Drawing Trees

Although “Drawing Trees” comes at the end of the unit rather than the beginning, I have chosen to start with it because it is spring and I want the chance to draw “naked” trees as well as foliage-clad ones. I have been trying to draw realistic trees for quite some time, practising on the ones outside my apartment.  I will include some of these older drawings in this post.

For this exercise, I have drawn a beech, umpteen sycamores, some sort of stunted pine tree, a silver birch and a Spanish chestnut.  

This beech tree was drawn last spring in a local Naturpark, the Kottenforst.  Beech trees are some of my favourite trees; their colour and muscular form remind me of elephants!

Muscular beech tree



This silver birch tree was growing out of a river bank over the Rhine and was just getting its first foliage for the year. The proportions in the drawing are not quite right – it was taller and slimmer than drawn – although I did try to capture it in a viewfinder.  This drawing and the next two were drawn on very thin paper.  The ink behaves differently from the way it does on the more expensive Hahnemühle paper which I tend to use for sketching (as with the beech tree, above). 

Silver birch



A bit further along the path, I came across a spanish chestnut.  I had to sit quite close to it in order to draw it and so have focused on the trunk and lower branches.  The tree must be quite old and has lost a number of branches over the years.  I liked the boles on its trunk and focused on these. The paper wrinkled after I added a wash to the next drawing but it does create an interesting background texture! The course material advised against selecting pollarded, pruned or damaged trees but these are the most interesting.

Spanish chestnut tree



The next tree might be some kind of mediterranean pine tree.  It grows in the park next to Haus Carstanjan, which still houses part of the UN here in Bonn – an attractive park that has been carved up because the UN needed to upgrade its security – a double sadness. I pass it on the way to work and have long admired it  It used to have another branch that swung out to the left; now, only a stump remains.  I suspect that the branch was removed because it looked untidy and took up a lot of ground space.  It was gorgeous! For the sketch below, I observed the light on the branches in order to get a 3D “feel” to the tree.  The upper central branch swings out towards the viewer so that its lower surface catches more shade than the other branches.  I used a wash to capture some of the shadows in the pine needles. These trees could benefit from some context! 

Mediterranean pine



I also drew a stand of sycamore trees outside my second-floor window in an A4 pad.  I drew these in pencil after reading Ferdinand Petrie’s book “Drawing Landscapes in Pencil”.  I was quite pleased with the result, although it could benefit from more contrast.  Because it was drawn from the second floor, the trunks are foreshortened.  

 Stand of sycamore trees


One of the exercises focused on making preliminary drawings of a single tree in different media.  I used an A3 sketch pad. Because I had to do this on a cold, wet day, I used a sycamore outside my window as the subject, with the result that the proportions are strange due to the foreshortened trunk.  The media used are (clockwise from top left), H pencil and coffee wash, charcoal and carbon pencils, iron blue Inktense pencil with hibiscus tea, and sanguine conte pencil. Repeating the drawing made me more aware of the structure; the four drawings do resemble each other but there are minor differences in branch angles.  I realised afterwards, that in each drawing the tree appears a little closer to the viewer perhaps reflecting familiarity with the subject and a wish to go deeper into the subject or maybe this is just a bit too analytical…In the third drawing (sanguine, bottom left), the rain stopped and the sun came out for a moment, creating more obvious shadows on the trunk and some branches. 

The last one drawn was the blue Inktense drawing, which cuts the trunk off and is a more fluid drawing.  The hibiscus tea wash was absorbed very quickly by the paper and there is a slightly sinister sense of movement in the tree as if it were walking toward the viewer!

Four tree portraits


I then redrew the upper trunk area in Inktense pencils in order to get a sense of what was happening to the branches as they developed from the trunk and also to focus on the bark.  This was tricky, partly because three of the trees grow close together and it was not always obvious which branch belonged to which tree!  The branches should spread a little wider than drawn here.  I simplified the background.  The blue washed Inktense is a bit too intense and provides too much contrast – shading should be more gradual. 

Sycamore trunk detail


Here is close-up detail of trunk markings:

Trunk detail



Here is a drawing of a group of sycamores drawn with pastel pencils made on a sunny day in winter.  Because it is drawn at eye level, through a second-floor window, the focus is on the upper trunk and lower branches.  Behind the trees is a small chapel; these trees stand slightly to the left (as viewed) from the one above.  The light on these trees in winter can be quite dramatic and is much more interesting than in the summer, when their foliage excludes a lot of natural light.  The trunks are covered in lichen and appear bright yellow-green, providing much needed winter colour when the sun shines. The sketchbook is made from brown craft paper which I bought to try out for the background colour and the ridged surface; it is relatively thin and not always ideal as a drawing surface but helps here to provide the brick texture in the chapel wall.

Sycamores  chapel in winter


Here are some older drawings of the sycamores in different seasons, all on the same A4 brown craft paper.  Firstly autumn: a single sycamore tree.  Sycamores are the main – but not only – tree growing outside my apartment! This one was drawn in soft pastels, against a background of a darker tree, clothed in coppery-brown foliage.  I tried to capture the structure of the tree, which had become visible as the leaves were falling, and also the bright yellows and golds of the foliage.

Sycamore in autumn colours.jpg


Here is a group of sycamores at the same time of year.  I enjoy drawing these trees because many of them have odd, spindly trunks, growing at unusual angles, a consequence of overcrowding.

Autumn trees


In winter, the sycamores throw long shadows and there are glimpses of hills through the tree tops. The effect is especially intense at sunrise.  Here is a charcoal sketch of the early morning light filtering through the tree trunks and casting long shadows on the grass.  This was a fast impression; an attempt to catch fleeting light conditions.  The angle of one of the trunks off-centre is a bit odd but there is a sense of light in the sketch.

Trees in December sunrise



The drawing below was made using a Rotring sketch pen and sepia ink.  It was made on a sunny Saturday morning in spring recently. I was drinking tea and suddenly became aware of the sunlight on the roof of the old cottage across the green and rushed off to get my sketchbook.  Just over a week later, I could not have made this drawing because the sycamores were almost fully in leaf and the roof was barely visible!  I have tried to make the spring foliage on the trees in the foreground more obvious by adding darks to the trees in the background.  This was more successful in some parts of the drawing than in others.  I have left the paper untouched where light hits the roof and the sides of the trunks, and have tried to create more light higher up towards the crowns. 

Spring sunlight on roof


As a contrast, here is another drawing made from the balcony last September.  I am fortunate in living on a corner and have views to the north and east, both full of trees.  I thought at the time that it might be the last day of summer as a storm was coming in fast. The drawing was made fairly rapidly.  The tree to the right is a mature beech, which underwent “Baumarbeit” two summers before the drawing was made and is gradually recovering from its severe pruning.  I am not sure of the identity of the other trees although there is bound to be a sycamore or two in there somewhere. Black water-soluble fine liner was used with a pale violet wash applied with a water brush. 

View from balcony September 


In preparation for the A3 tree portrait – which I have yet to draw – I have been working on foliage techniques.  I observed the growth on an unidentified tree while waiting for a train.  After getting on the train, I took out a notebook and made rapid notes:





Later that evening, I expanded on this in a sketchbook and tried to apply the earlier observations to a larger image and applied colour.



I am not happy with the ways in which I represent foliage, which I have been trying for a couple of years to master but am not there yet!  During the last couple of evenings, now that there is more light later in the day, I have been sketching foliage from the window while listening to the radio.  I thought that it might be easier to see the tonal contrast without glasses, so tried this….  I can recommend it as a technique as long as you don’t mind not seeing what you are drawing! The page below includes various attempts to do this using pencil and water-soluble fine liner.  Some of this is imagined / drawn from memory, rather than from life, at least partly because I couldn’t see it properly…



The next two pages were primed in tea and hibiscus tea to eliminate the white background.  The first portrays various, mainly imagined, foliage.  These sketches were done to try out my latest acquisition, a Noodler’s Ahab flex pen, which can provide lines of different widths and which I am enjoying enormously.  



The second is an attempt to portray a sense of foliage through random scribbles.  The chapel in the background has been coloured to make it clearer.  The green squiggles in the foreground don’t really fit the colour scheme.  Img067



The last drawing in this post was made about eighteen months ago in October, 2010 at the Hardtburg, which is a ruined castle beside a lake in a forest clearing, near Euskirchen in NRW. I attempted to catch the variety of trees with different types of mark, with the result that some look a bit exotic!  The drawing was made across a double-page spread of an A5 sketchbook (so is A4 size).  I applied a coffee wash later on, to help distinguish the stonework of the castle and surrounding walls from the trees that now encroach upon it. The wash has blended with the water-soluble pen that was used, helping to create more of a feel of ancient stone. This is a favourite spot: from the top of the tower, you look down on forest in all directions, which is glorious in autumn. 




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