I love trees. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know that trees are among my favorite subjects for drawing and painting. Even before I learned to draw, I doodled a lot of trees. When I was doing a bit of photography — again, long before I learned to draw — I was taking pictures of trees everywhere I went. I love trees of all kinds — big trees, little trees, old trees, new trees, and, by the way, maybe you remember that special gift from the Arbor Day Foundation — 10 flowering trees. We received them last fall, planted them, and all but one seems to be thriving. For what it’s worth, we now have another 10 trees coming from our support of the foundation. They’ll be arriving in a few weeks as planting time nears.
Yes, I love trees. Remember Inktober 2019? I did an entire series of tree drawings in ink. That was one of the most personally satisfying art projects I’ve ever done, so if you have a chance, click the link and watch the video clip I put together to show off my work. I used a number of different types of pens and many different techniques. I enjoyed making each of those drawings.
One reason I chose trees as my theme for the project was because there are so many varieties of trees, so many different different shapes, and sizes. And so many different personalities, too. Yes, I truly believe that trees have their own personalities. They are living, breathing, growing creatures upon this earth, and if you haven’t already read it, may I recommend The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben? Excellent reading.
Yet even while I profess my love for all trees, I have to confess that we have a tree in our yard that I really don’t like. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true. At least it’s true when it comes to art. Now, I do like crooked, broken, and misshapen trees — they have true character — and I enjoy drawing them. My favorite “crooked tree” at the nearby city park, is a case in point.
You can see my drawing of this tree here. I changed the background and moved it away from the lake, and I didn’t show quite so much foliage. For me, it’s the trunk that’s impressive. I love the strength and determination it shows even as it’s been broken and beaten down by the weather.
So, now, compare this crooked tree to another — a slightly crooked tree at the edge of our property. Sorry, but I’ll say it again. I just don’t like this tree.
It’s not so much crooked as it is just slightly tipsy. It leans. It looks like… well, it just isn’t appealing to me. I hate saying that. I love trees, and sure, I love this one too, but not as a subject for any drawing or painting exercise.
Why, then, did I choose to draw this tree? Good question. I drew it because it was there. The assignment, you see, was to find a tree — preferably while outdoors — that could be seen from top to bottom. That’s actually a bit difficult at times. It was a very hot and very humid afternoon. Temperatures were near 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but I was determined to do the assignment. My morning drawing time had been cut short, you see, by a few other obligations. I intended to make up for it and complete all my drawing projects that afternoon.
I grabbed my sketchbook and a drawing pencil and sketched the tree. The idea for the assignment wasn’t so much the tree itself as it was about learning to draw foliage. Yep. I always have problems there, although I’ve improved a lot since I first tried drawing leafy trees six years ago. This assignment was to use a “scribbling” technique — which is how I’ve been doing all of my graphite sketches this summer. No problem, right?
Wrong. My leafy scribbles just looked like scribbles. I somehow managed to make that ugly tree in our yard look even worse. Oh, dear. You want to see my sketch?
Go ahead and say it. It doesn’t look at all like the tree I was drawing. After completing this quick sketch, I glanced back at the tree again, and I was shocked at how little my sketch resembled the actual tree. The only thing my art has in common with its subject is that both it and the tree are ugly. At least I captured that, right?
I set the drawing aside, glanced at it several times during the evening, and tried to figure out exactly where and how I’d gone so wrong in my attempt to sketch that leaning tree in our yard. Mostly, I realized, it was a matter of proportion again. I have too much trunk and not enough leafy canopy. And then there’s the whole issue of shape. The leafy foliage I scribbled in is not at all similar to the actual shapes of the boughs on this tree.
I should draw the tree again, I decided, paying more attention to getting the proper proportions and a more accurate representation of the leafy canopy. I used the sighting technique again, doing my best to note specific points — where specific branches jutted out, for example — and I did my best to get the right shape for the leaves.
I took out a lot of the “leaning”, didn’t I? Still, as far as drawing the tree, I think this one is closer when it comes to proportions and canopy shape. My scribbling was awful, but even while I was scribbling, I already knew that I wanted to color this with my gansai.
This part of the project was fun. I wanted to use lots of different greens. I wanted to practice making “leafy shapes” with my watercolor brushes. I wanted to use several different colors on the trunk as well to suggest light and shadow. In all of those areas, I think I succeeded.
When all is said and done, I don’t think this little graphite and gansai sketch is ugly, even though I still look at that leaning tree in the yard and shake my head. I still love the tree, It’s not the loveliest tree I’ve ever seen, but it’s a good, solid tree, and that should count for something. In looking at my sketches, I don’t think I really managed much of a likeness, but I tried. I got a chance to practice sighting again, and more opportunity to practice. So, even if it’s an ugly tree, sketching it was a very good experience.