How Not to Draw a Willow Tree

When Cheeky Monkey Mind and I did our “silly searches” last month and put together our Inktober list, I was delighted when the prompt words creepy, climb, thunder, coat, tree brought up the Golden Curls Willow.

Now, honestly, I don’t know the difference between a Golden Curl  and any other sort of willow tree, but I didn’t care. I love willow trees of any and all varieties. I love them for a lot of reasons.

Reason 1: When I was growing up I listened to a lot of jazz. One of my favorites was the old standard Willow, Weep for Me.  Here’s the incomparable Sarah Vaughan singing it.


Reason 2: Willow trees grow by water. I love water. Streams, rivers, lakes. You name it, if it’s got water in it, I love it. That love of water extends to the willows.

Reason 3: Willow trees are trees that I can identify. I might not know the names of other trees I see, but when I see a willow, I know what it is.

So, ever since Cheeky Monkey Mind and I compiled our list, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this day, thinking that I could probably draw a willow tree — no problem. I was even thinking that it would actually be fun.

Well, folks, willow trees are not easy to draw, and I did not have fun. But for whatever it’s worth, I finished today’s drawing after several attempts.

Inktober 27 - Willow Tree (2)
Willow — Graphite and Ink Drawing by Judith Kraus

My first attempt was a bold one. I started with a black gel pen I’ve come to love, and I confidently began to draw. I’d found a gorgeous reference photo that included not only a Golden Curls Willow, but a little wooden foot bridge crossing over a lovely stream. I wanted to draw the scene, and most of all, I wanted to include that bridge. It would be the first man-made structure included in my Inktober drawings. In other words, a milestone for me. If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll know that I don’t get along well with architectural elements of any kind when it comes to art.

I began by sketching in the foot bridge, but then I questioned that approach. I think I vaguely remembered my excursion to Lord’s Park, and my attempt to sketch a scene by starting with an old stairway. Maybe not such a good idea, I thought.

I turned the drawing paper over, started again, and for a time I was progressing quite nicely. I especially liked the little stream I drew with rocks and grasses here and there. Quite lovely, indeed.

But the rest of the drawing did not turn out so well. My willow tree was all right, but I’d tried adding in other trees and bushes in the background, and the whole thing was nothing more than an ugly jumble of lines that were unrecognizable for what they were. I knew I would have to start over and try again.

I grabbed another sheet of paper, started laying in the basic shapes for the tree, and then realized I had ink smears all over the paper. I get messy sometimes. Using the gel pen, I’d gotten ink all over my fingers, and consequently on the drawing paper, as well. I stopped, washed my hands, and braced for my next attempt.

Having already decided at this point that I would just leave out all the background trees and leave out my beloved foot bridge and stream, too, I decided to look online for a simple tutorial on how to draw a willow tree.

Apparently that’s a hot topic. There were several articles and videos. I clicked on one of the videos. It wasn’t too helpful. The artist — I don’t recall his name — claimed he would show us all how to draw a willow and one minute and thirty-four second later he’d drawn a tree that was frankly worse than the one I’d just done. I sighed and moved on to another video.

I checked the length. This one was over twenty minutes, certainly time enough to draw a really good willow tree, right? In the end, I didn’t care much for his tree either, but watching him helped me get a feel for what I needed to do. Even so, my next two attempts were unsuccessful.

Finally, after washing the ink off my hands again, I decided to make a graphite underdrawing. For me, one of the most important considerations was getting the essential shapes of the tree right. While I’m still not satisfied with what I drew, at least my pencil drawing was starting to look a little like a willow.

Once I  had the graphite in place, I picked up the gel pen again and inked over the graphite. Using the gel pen was probably not a good decision. I might have had better results with my fine-tipped Pitt pen. But the gel pen was close, I was getting tired, and I’d already resigned myself to the fact that my willow tree wasn’t going to be the work of art I’d hoped. At least it was a willow tree. That, in itself, was an accomplishment.

Yes, it could have been better, but believe me, it could have been worse.


  • Burn
  • Fall
  • Gift
  • Ride
  • Tree



  1. Willows are my favourite tree. And I love jazz. Perfect combination. 🙂 The only lesson I’ve done on willows focused on the forms of clusters within the boughs. So, that distributed the weight of the branches pretty well, then you drew the whip-like strands down from each of those clusters. It looks like you instinctively shaped clusters here, too. Willows are very difficult to get that sweeping feeling they have.

    Liked by 1 person

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