Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Nope, I’m not drawing dogs — although our stuffed puppies do make excellent subjects. From time to time I will sketch one of them during my daily drawing practices, but this post isn’t about puppies. It’s another post about trees, or more specifically tree trunks and even more specifically tree bark.

Toby in Rocking Chair (2)OK, so before we get to the bark, here’s a little excerpt from  one of my quick stuffed puppy sketches.

This is Toby, who wears a bright red bow tie I knitted. He’s lounging in a rocking chair my husband built many years ago.

Toby never barks, nor does he ever bite. He’s a very good puppy, but enough of the dogs. On to trees and their bark.

I’m fascinated by trees — and if you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you already know that. I love the shape of trees — every one is a unique individual, and I love the leafy boughs. It’s the bark I love most, though. I love the texture of bark, the varying colors, and the moss that grows on the north side.

But drawing bark has always been a challenge for me.

Earlier this summer when I first began drawing outside in nature, I thought my brain would explode as I took an up close and personal look at the bark on one tree at the park. That experience did change my approach to drawing, and I’m grateful for that. I love getting into that Zen art state of mind.

While it’s fun to draw from a meditative state, I still enjoy learning and drawing with more conscious awareness during my practice times. I tend to pick one particular area to study, and I will work on it each day for a while — not until I’ve mastered it, but at least until I feel I’ve made a little progress.

Lately, trees in all their glory have been my practice subject. I’ve drawn lots of bare tree trunks, lots of foliage, lots of leaves, and, needless to say, I’ve been doing a lot a bark-ing.

There are different techniques for drawing bark, and I’ve been trying them all, gradually discovering what feels most natural for me.

Tree BarkA few weeks ago I made this graphite drawing using an HB and a 3B pencil. I apologize for the poor quality photos. I have yet to find a good way to post pictures from my sketchbooks.

Of course, I’ve since realized that tree trunks don’t grow quite so straight, so whenever I draw — or paint — trees now, I make the outside edges a bit rougher and more natural-looking.

Next, I tried different techniques.


I’ve gotten into the habit of making comments in my sketchbook, so here you’ll see that I liked the left side of the lower drawing, the middle turned to “Meh”, and the right side got a resounding “Yuck” from me.

Tree Bark Practice Drawings

The upper drawing was an attempt at creating a moss-covered tree, and it was a complete FAIL. I was following suggestions from How to Draw Trees by Steven Elaine. Obviously the author’s methods didn’t work too well for me.

Tree StumpAnother exercise from the book produced better results. I liked this tree stump.

Don’t ask what those numbers are at the bottom of the page. I was obviously figuring out something and used my sketchbook.

In looking back at this tree stump now, I’ll concede that it could be better, but I do think I’m definitely heading in the right direction.

Drawing tree bark is one thing. Painting tree bark is another thing completely. Fortunately, all the drawing practice is helping me, I think. I’m getting a better understanding of what I need to do, and I’m slowly developing the techniques that will allow me to create realistic tree bark.

Old Tree in Pasture
One of my “tree bark” practice paintings in oil


While the foliage needs work, I was pleased with the bark I painted on this old tree. Little by little, I’m learning, and that’s a good feeling.

The best part in all of this is that I love what I’m doing. Little practice exercises may seem tiresome to some artists, but I look forward to them. A little bark here, an old stump there, here a stick, there a branch… and, yep, I’m having fun.

And, by the way, I recently came across The Hidden Life of Trees  by Peter Wohlleben. Absolutely fascinating! If you love trees — and who doesn’t? — you’ve got to read this book.




  1. I like it, Judith! Very effective bark – I’m no expert but I think that tree bark is one of those things that has a ‘pattern’ to it so you have to ‘suggest’ it in a convincing way without doing all the detail, in paint especially. I really like how you have ‘suggested’ bark, here! Nice work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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