How to Draw Trees with Pen and Ink

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How to draw trees with pen and ink

3 Basic Elements to Consider When Drawing a Tree

Trees are packed with so many details that they can be overwhelming to tackle in a drawing. Fortunately, the details that we see - the leaves, branches, and trunk can all be simplified, making the illusion that we create in a drawing a bit more manageable. Remember, when we draw, we create an illusion - not always an exact copy of what we see. Ultimately we want to communicate a convincing illusion of a tree to viewer.

Creating this illusion in a pen and ink drawing can be accomplished by focusing on three key elements:

  1. Shape
  2. Form
  3. Texture

The following video demonstrates how to draw a tree with pen and ink by focusing on these three basic elements. (More on this lesson can be found under the video, further down the page.)

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Recognizing the Shape of the Tree

Trees are clearly organic subjects and the shapes that they create are also organic. The first thing that we need to recognize is the overall shape of the tree which will vary based on the type of tree that you are drawing.

To recognize the shape of the tree, look at the overall contour of the shape. If you struggle with seeing this, try squinting your eyes - blurring out the details. Look at the outer edges of the tree and simplify what you are seeing into a line that can be enclosed.

This overall shape can be loosely sketched with a graphite pencil. Use a light touch so that the graphite can be erased easily once ink applications have been made. Make comparisons between your drawing and what you are seeing and make any necessary changes.

Draw the basic shape of the tree

Recognizing the Shapes Within the Tree

With the basic contour in place, we can begin to locate smaller shapes that happen within the body of the tree. Trees are made up of collections of leaves and branches that extend from the trunk. These collections of leaves and branches are forms but before we develop the illusion of these forms, we must recognize the basic shapes that they create.

Again, these basic shapes can be lightly sketched with a graphite pencil. We aren't concerned with the details of the leaves at this point. Instead, we just want to simplify the collections of leaves into basic shapes. The shapes that you draw will again vary based on the type of tree that you are drawing.

If you find that recognizing these basic shapes is difficult, try looking for areas of contrasting values. Typically, darker values are found on the lower portion of each shape with lighter values on the top.

Draw the smaller shapes of the collections of leaves

Creating the Illusion of Form

Now, we need to create the illusion of form. In order to create this illusion, we'll need to consider the light source and add darker values in locations of shadow while leaving areas of lighter value in locations of highlight. The key to creating the illusion of form with any subject lies in the locations of value.

For each of the smaller shapes that we drew in the last step, we'll add darker values in the locations of shadow. These areas of shadow exist mainly on the opposite side from where the light source originates. And like with basic forms, there will be a gradation of value from light to dark, creating locations of midtone. Since these forms are irregular, the locations of shadow and middle values are also irregular.

Create the illusion of form

These values are added and developed through textural marks that resemble the texture of the leaves. Textural marks are more concentrated in locations where the value is darker and more sparse in areas where the value is lighter.

Adding Texture to The Tree with Pen and Ink

When drawing with pen and ink, the values that are created are mostly dependent on optical mixing. Since every mark is dark, even when applied with light pressure, we must rely on the white of the paper to affect the perceived value. This is important to remember since we are building up the value as we develop the texture.

It's easy to become focused on each individual leaf when drawing a tree. But in our drawing, we don't need to draw every single leaf. Instead, we need to mimic the texture that is perceived. Surprisingly, this can be accomplished with very loose marks with pen and ink.

Detail texture of leaves on the tree drawing

With many species of trees, small squiggly lines made with the pen can create a convincing texture.

No matter what type of pattern you decide to use for developing the texture, it's important to stay consistent. Make sure that the marks that you add to the top of the tree are consistent with the marks that are used to describe the middle and bottom of the tree.

Even though loose, squiggly marks result in a believable texture, it doesn't mean that this process is fast. Take your time and patiently develop each section. Take breaks if necessary. Working slowly will pay off in the end.

Detail of the texture of the trunk of the tree

Directional strokes can be used to develop the texture of the trunk of the tree. Again, we can concentrate these marks in areas of shadow and allow them to become more sparse in areas where light is hitting.

Even a subtle change in the textural marks that you make will produce enough contrast to communicate a different texture in the drawing.

Pen and ink drawing of a tree

Once all of the ink applications have been made and allowed to dry completely, a kneaded eraser can be used to remove any of the graphite guidelines that may be visible.

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