Hey there, welcome to a little miniseries on trees and plants! In the 30 Days to More Confident Sketching class we hit the usual roadblocks – it happens allllll the time so do not feel bad if trees are your nemesis! I think I have an explanation that might really help to change how you SEE trees – plus I’ll take you on a walk to a park so I can show you what you need to look for.

Before we begin: if these first sketches are like yours – NO SHAME. Okay? Seriously. Whether you’re a beginner struggling to make a pine look like a 3D tree or someone who can draw everything BUT a pine tree….all are welcome here. I wanna help you get over that, alrighty? And I am sure we can do this together!

Above on the left: a stick with horizontal lines, adding needles onto them…basically a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. (I love Charlie, so that’s a happy thought for me!) A tree like this looks flat – like a fake tree laid on the ground with all its “arms” to the side, nothing coming out from the middle to make it 3d.

Above on the right: this one is MY fault, since I know I have often said “just scribble, then add some shading.” That’s not a very careful explanation of what’s actually going on with a tree, right!?! Making a long scallopy shape and adding shading along the bottom of it reminds me of a stuffed animal appendage – it’s bumpy on the surface and would have its shading down on the bottom side. Makes sense for a stuffed animal, but NOT for a tree.

I owe you better than that lame explanation! And I hope this video is going to help.

Tutorial: How NOT to draw trees (part 1 pines)

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!

Small scribbly sketch

This small tree started with a LIGHT triangle if you need training wheels so your tree stays in an approximate shape. Hold your pencil BACK from the tip and loosen your grip! As you scribble, make some roundy curvy lines and occasionally some points – but as  you go, change the pressure regularly. If you need to, count 1, 2, 3, 4 and figure out if you should lift up on 1 and 3 or on each number (depending on how fast you count!) to get heavier (darker) lines along with faint (lighter) lines.

Add some midtone shading either with the pencil, a qtip, a blending stump, or any tool you like. I did leave some light areas here. Then add some dark shapes – NOT just lines across under the branches, but make interesting shapes. If there’s enough midtone in the tree, the darks shouldn’t stand out too much – you want the whole tree to feel unified, not focusing on OMGTHESHADOWSAREDARK! or WOWALLISEEISTHEBOLDTREETRUNK! 

Larger pencil tree

It’s easier to get more detail and more values into a larger drawing of course! The base shape here wasn’t a triangle, but it’s how I usually sketch a tree: I look for where branches bulge out to one side or another or if there’s a main feature (a bald spot, etc) to note in very light pencil. Then I pick a spot on the tree and one on my drawing using the shapes I see to make shapes on my paper. 

Note: I’ve been working on my own calligraphic style of line work for years now – if it takes you a while that’s perfectly ok!

Cover with a light midtone the area of the branches. In reality you’ll rarely see any VERY light highlights on a pine, though some species will have a light(ish) green in good sunshine. Then start carving in the darks – this is where I adjust some details too, since my initial scribbly outline might need a little twig hanging out or something to make the whole shape more interesting. 

Smooth out some of the graphite using a stump or blending tool of some kind (a finger can work!) then re-establish the darks and refine details.

This week I’ll be working on a big pine tree drawing so watch my social media, and I’ll post it here when it’s all done!

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Color and ink

Whatever your favorite medium is, it may well do great with this technique. Start with a light “wash” of color – loose edges to define the whole shape of the tree. With a midtone add in more; don’t get fussy with detailed small marks yet! When you get to adding darks, use your calligraphic line drawing style developed with pencil – sometimes it may look like dots, but other times wiggly little lines. Polks dots can make it look like the measles, so be careful; you’re only adding darks in the shadow areas plus perhaps breaking up any large sections.

Then go over it with a ink pen; if this is your last step it won’t matter what kind since the color medium won’t drag any pen lines around. Use that calligraphic style again, letting the lines come and go so it’s not a solid outline.

Color only

If you won’t be adding pen, you’ll need to use a dark enough value of the color medium to create that last pass. Keep reducing the size of the marks as you go from the first light wash of color to the dark details.

A few photos for you to use

I collected a few pics while I was out – feel free to use any that you like!

See you in a few days with part 2!

If I find any deciduous trees with actual leaf canopies, I might be working with those, otherwise we’ll draw some bushes next, ok? See you Saturday!

Supplies

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2 Comments

  1. Louise

    You make it look so easy. Thank you for showing us how to improve our art adventure. I think my ability is still in about 3rd grade. But unlike you, I don’t practice drawing as I should.

    Reply
  2. Pat

    This video was so helpful. Thank you so much. And you have the calmest voice. It’s a pleasure to listen to you and hear your explanations. Thank you so much.

    Reply

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