Every artist has their own ‘favorite’ subject to draw or paint. I feel most comfortable with landscapes even though I include all kinds of subjects in my repertoire. I know for some, trees are crazy hard, and I’ve started a series that may go on for a while – I would love to help more people create awesome trees. In any medium the same principles apply, though I’ll be using a graphite pencil.



In my last tree tutorial, we talked about pine trees (left)….today we’ll talk about other plants and shrubs too (right).

The photo reference is HERE and is by photographer Pauline West.

Tutorial: 14 Tips to draw better plants, trees

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

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14 Tips

  1. Study real trees! And bushes. And plants. Walk around them, peek under branches. What’s causing shadows? How bright are the highlights?
  2. Make each plant unique. What shape are the leaves? What size? Can you see branches or are they covered? How tight are leaves packed in?
  3. Set the darks. Choose an area that has a real dark section so you have something to balance against as you work through the drawing.
  4. Create shadows within shadows. A black in a field of 85% black will create more depth than just making the whole thing really dark. 
  5. Differentiate directional grasses. Do they lean in one direction? Vertical or angled? Sharp or soft tips? 
  6. Match darks. Refer back to the dark area you already set. Make sure you populate some of that dark elsewhere in the drawing.
  7. Scale matters. Sometimes scale is dictated by the plant itself and the size of its leaves or needles. But additionally, the further away the plant is, foliage gets smaller further away.
  8. Clearest detail in the foreground. It’s closest so you’ll see the most sharp detail. Additionally, draw the viewer’s eye to the place YOU want them to look by putting the most detail and value change there (lightest light next to darkest dark).
  9. Repeat yet vary. Most landscapes will have several plants of the same variety; be careful you aren’t replicating the same plant shape or floral pattern – mix it up.
  10. Strategically deploy an eraser. Don’t forget sometimes a light coat of graphite can be erased to great effect.
  11. Layer plants. Look for where one is in front of another. Lighter plants in the back with darker in the front are much easier than the negative drawing that has to be used to go the other direction.
  12. Soften distant elements. Exaggerate the value differences from the distant background to the mid and foreground. Let them be both lighter and more out of focus.
  13. Crisp midground twigs. On top of distant elements, add in some trees or plants in the mid gruond.
  14. Leave openings in canopies. When trees have sky behind them, you can often see light areas – they aren’t empty, but will have some twigs or leaves breaking into them.

Need a class?

I wasn’t planning on a class but I had posted a few days ago on the Community tab about whether a class is in order since I have the footage of this drawing. Let me know if you’re interested! 


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  1. Sandy Allnock

    I’m so glad you found it helpful, John! We all need practice – me too 🙂

  2. John

    Thank you for the wonderful article and advice. I had the opportunity to use them, and I can confidently say that they really help, and I’ve become better at depicting trees in my drawings. However, there’s still a lot of practice needed.


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