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How to Draw Trees

Learning how to draw trees is a lot easier than you may think...

Many budding artists of all ages are put off because they've only previously managed a 'lollipop' that they remember producing when they were at school.

And yet, a lollipop isn't a million miles away from many real trees in full summer foliage.

You just need to know where to 'tweak' your sketch to make your lollipop look the part. So if you think you couldn't draw the tree below - or even better? Well read on ...

The Number 1 Secret to Improving Your Artwork

The good thing about learning how to draw trees is that unlike a portrait, where the features have to be in the right place for the face to look right, if you put a branch in the wrong place on a tree, it still looks like a tree.

This tutorial gets you started using basic, familiar shapes you've seen a hundred times.

But until now, I bet you never thought it would teach you how to draw trees!

Add a couple of simple techniques that I promise anyone can manage, and you'll be drawing believable, realistic trees with confidence in no time.

All you will need to start with is a pencil, an eraser and a few pieces of scrap paper or a pad.

However, before we actually put pencil to paper, let's have a closer look at the photo below...

Notice first that the top (black) pencil has a long point on it.

I've achieved this with a craft knife. Pencil sharpeners are OK but you can't get the tip of the pencil like this with them.

The tip of the yellow pencil has been done with a pencil sharpener. This will soon wear down as you sketch and you'll be constantly stopping to re-sharpen it.

The long point on the black pencil means that I can make a broader, more confident line, achieving the full thickness of many of the lower branches, in one go.

Also, when I come to shade in larger areas, I can do this much more quickly and effectively holding the pencil this way.

Look at the three marks I've made - all with this same point. The widest one is achieved just by holding the pencil with the

point flat to the paper, like a pastel stick. This is perfect for sweeping in the thicker, lower branches in one go.

As I reach the uppermost twigs, I can start to use more of the point to get the finer lines needed here.

Incidentally, the photo also shows a putty eraser. These can be pulled and stretched to a fine point or edge to take out just a small area of pencil if you want - ideal for lifting out highlights!

They're also less likely to damage the surface of your paper than a cheaper general purpose eraser.

How to Draw Trees - Step 1

Right, Let's get going...! Look at Sketch 1 on the right.

Ever played cards? Almost certainly. Look at this sketch of the Ace of Clubs.

What do you see - a perfect starting point for learning how to draw trees!

As you become more experienced, you'll see all sorts of shapes that you will realise can simplify or inspire you to draw and paint all sorts of things.

Learning how to draw trees is no different.

In this case the Ace of Clubs represents a rounded, deciduous tree, but what could be simpler than a long, thin triangle or upturned popcorn cone to give you the basis of a fir tree?

The Ace of Clubs is quite simply three circles and a triangle for the base.

How to Draw Trees - Step 2

In sketch 2, I've stretched this out so the circles are all different sizes and the base is a bit more elongated.

The circles don't even have to be perfectly round - in fact it's better if they're not.

See them as a simple framework as a simple way to get you started sketching trees.

Already a believable tree is starting to take shape.

I've drawn these lines a bit heavier than you should, so they show up on the web page.

You should draw them in a bit lighter than this and gradually get heavier as the final tree shape develops.

Don't worry if your guidelines aren't perfect - remember, they are just that - a guide - and some of them will be rubbed out shortly anyway.

Also, don't concern yourself about producing specific species of tree just yet - we can look at that when you've built up your confidence with this one...

How to Draw Trees - Step 3

Now look at Sketch 3. I've started to draw branches from the main trunk. They're quite thick at first but gradually taper as they reach the edges of the tree.

Notice how I've kept these lines quite raggedy to represent the random way trees grow.

One thing I don't want to do is make them appear too even. That wouldn't be how nature intended!

When you're first learning how to draw trees a useful tip is to ensure that as one branch diverges from the trunk, the next usually diverges a bit further up.

It's very rare that two branches split exactly opposite each other from the main branch.

If you just want learn how to draw trees in winter, then you can start shading in the branches at this point. Remember to pick the direction the sun is coming from and stick to it!

How to Draw Trees - Step 4

A frequent problem when students are sketching trees is that they have the light coming from different directions...

They put shadows on opposite sides of branches at different points and it looks all wrong.

The sunny side will be the lightest - in this case the left hand side. The opposite side of the branches and trunk will be in shadow ...

However, a summer tree covered in leaves needs a little more work. As in Sketch 4, I've lightly scribbled an outline round the edge of the tree.

I've also rubbed out some, but not all, of the branches. The ones left are those you can see through the leaves. When I teach students how to draw trees I always emphasise how important it is to create a three-dimensional effect and also show the 'openness' of the tree.

Putting in some branches here and there gives the impression of them twisting in and out of view as they spread to the outer edges of the tree.

Remember, a tree is not a flat object...

It has branches coming towards and going away from you as well as the ones you see either side and in the centre as well.

I've drawn some light outlines around these remaining branches just to remind you that these are your 'sky holes'.

Once you've a little more experience you won't need to bother with this.

How to Draw Trees - Step 5

Sketch 5 is where the real fun starts in learning how to draw trees.

You're now about to switch on the sunlight by adding shadows and putting back in some highlights.

Remember, even more than with the winter tree, to decide which direction your sunlight is coming from.

As well as the main shadows being on the opposite side of the tree, it will be dark around the sky holes where you can see branches.

These visible branches will almost always be in silhouette and quite dark, as will the shadow on the ground.

There are many ways you can draw leaves. However, for a tree this size, the one thing you don't want is to draw each individual leaf!

Apart from driving you slowly mad, it would look very forced and unreal. Instead, you're aiming for an impression of leaves and the lights and darks in the tree.

Try letting your pencil dance over the tree in a demented scribble.

This, with a little practice, can create an excellent representation of leaves. Dark areas can be filled in to create lights and darks next to each other.

Or you could shade in most areas as with the Ace of Clubs in sketch 1, then lift out highlights with an eraser. The sketches below show these ideas in more detail.

When you add your shadow on the ground on the opposite side from the sunlight, put a smaller area of shadow on the ground on the sunlit side as these branches would still cast some shadows.

Notice that I've also taken out the bottom line where the trunk meets the ground...

Look at the examples in the sketch of the trunks (above) for comparison and see how the right hand drawing makes the trunk 'grow' right out of the ground and not sit on top of it.

Remember also when you learn how to draw trees, to draw your boughs and branches from the base upwards i.e. as the tree would 'grow'.

Make sure each branch in your sky holes appears to come from a logical point on the trunk below. The eye will then happily 'fill in' the branch's position behind the leaf clusters even though you haven't actually drawn it.

Now have a look out of your window or find a photo of a real tree and try copying it.

Simplification is the key! You're looking for a basic outline to begin with and you don't want to copy every leaf - just the main leaf clusters. These tend to be either rounded balls or flat, as in the case of evergreens.

The bottom half of the visible part of the trunk should be lit up with sunlight on one side, with the other side in increasing shadow. Look at Sketch 5.

The trunk area immediately below the bottom leaf clusters will usually all be in shadow as very little light will be able to reach, whatever the position of the sun.

To Sum Up...

Finally, as with many art techniques, learning how to draw trees is often easier to do than to describe...

Hopefully, this tutorial has given you a few pointers to give you the confidence to get going.

Remember, if you can draw the Ace of Clubs playing Poker, you can just as easily draw it with a pencil as well ...!

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