add smoke to the fire. This can be a thin wisp of smoke that delicately wafts from the flame’s tip, or billowing smoke that swirls around your flames and almost obscures it.

Colors of smoke can be anything from blackish-gray to gray to white.

Selecting Colors

Traditionally, the color of flames tends to be a combination of white, yellow, orange and red. But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore other combinations.

Just remember, actual flames are lightest at their center or source, and get darker on the tips and edges of the fire.

1. Go Stark or Go Subtle — Your Call

If you want more of an illustration or cartoon feel to your flames, make the color transitions starker with less blending.

For more realism, concentrate on the subtle transitions of color in the flickering flames you want to draw.

Illustration by Martin Wittfooth.
Illustration by Martin Wittfooth

2. Consider Contrast

The darker your background, the more dramatic your flames will appear. For the most bold flame drawings, use pastels on a black piece of paper.

Your flame will almost seem to glow in the dark if you take the colors of your flame and use them to shade outward, like a halo effect. Just be sure to use a light hand so that the “body” of the flame doesn’t disappear with a highlight that is too heavily drawn.

3. Switch it Up

For more fantastical flames, use an alternative color palette from the typical yellow-orange-red. Instead, reach for blue, green, purple or pink.

You can also go totally noir when you decide how to draw flames by creating them in just black and white. If you do so, remember that the teardrop shape of the flame with the tapered tip and the halo of light surrounding the flame are going to be crucial effects.

Sharing is Caring, After All

Below you’ll find paintings created by our very own Artist Daily members for our Gallery. Appreciating the work of others is a great way to learn and grow as an Artist.

See how varied the use of flames or fire can be when you are creating art, and how each artist decided how to draw flames — and paint them — making their own sparks in a unique way.

How to Draw Flames 101. The Beauty of Fire by Roya Delkosh
The Beauty of Fire by Roya Delkosh

Notice how the artist uses the same curvilinear stroke, layered repeatedly, to convey the fire licking up the sides of the jug it surrounds.

How to Draw Flames 101_Sharon by the Campfire
Sharon by Campfire Light by Herm Rediess, pastels and pastel pencils on black charcoal paper

The white-hot center of the campfire is only more highlighted by the fact that it is drawn against the black of the paper the artist used for the surface. Herm also decided how to draw the flames with a halo effect that encircles the figure and the fire. That glow is visible, but never more heavily drawn or painted than the fire itself.

How to Draw Flames 101.Fire by MaryML, oil pastel painting. The wedge or triangular shape of this campfire is very common, with the thick base that tapers up thinly, with jagged edges of flame.
Fire by MaryML, oil pastel painting

The wedge or triangular shape of this campfire is very common, with a thick base that tapers up thinly (reminiscent of a teardrop or pyramid), with jagged edges of flame.

How to Draw Flames 101. Fire Series by Kevin Kusiolek, walnut ink on paper, 8 x 10. Kevin's flames are all about form since they are rendered in the sepia tones of walnut ink. Notice the dark core near the base of the fire--indicating billowing smoke--and the ragged edges of the flames as they climb into the sky.
Fire Series by Kevin Kusiolek, walnut ink on paper

Kevin’s flames are all about form and not color since they are rendered in the sepia tones of walnut ink. Notice the dark core near the base of the fire — indicating billowing smoke and the hottest part of the flames — and the ragged edges of the fire as the flames climb into the sky.

How to Draw Flames 101--Art by Woody Duncan
Fire in the Hole by Woody Duncan, watercolor painting

This is an unusual fire in that it is a propane flame. The flames are more colorful and prismatic, with a white core.

How to Draw Flames. Scot's Bay Evening by Alan Bateman, acrylic painting. Alan has painted the flames of the campfire in white with a hint of yellow. What is really exceptional is the smoldering wood--reddish and purple--toward the bottom right of the painting. The differences in texture between the two areas of flame really enliven the piece.
Scot’s Bay Evening by Alan Bateman, acrylic painting

Alan painted the flames of the campfire in white with a hint of yellow, orange and red. What is really exceptional is the smoldering wood of the campfire rendered in red and purple. The differences in texture between the two areas of flame really enliven the piece.


Are you looking for more drawing basics to take your art skills to the next level? Well, here is a free e-book on the Drawing Essentials. Just enter your email below and you’re halfway there, artists!

A Fiery Fun Fact for Good Measure

And last but not least, here is a little bit of an art history lesson for you to enjoy before you set off to draw some fiery flames of your own.

During the Baroque era, tenebrism became a technique many artists used to heighten the drama of their paintings. Tenebrism is the style of painting in which you use a great deal of chiaroscuro, or contrast of dark and light, with darkness dominating against searing highlights.

Through the murky darkness, you get a spotlight effect. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is most closely associated with the technique, but other artists like El Greco, Albrecht Dürer, Francisco Ribalta, Jusepe de Ribera, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Artemisia Gentileschi used it as well. Many of the principles of how to draw flames depend on these same characteristics — a spotlight effect and dramatic contrast of dark to light.

What are your favorite works of art featuring fiery effects? Share them with us in the comments!

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One thought on “How to Draw Flames

  1. Hello, this is very interesting. At present, I am drawing portraits, but many many years ago I made a painting featuring some candles, I remember my struggled with the flames, it was an oleo painting. I am working with pencil now, it would be interesting to see how I could bring to live the flame of a candle.
    http://www.becauseidream.com/

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