”Ha, you call that a tree?”, scoffed my eighth grade art teacher as he walked by my desk and gazed upon a tree I had been working very hard on, trying to draw it to the best of my ability. I wish he had offered a better way to help me improve,but sadly he just walked away after he delivered his hurtful assessment.
Needless to say, I was crushed. I loved art and drawing and wanted so bad to be an artist someday.
That all but flattened my dream; I wanted to throw in the towel at that point. But something inside me just knew not to give up.
That is a personality trait I have. It takes a lot for me to give up on something.
If you’re ready to give up trying to draw a tree, don’t! I can teach you how to draw a tree step by step.
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Sketching In Color Is Recommended
You can draw your tree in graphite (pencil) if you enjoy sketching in it. I do enjoy drawing in graphite, so for my step-by-step you certainly can use regular pencil.
Or, if you read my last post, I discussed all the advantages of sketching in erasable colored pencil. Here is the link if you want to take a look at the article.
Since using the Col-Erase is fresh on my mind, I will use them for my pictures of each step.
[If you’d like to learn how to draw a simple cartoon tree, check out WikiHow’s 11 step sketch here.]
[If you’d like to purchase Col-Erase pencils, here is the link to check them out: Prismacolor Col-Erase Pencil Set.]
1. Trunk First (Tree with Leaves)
The way I always begin to draw a tree is to draw the trunk first, usually using gray.
Essentially, that would be two lines drawn like the image shows usually flaring at the bottom and literally branching off into the start of limbs.
If you want your tree to have leaves, then do not draw all the limbs up to the top; you’ll only have to erase them :).
At this point, you can apply strokes to the trunk to indicate bark or markings, knots, etc. If you’re using color, a simple brown and gray would look great.
It doesn’t look like much yet, but please…read on. Better yet, do it along with me!
2. No Actual Leaf Shapes Please
I learned how to draw leaves from a fellow student in a drawing class many years ago. I was amazed at how real her tree foliage looked; like leaves farther in the distance.
In other words, they didn’t look like actual leaf shapes at all, yet it was convincing.
So I asked her how she did it specifically, what stroke, how to apply it, etc. Her answer? “Well you just kind of do this”, she said as she demonstrated moving her pencil about in a wiggly, very random and scribbly way.
Ergo, I coined the term “the squiggles”. That’s the only term I can use to describe the motion.
It comes as second nature to me now, having been doing it for years. Yet I have found it is as difficult for my students to do as it is for me to explain how to do it. But here goes.
(If you’re using color, a lighter green would work best to start with.)
First, hold your pencil underhand like I am pictured here. This allows you to place the side of the lead against the paper which you will be using to create the “leaves”.
Next, you just start squiggling below the lowest branch then continue to squiggle above them, in between them and well beyond where you ended the limbs.
You simply move the pencil back and forth, forward and back, all around, randomly as you “travel” the pencil. Keep in mind to shape your foliage to look like a tree – no green cotton balls on the tree lol.3.
It helps to look at a few tree references. It’s best if you don’t think of leaf shapes but rather how foliage looks in the distance.
3. Tweak the Limbs
Here’s where you get to draw, add-on and otherwise tweak the limbs for more realism. In this step you will adjust some of the limbs and add limb “segments” where they may be peeking through the foliage.
First, in the existing limbs, look for places where you can extend the line of the limb where it splits from the trunk or branch to make it look like it’s coming out of a bigger line, like in this picture.
You can also add a few more thin ones, where it may make sense to do so.
Next, you will want to make branch “segments here and there going different directions, but basically upward. This photo shows the example of that. I did it in gray first, then will add brown to them.
You can also lay down the gray color overall on the trunk.
4. Going Deep on the Leaves
So you won’t want to leave the leaves in just one flat tone of green. You will want to shade where appropriate.
If you want to keep it more of a monotone underdrawing, just do it in green and apply more where you want it to be darker. I just used a darker green adding it toward the bottom groups of leaves.
Then for deeper tones, I added blue underneath the groupings for shading. The photo here shows how I did this.
Lastly, to brighten up some leaves, I added some yellow.
5. Give the Trunk Some Love – Shading and Detailing
For this step, we will add shading to one side of the trunk and also more details.
I’m adding more of the gray and brown to one side of the tree to make it look round. Also, I’ve drawn in some routes at the bottom coming away from the trunk on the ground.
I suggest looking at some pictures of tree routes. To make them look realistic, watch the angles of the routes to the trunk.
You can add more details to the trunk. I would add darker linear shapes to create the look of deeper crevices in the bark.
Not all trees have a heavy thick bark of course, but drawing trunks that way sure is fun!
6. Firm Footing – Adding Ground
So for this step, you can add some brown around the base of the tree to represent the dirt or soil around it. I would hold the pencil “underhand” again and use the side of the pencil.
Then, you can use green again to add some grass around it using tapering vertical strokes. Adding some darker tones in with the grass will add more depth and realism, too.
There you go, a quick sketch of a tree! Sure wish I could say to my eighth grade art teacher “yes, I do call that a tree!” Lol
That Wasn’t So Bad Was It?
Easy, peasy, right? Just kidding. I truly don’t expect you to master this in one try. Drawing trees takes practice, lots of practice.
But you can do it! I know you can. Just like I never gave up and now am quite happy with my trees, you can be, too.
And remember, there’s no pressure here. Just have fun trying.
Lowering your expectations and just having fun will take the stress right out of it. And who knows, you may just pleasantly surprise yourself!
Please let me know how you did drawing your tree by leaving a comment below. I promise your email will not be shared.
Thanks so much for reading and please, if this was helpful, by all means share!
Have an artful day!