OCAD Studio: Quick Sketching Trees

Although trees seem very complex, they needn’t be daunting when you try to sketch them. It’s possible to give a great impression of a tree without adding lots of detail. In fact, many of the best landscape drawings and paintings simply suggest the shape or texture of a tree, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps, these simple impressions feel natural and lively – just like real trees.

This lesson will show you how to use a few simple steps to make great sketches of trees.

Tree Shapes/ Silhouettes

Here is a selection of different tree shapes that you may come across when landscape sketching.

  • Pyramidal – Pine trees and other conifers.

  • Layered/Crowned – Most deciduous trees, such as Oaks, Birches and Maple trees.

  • Columnar – Cypress and Poplars

  • Weeping – Trees growing next to rivers, such as weeping willows.



I like to start with the edge of the tree, I lightly and loosely catch the rhythms of the tree’s shape. I treat the leaves as a volume when I sketch trees, rather than lots of individual shapes and just draw a jagged outside contour for the whole tree.



Once the outside contour has been sketched in, I look for any significant holes in the foliage. These are referred to as ‘skyholes’ as the sky will show through them. Some types of trees (those with dense foliage, such as Conifers and Cypress) are unlikely to ever have any skyholes but broader, less densely leaved trees will often have gaps. If I spot any of the ‘skyholes’ lightly sketch them in the same way that I sketched in the outside of the tree.


Giving the Tree Form


I find it best to treat the tree’s foliage as a simple form; if the tree is layered it will be spherical whereas a columnar tree will be a tapering cylindrical form etc. I start by roughly hatching the form of the tree. It needn’t be too neat as a rougher application will feel more like a mass of of leaves. After sketching in this large form I will look for slightly smaller masses within the foliage. The nature of these masses will vary depending on the type of tree. A layered tree will usually be divide up into a few smaller spherical clumps whereas a conifer will have overlapping layers from the top to bottom.

I avoid copying the tree painstakingly or relying on lines too much. I just try to capture the feel and general form of the tree with quick and loose shading.


The amount of trunk visible will vary depending on the type of tree, but all tree trunks are essentially cylindrical, so fairly simple to shade in. I usually make the trunk a bit neater than the foliage as this contrast helps to reinforce the looser texture of the leaves.


Grouping distant trees

Drawing groups of distant trees is even simpler than drawing individual trees. I just lightly sketch in the general rhythm of the treeline, along with any significant gaps within the group of trees. Then I loosely shade in the whole mass before adding any noticeably dark accents. It’s best to make sure that distant groups of trees are more loosely sketched in than trees in the foreground so that they sit back in the picture rather than drawing the viewer’s attention.


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