Drawing old trees is one of my favorites! I’m gonna show you how to nature journal old trees; in this case a charismatic old oak tree. I’ll use ink, watercolor, and graphite pencil to draw a portrait of the tree, sketch the basic scene, illustrate leaves, and depict some of the moss. I will also talk about other nature journaling techniques and watercolor tips.
It was a cold January day in the mountains of Northern California. The weather forecast predicted snow later that day. Despite the cold and my low energy I knew this was my only chance. Because if it snowed I would be stuck up here and unable to get home to edit this video for you.
It’s at times like these where you need a system.
How to Nature Journal Old Trees in 5 Steps
Firstly, start with metadata. Always start with metadata: location, date, time, weather, etc
Next, simplify the complex. Old trees fascinate us partly because of their complexity. You need to simplify or you will be overwhelmed. Starting with thumbnails and using a viewfinder will help enormously.
Next, zoom in on details. What are some details you can add? Try drawing the leaves, the flowers, the seeds.
Lastly, don’t settle with just a portrait. It is very fun to paint the portrait of a tree. However, by itself this is not nature journaling. Try to incorporate some notes, some measurements, some contextual information or diagrams. Did any birds visit? What does the bark look like closeup? Adding these perspectives will enrich your page and your experience.
Tree drawing is a cornerstone of nature art in general and nature journaling in particular. When you learn how to draw trees better your sketchbook or nature journal will improve greatly.
So if drawing trees is so important why do so many people do it wrong? People learn bad tree drawing habits at an early age and we also tend to focus on the wrong things when we look at them. Despite all these problems there are a few tips that can help you draw trees better.
Five Tree Drawing Tips
First, take a different perspective. Most tree drawings, even technically skilled ones, show the tree from the same boring perspective. Especially,since we are nature journaling and our goal is to learn it is important to look at things from new vantage points.
Next, look for cylinders. If you want to draw realistic tree shapes you need to understand cylinders. Tree trunks and branches are made of cylinders. You need to be able to accurately observe and sketch cylinders from different angles. (Be sure to watch the video for a special trick for learning this). Not only will this technique help your drawings of trees but it will also help your figure drawing and animal drawing.
Third, separate volume from texture. If you just spent thirty minutes or three hours accurately drawing a tree and its shape you don’t want to ruin it. One potential way to ruin it is by trying to add in all the complicated texture of the bark. Instead, try showing the bark in a separate drawing. And if you do decide to draw trees with bark texture, keep it limited and suggestive. Otherwise you risk messing up your whole drawing!
Next, look for major value blocks. Value is the difference between light and dark. Most people focus on the idea that a tree should be green, however capturing the values is most important.
Last but not least, keep it simple. If you can keep your tree sketch simple you are more likely to succeed and/or try again.
In the month of October the north coast nature journal club will be exploring the rolling hills and oak savanna of Helen Putnam Regional Park near Petaluma. We will practice several techniques for doing small watercolor landscapes to capture the essence and atmosphere of the place. We will also practice drawing three-dimensional trees with several tricks that will make your branches look like they’re coming off the page.
We will be hiking short distances up and down hill on this trip with mostly even terrain. Bring all your normal nature journaling supplies and binoculars. Be prepared for sun and warm conditions. A small folding stool could be useful for the longer landscape drawing. This location has a bathroom and seven dollar parking unless you are a member of the Sonoma County Regional Parks. Bring a potluck item that is not too hard to carry onto the trail because we will not want to go back to the parking lot for lunch.