Check and log: Drawing trees



How many different tree types have you drawn?

Hard to be specific, but about eight so far. As stated elsewhere, I was unsure as to most of the types I drew, but there was definitely a thorn tree, and what I think might have been a chestnut tree. The rest remain anonymous. Time to buy a guidebook…

What techniques did you use to distinguish each type?

Not so much a technique (which I think might’ve come into play more at other times of the year, when the trees were in leaf), as observing the overall shape and spread of the trees (looking at negative space helped with this). This gives bare trees the appearance distinctive to their type. Also, noting where the branches began and how they divided into new ones. Additionally, I thought of two or three keywords that summed up the essence of the tree for me (e.g. for the thorn tree, ‘windblown’, ‘spiky’ and ‘winding’). I was quite pleased that a friend recognised the exact thorn tree from my drawing! The bareness of the trees seemed to suit relatively fine media, such as pen or pencil. In time, I look forward to exploring them through a wider range of media, and to looking more closely at specific details (bark, leaves, and so on – in order to see the whole tree, I had to be at too great a distance to see such details clearly).

What did you do to convey the mass of foliage?

Again, foliage was in short supply, given that I did these exercises in January. I did include yews (evergreens) in earlier sketches during part 3 of this course, though, and used a very soft pencil for those, varying the light and shade to indicate volume and growth. Foliage ‘proper’ will have to wait a few months. I don’t think the lack of foliage was a disadvantage, though, as it allowed me to study the structure of the trees more closely (rather like learning to draw nudes, focusing on anatomy, before attempting clothed figures).

How did you handle light on the trees? Was it successful?

The light has been relatively flat and muted during this part of the course but, where possible, I’ve tried to indicate the light source. This was probably most apparent on the larger study of the thorn tree (high up and exposed), where the light was clearly coming from the left hand side (quite low down), casting long shadows over the uneven ground. In the study of several trees, the woods were fairly enclosed, with only subdued diffuse light coming from almost directly overhead. I emphasised the tonal contrasts caused by the light wherever possible (for example, the underside of branches were generally in greater shade than higher ones), and feel that it was broadly successful in both the main studies.

Did you manage to select and simplify? How did you do this, and what could you do better?

I did. The initial sketching exercise, looking at outlines, helped with this. When I moved on to the two later studies, I broke the trees down into their main parts, and built the details up slowly. I didn’t attempt to include every branch, focusing instead on the distinctive shapes and growth patterns of each tree – looking at form and contrasts. To do better, I think I could be less conscious of noting the tree in such realistic terms, focusing more on the character and essence. Despite setting out with the intention of not getting bogged down in detail, I still found myself tightening up more than I would’ve liked for the two studies. Perhaps that’s inevitable when one is unused to drawing trees. With practise, familiarity might permit a more relaxed approach.