“Through the Trees”

I love coincidences. They always seem to be a sign to me, a definite indication of something I should learn or do. I had an awesome coincidence happen on Wednesday afternoon.

I was doing a bit of graphite landscape drawing — or trying to, at least. I enjoy graphite, yet I find landscapes so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to put what I see down with a pencil and paper. That’s why I’ve been reading (re-reading, actually) William Powell’s book on drawing Landscapes.

On Wednesday, my focus was on trees. You know how much I love trees, and while my tree-drawing has improved over the years from my first childish attempts, I’m still not satisfied. As a landscape painter, I feel it’s also important for me to be able to draw trees realistically. The more I know about how to create “the illusion of trees” — in any medium — the better my landscapes will be.

Just as I did when I first began teaching myself to draw, I took an illustration from the book and copied it in my sketchbook. Here’s what I was working from, and here’s what the text says:

Scan_20200813 (8)

“It’s not necessary to draw every single leaf for an effective tree rendering. Most leaves can be suggested through simple outlines and shading.”

I know this, of course. This was one of the first amazing things I learned — that art is all about illusion. But knowing something and being able to use the principle successfully can be two different things. Even after five years of drawing, I’m still unsure at times about how to use “simple outlines and shading” to suggest an image.

I grabbed my sketchbook and tried re-creating this image. I wanted to take my time, to get lost in the drawing process, to use my drawing time as a bit of a meditation. I turned on Through the Trees, a gorgeous album of peaceful music. You’ll find it online as a video featuring beautiful images of trees and nature. It’s by Tim Janis.

For a time I sat sketching here in the studio as I listened, and while it was relaxing, I wasn’t satisfied with my drawings. It was time for me to close the studio for the day and go upstairs to get dinner started, but I wasn’t finished drawing. I wanted to keep at it, to copy and re-copy the image until I felt better with it. I grabbed my sketchbook and an  HB drawing pencil, and I hurried upstairs.

Once I had dinner preparations underway, I curled up in a chair with my sketchbook to draw trees again and again and again. Here are two images from the many trees I drew:

Scan_20200813 (7)

I’m getting the idea, but I’m still not satisfied with these trees. I’ll continue practicing, and hopefully I’ll see improvement.

But a funny thing happened while I was making these sketches. I saw the mailman come up onto the porch, so I set my sketchbook aside and went to retrieve the mail. There was a big envelope there, and let me tell you I did a real double-take when I saw the return address:

Arbor Day Foundation

100 Arbor Avenue

Nebraska City NE 68410

Enclosed was the 2020 Missouri Tree Survey, along with a special offer. If I chose to join the Arbor Day Foundation by making a small donation, I would receive the following free gifts:

  • 2 Flowering Crabapples
  • 3 American Redbuds
  • 2 Washington Hawthorns
  • 3 White Flowering Dogwoods
  • 2 Lilacs
  • A Tree Planting Guide

Did I join? You betcha! The fact that this arrived while I was engrossed in drawing trees was too much of a coincidence to be mere coincidence, if you know what I mean.

And did you know:

  • More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rain forest.
  • More than 180 million Americans receive quality drinking water from forested watersheds.
  • Surfaces shaded by trees may be 20-45 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded areas.
  • One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to 4 people.
  • Trees help reduce crime. Among minor crimes, there is less graffiti, vandalism, and littering in outdoor spaces with trees as part of the natural landscape than in comparable plant-free spaces.
  • Tree increase property value.

We have quite a few trees now, but plenty of room for more on our 1/2-acre property. Not large by some standards, but in a residential area, that’s a lot of yard. We love it.

I’m happy to support the Arbor Day Foundation. I have been to “Arbor Lodge” — the beautiful home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. I hope we can visit again. I’ll be sure to take a camera — and a sketchbook.




      1. I think I got this book through Amazon… most likely as a “used book” from a 3rd-party seller. That’s how I buy most of my art books. It seems funny that you remember him for color because my whole experience with Powell is with graphite, so no color at all! Maybe I should check to see if he has other books. The one I have was part of the Walter Foster Drawing Series. You’re probably familiar with those books, too.


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