How to Draw a Tree with Colored Pencils


Achieving Realism in a Drawing

Drawing is all about creating an illusion. We see the world around us as lines, shapes, forms, textures, and colors. This is how our eyes see things anyway. It is our minds that make sense of these things. Our mind tells us what we are seeing, not our eyes.

As artists, we are in the business of creating illusions. We rely on the manner in which our eyes work in order to “trick” the minds of those that view our art.

Problems typically arise when we allow our minds to get in the way of what our eyes are actually seeing.

Although, we are discussing how to draw a realistic tree in this tutorial, this concept of drawing applies to any subject that you may want to tackle.

Recommended Materials for This Tutorial

Polychromos Colored Pencils
Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper


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The Importance of Texture

When it comes to drawing trees, texture will play a crucial role. We will need to mimic the observed texture of the leaves of the tree, without drawing every single leaf. So, our goal is to create - you guessed it - an illusion.

This illusion is created by relationships of value. The positioning of the dark and light tones will not only give form to our tree, but also create the illusion of groupings of leaves. It is the contrast between the darks and the lights that will translate as individual leaves to our viewers.

Dark Values Trees

Dark values will exist in shadowed areas, while light values will exist in areas that are receiving light.

The Colors

Since we are building up the illusion with colored pencils, we will need to consider the value of the colors that are used. The leaves on the tree in this demonstration are green. We will mix areas on the tree to create lighter and darker values using yellow, blue, brown, black, and white. Not only will this push the value range, but it will also expand the depth in the color.

The blue that is used is darker in value, so it is used to develop the shadowed areas of the tree.

Yellow is naturally a lighter value as a pure hue, so it is used in the areas that are receiving light. Darker values are enhanced using brown and black, while lighter values are enhanced using white.

The Marks

The marks that are made are also important. Marks can be made to mimic the texture of the leaves using small irregular circles.  Drawing each individual leaf would be counter-productive and is unnecessary.  Remember, we are creating an illusion based on how how our minds perceive the world around us.  These small marks will suffice to create this illusion.

We will also need to consider spaces that exist in the canopy of the tree.  The tendency is to overlook these openings, but including them is incredibly important.

Open Spaces in the Canopy of the Tree

Of course, these open spaces provide more opportunities for drawing the branches that are visible, which add to the overall illusion that we are after.

Other Tips

Like with most colored pencil drawings, layering and building up colors is especially important.  Most of the time, one application of color will not be enough to create the required depth in color to create a realistic appearance.  Fortunately, colored pencils are easy to layer and blend nicely. 

Start light when layering colors.  It is much easier to build up colors when initial layers are applied with a light hand early in the drawing. Layering lightly in the early stages prevents build up of the binder which could hinder heavier applications applied later in the drawing process.

Be patient.  Colored pencils are a medium that requires patience.  It is a time consuming process to layer the pencils properly to create the required illusion.  Too often, beginner artists expect immediate results, when time should be devoted to developing a colored pencil drawing.


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