Category Archives: Pt 3/project 1

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.

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.

Part Three, Project 1, Exercise 1- Sketching individual trees

Find a tree that interests you in a park, garden or anywhere where you feel comfortable sitting or standing. Look out from a ground floor window if that suits you better. You’ll need to be at some distance from a big tree.Do around four preliminary drawings – it may help to divide your paper up into four landscape or portrait boxes. Use a soft pencil (2B–6B), charcoal or pen and ink. Keep building up on the basis of previous sketches.

  • Draw a simple outline of the tree’s overall shape.
  • Draw basic shapes in outline, or shaded areas that describe how the foliage forms in different masses around the tree.
  • Draw the outlines of the trunk and the main branches of the tree that you can see.
  • Draw with lots of scribbled outlines or shade roughly to try and indicate something of the texture of the foliage.These simple studies will help you get to grips with the structure of the treeIMG_0708

I followed the directions for this exercise but felt I had not really got to grips with trees.  I was looking for the perfect tree- but in doing so realised what a variation there is between trees- even within the same species!  I found their structure frustrating in their randomness, and difficult to reproduce without looking messy, so I decided to look at a whole range of trees and to sketch different shapes/sizes/colours in different media to learn what works (and doesn’t work!):






By the end of this exercise I was happier that I had made several attempts.  I particularly enjoyed using the charcoal and the pen.  Watersoluble graphite pencils were effective in that they created a wash and prevented me getting too involved in detail.  The colour pencils were similarly useful and I found that working in colour I could create more of a sense of form through using different tonal values of colours.