Part three, Project 1, Exercise 2- Larger observational study of an individual tree

Now spend more time really looking at a tree in detail. Spend at least an hour on this drawing. Choose which media will suit the individual characteristics of ‘your’ tree.

Try to work fairly quickly so that you keep a free and flowing hand to follow the fluid lines and forms of the tree. What makes the tree distinctive? Its solid massive presence (a mature oak, horse chestnut, sycamore or ash), its airiness and delicacy (a birch), or its bent windblown form (a hawthorn)? You don’t need to draw twigs and branches in detail but try to capture a sense of directionality. Ash twigs curl. Beech twigs grow straighter and are almost on a horizontal plane when in leaf; in winter they reach up. Some Scots pine, larch and firs only branch out high up the trunk, making for a very distinctive form. Continually observe your subject and don’t be afraid to keep drawing without looking at your paper.

Notice the light source; see where the deepest shadows are and the strongest light (these are usually next to each other). Hint at texture by fluid use of shading or lines.


The tree I chose to study in detail was a beautiful and very old, gnarled Yew tree in my garden.


I started with a very rough pencil sketch.  At this point I was not sure which direction I was going to take it and had also spent a very cold hour in the garden getting this drawing started.  So I decided to take the drawing indoors and to complete it from a photograph taken from the same point I had been sitting.

Once indoors (and warm!) I decided I wanted to create a more detailed picture, so I switched to a fine pen (0.5mm) and stated to painstakingly detail the trunk.  I was trying to be struck with myself about hatching and cross hatching neatly in order to build up the intensity of shadow and texture.


Then I added some branches- enough to give a feel for the tree, but actually only a representative selection (as you can see in the photo above).


I really like the finished picture.  I really enjoyed drawing it too and found the tortuous contortions of the trunk a joy.  It must be a very old tree and I wonder if anyone has ever looked at it so closely!?  The trunk is a dominating presence and sits proudly on a patch of bare earth (apparently yew trees are deliberately planted to prevent weeds and undergrowth going beneath!). I think the ivy growing at its foot creates a sense of age and permanence.  It is an evergreen, with a thick canopy which creates deep shade underneath, and the leaves are rather raggedy, growing from fairly straight drooping branches.  I feel that the cross-hatching is effective and creates a sense of depth.  The cross hatching in the background suggests further foliage without detailing every leaf and twig.
I tried to work with a  free and flowing hand and to follow the fluid lines and forms of the tree, especially in my initial sketch, even though I was fairly painstaking in my approach to the detail.  However, I think I have captured the flow of the trunk and branches.

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