Trees are an essential part of landscapes and cityscapes, so any novice artist needs to learn how to draw various kinds of trees, shrubs, branches, boughs, and foliage.
The number of details on a tree can be a bit intimidating for a beginner artist, but there is a way to learn to draw trees in a simple way. Let me shed some light on the subject.
The easiest way to draw trees is to follow these three steps: 1. Define the outlines and general, large forms of the tree. 2. Draw the boughs and the foliage. Add details like twigs and elements on the ground. 3. Depict light, shadow, and textures by tonal rendering. These drawing phases are universally applicable, you can use them to successfully draw any tree.
Whether you are drawing with traditional materials and techniques or digital tools, mastering basic drawing skills is equally necessary. The principles of drawing are invariably valid regardless of material and technique.
Preparatory steps for drawing trees
Let me give you some useful tips to help you in the initial stages of learning to draw trees.
Observe the trees in the nature
Trees can be excellent models for drawing because they are motionless. The changes that take place on them are slow, depending on the season. You can observe the shape of deciduous trees in winter without their leaves, in which case the branches are visible in their entirety.
The shape, size, foliage, and textures of each tree species also vary greatly. The best way to draw trees is to make sketches from nature that you can use later as a reference for your drawings.
With our work of art, our goal is to communicate our impressions, thoughts, and emotions to our viewers. By drawing on the spot, you can capture your impressions and the mood of the scene.
Observe light and shadow
The effects of light and shadow are constantly changing on the trees, and observing them is essential to making our drawings realistic.
Light and shadow also depend on the time of day, the amount of light, and the angle of incidence. The higher the Sun moves, the shorter the shadows will be.
The shadow always appears on the side of the object opposite to the light. There are two types of shadows:
- The cast shadow is what objects cast on the ground and other objects around them.
- Form shadow or core shadow can be observed on the object itself.
Choose the drawing tools and materials
Graphite pencils with a hardness of 4H to 6B can be used for pencil drawings. A single pencil is sufficient to make a drawing. Hardness B or 2B works best for me.
You will also need a pencil sharpener or scalpel to sharpen the pencils, then you can refine the tip of the pencil with a piece of fine sandpaper.
The most suitable eraser is the putty rubber (kneadable eraser), which is gentle on the surface of the paper and leaves no residue like a classic eraser.
Pen and ink
You can use a classic dip pen or a technical pen to draw with ink. Technical pens are available in several thicknesses and require special ink. They also require special care. I drew the palm tree in the picture below with a technical pen.
Elements drawn with ink cannot be erased, so I recommend that you first make a sketch with a pencil, then redraw your lines with ink. While on the subject, you may wish to learn more about pen and ink drawing techniques.
Drawing paper and drawing board
There are several types of drawing papers available. Larger-toothed paper is suitable for drawing with a graphite pencil. Paper with a smoother surface is best for drawing with pen and ink.
Attach the paper to the drawing board with masking tape or paper clips. Place the board in an almost vertical position for pencil drawing and almost horizontal for drawing with pen and ink.
How to draw a tree in three simple steps
STEP 1. Sketch the outer lines and the general forms of the tree
Determine the outlines, the major shapes of the tree, and the line of the ground. Keep your construction lines light. You can erase them later, or keep them as a part of the finished study.
Refine your drawing as you progress with it. The tree trunk and boughs are approximately cylindrical in most trees. In most cases, the branches thin out towards their ends.
In many cases, the mass of the foliage can be simplified to a spherical, conical, polygonal, or egg shape.
STEP 2: Draw the boughs and the foliage
After defining the major shape of the tree, add the boughs and refine the shapes of the foliage.
The number of branches and leaves on a tree can be a bit overwhelming. You don`t have to draw every single leaf or branch. Focus on the basic shapes first.
We must also treat the leaf groups and masses as three-dimensional shapes so that your drawing does not look flat.
The leaves are drawn individually, in detail only if they are in the foreground, close to the viewer. Draw groups of leaves instead and focus on the larger shapes and masses.
You can indicate the shape of the leaves with wavy, circular, or zigzag lines. Wavy and circular lines work well for trees like linden or oak. I like to use zigzag lines to show the sharp-lined needles of the pine.
Draw the smaller details, like the twigs and surrounding objects on the ground.
We also need to visualize the ground and the elements on it to show that the tree is attached to the ground. For some trees, part of the root system is located above the ground and is therefore also visible.
STEP 3: Shading and tonal rendering
You can make your drawing realistic with tonal rendering. The contrast between the tonal values also determines the mood of the drawing.
Build tonal values by applying pencil hatching in multiple layers and changing the pencil pressure. Follow the cross-contour lines of the shapes with the shading.
The brightest are always the parts where the sunlight passes through the foliage. The darkest is always the cast shadow.
Hatch the shaded areas first lightly and then gradually darken the tones. Always work on the entire drawing surface, gradually developing the entire drawing at the same time.
When drawing trees, it is also important to realistically depict the texture of the bark, leaves, and materials on the ground, such as grass or stone. The textures of the trees and the surrounding elements are different, such as rough or smooth, glossy or matte.
How to achieve distance and spatial depth when drawing trees?
Applying linear perspective
The essence of linear perspective is that objects gradually appear smaller as they move away from us and converge at a vanishing point on the horizon line. The distance between objects at equal distances from each other seems to be decreasing in perspective.
In most cases, drawing trees, landscapes, and cityscapes require knowledge of applying a one-point and two-point perspective.
First, we draw the horizon line, which is always at eye level. On the horizon line, we then determine the vanishing point at which the lines connecting the elements converge.
Van Gogh’s drawing below is an excellent illustration of a one-point perspective.
A simple way to represent the depth of space is by drawing overlapping elements. Most landscapes or cityscapes can be divided into three planes: foreground, middle ground, and background. The elements in the foreground partially cover those in the middle ground and the background.
Aerial or atmospheric perspective
The essence of the atmospheric or aerial perspective is that things farther away from us are less vivid and rich in detail due to the particles of the atmosphere.
Objects closer to us, in this case, trees, are depicted in greater detail than those farther away. As objects move away from us, their edges are less sharp, tonal values are dimmer, colors are bluer and colder, and sharp contrasts are reduced.
The application of the atmospheric perspective in drawing and painting was developed by Leonardo da Vinci. In his notes, da Vinci also documented his experiments on drawing trees in perspective.
if you’re interested to learn more about the subject, I recommend the article I wrote on perspective in drawing.
Trees as parts of artistic compositions
Trees are part of the artistic composition when drawing landscapes, seascapes, and cityscapes. Notice how the greatest artists incorporated trees into their works of art.
We can learn a lot by copying the works of outstanding masters of the fine arts. Observe their techniques, the materials they used, and how their compositions were put together.
German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer often drew inspiration from nature, masterfully depicting trees in his works.
In Vincent van Gogh’s drawings and paintings, trees are an often recurring motif.
In John Singer Sargent’s beautiful landscapes, we can also observe how a tree can be successfully incorporated into a composition.
Knowledge of drawing trees is essential for depicting landscapes, cityscapes, or seascapes.
The tutorial described above will help you learn how to draw trees in four easy steps:
- Sketch the outlines of the tree, and define the larger forms.
- Refine the forms of the foliage and boughs and indicate the leaves. Draw additional elements, like twigs and surrounding objects on the ground.
- Hatch the drawing and show the texture of the different elements.
By applying these steps, you can successfully incorporate all types of trees into your artwork. To succeed in drawing, you need to know the basic principles, practice them regularly, and observe nature.