For many of us, summer is in full swing, which means plenty of opportunities to take your sketchbook beyond your house, studio or classroom and spend time drawing the world around you. And what a bustling world it is! With festivals and fairs, baseball games, parades and outdoor concerts, you have endless subjects to choose from. Now is also a great time for many to focus on seasonal opportunities, like learning how to draw trees when they’re full of their beautiful green foliage. In this excerpt from Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot (part of the Summer Sketching Fun Pack), Cathy Johnson shares a variety of examples.
Tips for Drawing Trees From Artist’s Sketchbook by Cathy Johnson
When we’re young we draw shorthand trees, a child’s green lollipop on a brown stick. When you look around with the intention to really see, you’ll find many different shapes even within the same species. That’s one thing that makes trees a favorite subject: they’re always beautiful and challenging.
Trees of some sort are present in almost any landscape you may encounter. You’ll find pine trees, palms, apple trees, cedars, hardy oaks, tall poplars or graceful willows. As you look carefully at each one, you’ll see how the individual shapes and foliage tell us the tree’s identity, as well as something of its growing needs or condition.
Bones of a Tree
In winter you’ll be able to see the bones of the tree. Notice how the size goes from the trunk (largest) to branches, limbs and twigs (smallest). Warren Ludwig has captured a very specific tree by paying attention to these things, as well as the position of each limb. Notice the overlapping shapes; these negative shapes between the branches help catch the perspective.
Find a bare tree in winter (or perhaps a dead one if it’s summer), and sit comfortably nearby. Pay attention to its now-exposed growing pattern of trunk, branch and twig. Utilize overlapping shapes and suggest bark texture, if you have time. Use whatever medium suits your mood and the subject.
If there’s a tree that especially catches your eye, like this lightning-damaged oak, take time to observe and draw the shapes and textures. Splash in a background and leave the tree as a line drawing, as I did here. Wet-in-wet blending and a bit of spatter suggest the light-dappled forest beyond.
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Take a half hour or so to walk around your area, wherever you are. Notice the variety of tree shapes and look for different types or species. Do quick sketches to help you identify them. Simple silhouettes like these will show you a lot. Identify as many as you can to truly get to know your area.
Textures and Foliage
Trees only blend into a single shape from a distance, but even then there’s usually some variation in texture or color that makes the image more interesting. Look for ways to suggest distance.
Don Gore used a single ink pen to express the gestalt of these Evergreen trees.The spiky,scratchy feeling is perfect for their texture.
Let your brush marks suggest the foliage of specific trees. Shevaun Doherty captured the feel of olive trees with hundreds of small, quick marks, and carefully observed the growing patterns, as well.
I often make my pages do double duty. Here, I was trying out new paints (at the top) but didn’t want to waste the page.A trip to Cooley Lake tempted me to paint that simple blue distance.The hill to the left was much closer, so I used texture and variation in color to suggest the trees there, and the bare winter trees in the foreground got a simplified but more detailed handling to bring them forward. ~Cathy
Cathy’s Artist’s Sketchbook is now part of an exclusive collection that also includes FOUR sketching and drawing DVDs from one of your favorite urban sketchers, Marc Taro Holmes. It’s call the Summer Sketching Fun Pack, which is perfect, as there’s nothing better than using your art journal to capture summer’s best moments.
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