Part three, project 1, Exercise 3 -Study of several trees

This drawing demonstrates the artist’s ability to be selective and simplify the scene. Spend one to two hours on this exercise. Work in a wood or study a group of trees. Foliage will provide its own contrasting tonal areas,  Try to work in broad tonal areas. Look for strong contrast in light or dark or intense areas of colour.  Your drawing should suggest form and mass, but don’t get stuck with detail.

I really didn’t enjoy this exercise.  I had to restart 2-3 times looking at different clumps of trees and the first ones seemed to just be a mess!  But I settled down determined to simplify the subject as that was where I was going wrong- getting sidetracked into defining branches and leaves too much and too early on in the drawing.


In the sketch above the light was difficult to capture as it was mostly coming from behind and mainly hitting just the left side of the left tree (conifer) and the top of the middle tree.  The right one was an elegant tree which receded into the dark shade and background and with the sun in my eyes I couldn’t see it properly.  So I gave up and tried another group of trees in a different direction:


This time I tried using tinted charcoal pencils, but even the outline sketch started to get too involved.  I was really struggling with the concept that a bank of trees is really a large swathe of green(s), but with only two greens in my range of pencils it started to get very monotonous.  I wasn’t even going to include this but felt I should show my failures!!

The next attempt was done while sat in the car outside my daughter’s ballet lesson.  The advantage this gave is that I tended not to rush as I am trapped for the hour and killing time!  The larger trees were coming into reddish berry and starting to turn brown on the tips of the leaves.  I started using a pen and then added some colour using watercolour pencils.  This time I felt there was depth to the picture with the deep shade under the canopies and the light areas where sun was hitting the leaves.  I liked the fact there was a dead tree in the middle giving contrast of shape and a tree with a completely different growth habit on the right.  Even though this was a fairly quick sketch I felt in retrospect that it worked.




I had another go at home looking at a bank of trees in my garden.   It might not have been a great choice as they are very mature and growing closely together, however I liked that they were in bright sunlight so they had strongly defined shadows.  Because of this I found it easier to look at them from a less fussy and detailed perspective.

The dynamic forms in this picture came mainly from the different shapes of the different species of trees (Yew/ blue conifer/ deciduous- I’m not good a identifying them!) as can be seen in the accompanying photo.

I had to think about how to differentiate the shapes of the different species and to make them look different from a row of lollipops.  As I developed the drawing and intensified the shadows and really dark/light areas of contrast it started to come alive and I increasingly enjoyed doing the drawing.  The fir tree in the centre works particularly well.  The one I struggled with the most was the yew tree on the left- the branches tend to curve upwards slightly while the twigs/leaves curve hang downwards raggedly and I found this very hard to capture.  However, as I concentrated on areas of light and dark even this tree gained shape. Overall there were lots of bits of branch/trunk between the leaves that I could see, but I didn’t want to over emphasise these-  I tried to hint at these areas with lines and shading within the shading… I think it just about works.  I tended to crosshatch the shaded areas and wonder if this gives the drawing a technical flavour- maybe it would have been better to shade them.

I wonder if ink and a wash might have simplified this composition and created more light/dark contrasts?

  • In order to distinguish one species of tree from anotherI tried to capture the growth habit of the trees in terms of shapes of leaves, branch, silhouette, direction of growth, shape of clumps of branches.
  • The mass of foliage and the spaces between was conveyed by creating  a sense of 3D form using shadow and light areas.  (Much as you would if you ere drawing a sphere!)
  • I tried to capture light on the trees by using three main tones, dark, medium and light so as to keep the shapes simplified.

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