It is my belief that seemingly every person that has ever drawn anything in his or her life has probably drawn a tree at least once. At its most basic form, a tree is simply a stick with a squiggly looking circle on top. Everyone can draw a tree. From the kid in art class drawing his house with a little tree in the front yard to the masterpiece landscapes painted by Bob Ross, the tree always pops up as either the main role or the supporting actress in the art world.
'Building' A Tree
With a background in architecture, I am fascinated not only with aesthetically pleasing objects but also how they are constructed. The same goes for trees. A tree is made up of an arrangement of structural elements that really make the tree what it is. From the roots which are mostly under the ground, to the sturdy trunk, to the complex system of branches, a tree in itself is really a work of art.
The great thing about trees is that they are all just a little bit different and the ways to draw and color them are nearly unlimited, so it’s impossible to mess up. I like to start with the structure of the tree because after all, that’s what a tree is, a beautiful organic structure. I use this structure (trunk & branches) to help me visualize the shape of the tree. From here I can easily add the canopy of leaves which gives the tree its final look.
For this lesson, I am going to share my process with two very common trees: The Maple and the Oak. Without further ado, let’s start drawing!
The image below shows all of the colors I used including the multiliner for drawing. The paper used is the X-Press It Blending Card. Don’t worry if you are missing some or even all of these colors. Pay close attention to how I construct the tree and the technique used to color it and use whatever colors YOU want. A tree structure is made up of many different shades of brown and gray and the leaves can be green, yellow, red, orange....and anything in-between! Be creative!
I would bet that when you think of a tree, without even knowing it, you start picturing a maple tree - a thick trunk and a big, full sphere of leaves on top. Many species of trees fit this description, but the Maple may be the most obvious. Follow along videos below, by reading through my steps on creating the specific structure and leaves for the young and mature maple trees.
The maple structure consists of a sturdy trunk that rises vertically and the major branches extend outward from it. Branches, in general, are thickest near the trunk and get narrower as they reach outward. For the structure, I use a Cool Gray Multiliner. The cool gray is hidden well by the mostly green canopy of leaves but is still visible enough to go back and color in the structure after finishing all of the leaves. If I used something light like a pencil, the lines would disappear, and I would need to guess where the branches are that I took the time to draw. If I used a black multiliner, the structure would remain too visible.
To break down my process simply: I do all of my thinking while drawing the structure of the tree. This is where I lay the foundation for how the tree is eventually going to appear. Whether it’s perfectly round or perhaps more oval in shape, the branches can tell this story without any leaves at all. Once I have finalized the trunk and branches I go into color-mode for the leaves and the structure that remains visible.
The Maple leaf is broad and flat which is why I chose to use a rounded dabbing technique to portray them. It would take a lifetime to draw and color every leaf of a large tree, so the general shape and arrangement is what we want to achieve.
Establish a general goal first. This could mean picking a light source; Which side of the tree do you want to be in shadow, or maybe it will just be a uniform mixture of lights and darks. Next, pick your color palette which could be as little as two colors or as many as you want. The more colors, the more depth and texture the tree will have.
Here's the secret for this part: DO NOT THINK, JUST COLOR
The technique I used for the leaves is a combination of dabbing or stippling. I vary the size of the dab by the angle in which I apply the marker to the paper. For a very fine point, hold the marker straight up and down and lightly touch the paper. For a broader “dab” touch the paper with the brush tip at more of an angle and press a little harder.
Once your light source and color palette are selected, just use the technique (in this case stippling or dabbing) and go. There is no “right” way to color your tree so just start stippling and as you build up your layer of colors you will be able to iron out the details.
*Note: Unlike blending where it’s important to build up from light to dark, with trees I am using more of a layering technique. Because of this, it’s quite normal to bounce back and forth between dark and light. For instance, if you know where you want shadows to be, go ahead and start with a darker color and then layer in the lighter colors from there.
Certain species of the Oak and Maple resemble each other from a distance, but I chose the large, sprawling White Oak which is very distinguishable with a huge trunk and large branches that reach way out and up in the air. Follow along again through the steps below, as you watch my two videos on coloring young and mature oak trees.
Unlike the continuously vertical trunk of the Maple, the Oak trunk, strong and stout, tends to split much closer to the ground into many large branches that go in every direction both outwards and upwards. When an Oak is allowed to grow free out in the open, the branches can stretch out and almost touch the ground. I used the Cool Gray Multiliner for this tree again, and built the main look of the tree during this step.
From a distance, the Oak can appear to have a full bushy canopy just like the Maple but upon closer inspection the leaves tend to grow more toward the ends of the branches leaving the structure open and exposed on the inside. For this example, I chose an early spring or late fall leaf growth in order to enhance the sprawling branches.
The method for coloring the leaves, both on the young Oak and the mature Oak are the same and also quite similar to the technique I used on the Maple. Whereas the Maple consisted of different sized dabs (mostly round), the Oak will be very short and quick “flicks” of the brush which create small lines instead of small circles. I use this motion because the Oak leaf is much more narrow than the broad Maple leaf.
Questions? Comments? Requests for different types of trees? Leave them in the comments section below!
I love hearing feedback, especially when it involves helping you become a better COPIC Artist! Thank you!!
Randy Hunter is an Associate Architect in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well as a Custom Art Business Owner. His primary subject matter includes both color and black and white commissioned portraits as well as landscapes and architectural illustration. Randy received his Master of Architecture and Master of Business Administration from Kent State University. Find more of Randy's work on his website, Etsy, Instagram or LinkedIn.