Timeout for Art: Drawing a Tree

In last week’s Time Out for Art, we had some discussion about how to draw a tree without drawing each individual leaf.  This week, Lisa talks about negative space in her post, Timeout for Art: Both Sides of the Line.  So in keeping with this theme, I decided to draw a tree and explain the steps.

Here is the tree I used for my model.  I was not trying to draw a portrait of this tree, just using it as a guide.


Because the tree was in the late afternoon sun as I looked at it, the leaves in the light seemed lighter than the sky (although it doesn’t seem that way in the photo). My first step was to draw in the negative space.  Because I made the edges look “leafy” the mass looks like foliage.

Negative space - everything that is not the tree.
Negative space – everything that is not the tree.

Making a darker value by pressing harder with the pencil, I shaded in the parts of the tree that were clearly in shadow, again paying attention to make the edges a leafy shape.


The final step was to add the trunk and branches.  These are woven into the foliage: behind the foliage in the sunlight, in front of some of the foliage in shadow, and through the “bird holes.”  Tony Van Hasselt always says to leave enough bird holes so that the poor little birdies don’t bump their heads!  Part of the trunk is in sunlight and the shading on that area helps it look round.  Note that the bottom end of the trunk ends in grass or roots.  A shadow on the ground helped anchor the tree.

Sunlit Tree, pencil, 7" x 5"
Sunlit Tree, pencil, 7″ x 5″

If the leaves in the sun had been darker than the sky, I would have made the sky the lightest value, the leaves in the sun a slightly darker value, with the shadowed leaves and the trunk and branches even darker values.

15 thoughts on “Timeout for Art: Drawing a Tree

    • And thank you for the encouragement to make pencil drawings again. Most of my pencil drawings for the past couple of years have been scribbles for value studies and not something I’d want to put out in public.

      • i am about to go to the amazon for a week and will be offline… silly me – left my watercolors at home b/c i had so many other things on my mind, and iwasn’t thinking about the final part of my trip!.. that’s ok, as i will enjoy focusing on serious drawings.. yes, we tend to neglect the pencil, and it’s nice to be reunited with it!

    • I still profit from these kinds of exercises, David. Looking back on this post, I can see the influence that watercolor painting has had on my drawing with pencil. Working in another medium is refreshing as it presents different ways to solve the challenge of rendering something I see on a two dimensional surface.

    • You are welcome! I realized that my comment last week (when you were struggling all the individual leaves) would be much easier to understand if it were illustrated. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. And now I should go back and paint the same tree in watercolor!

    • Drawing skills are usually teachable to those who can hold a pencil and write one’s name. It used to be part of a classical education, besides being an enjoyable activity!

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