How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

So how do you draw trees with colored pencils? Is there a “best way” to draw them far away and up close? That’s what Paula is asking today. Here’s her question:

Hi Carrie,

I’m having trouble with trees and leaves.  Trees in the distance aren’t too bad but as they get closer in view you need to combine the “fuzzy” trees in the distance with some more detailed leaves in the foreground.  Love your tips!

Paula

Thank you for your question, Paula.

How to Draw Trees with Colored Pencils

Trees. At one time, I hated drawing them and avoided drawing them whenever possible.

They’re now among my favorite subjects to sketch and draw.

When I started writing this post, I fully intended to show you how to draw a tree with colored pencil with a step-by-step tutorial.

Then I decided to begin with a few general tips and by the time I had those outlined, I realized adding a tutorial would make the post way too long. So we’ll focus on the general tips, then I’ll link to a two-part tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.

A Few Tips for Drawing Trees

Let’s begin with a few basic principles that will help you draw better trees no matter what type of tree you want to draw. They’re easy to grasp and put to use because you’re probably already using them with other subjects and didn’t realize they apply to trees, too (and anything else you might want to draw.)

Go for the Big Shapes First

No two trees are identical, even if they’re the same type of tree. Branches grow differently. Branches die and fall. Trees get pruned. Whatever the cause, each tree is as unique as each person.

So the first thing to do when you draw a tree is to look for the big, overall shape. Don’t worry about what’s within that shape.

If you’re drawing more than one tree, pay attention to how they relate to one another in size, too. Vary the sizes of the trees you draw so it doesn’t look like you’re drawing cut-out trees.

How to draw trees - start with the big shapes
Always begin with the largest, most basic shapes for each tree. If you’re drawing more than one tree, note how the shapes relate to one another in size and location.

Vary the Level of Detail

The closer an object is, the more clearly you can see the details of that object. Trees in the foreground should have more detail than the trees in the background. The further away a tree is, the less detail you should draw.

Color and value is part of this picture. Colors generally get less vibrant as they recede into the distance. The range of values also gets narrower. The light values get a little darker and the darker values get a little lighter.

Each of these three things contribute to the illusion of distance and space in artwork.

Don’t Draw Every Leaf

Even in the trees in the foreground.

There is one exception to this principle and that’s if you happen to have twigs or branches hanging down in the extreme foreground. You will need to be more careful about drawing individual leaves in a case like that.

Yes, the closer trees should look more like they have leaves instead of a solid canopy, but you still shouldn’t draw every leaf. A few strokes or dots of color in a few places around the outside edges of your tree will be enough to help a viewer “see” leaves in the rest of the tree.

Another good place to add these kinds of details is along the edges where colors or values change, such as the edges of shadows.

But you’re also probably going to show them in less detail and perhaps silhouetted in order to keep them from becoming the focus of attention.

Use More than One Color

Most of the time, trees are some shade of green. Obviously, Autumn is one time of year when many trees are not green, and there are some trees that are never green, but for the most part, when you draw a tree, you’ll be using a green.

But don’t limit yourself to just one green. Choose a dark green, a middle green, and a light green that work well together. Use each color where appropriate to draw the colors AND values.

For good measure, have an earth tone handy, just in case those greens get a little too artificial looking! Some shade of red or orange also work to tone down greens.

Stay Away from Those Neon Colors

Unless your landscape features something man-made, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find bright, vibrant colors in it. So when you make color selections, stay away from colors that are bright enough to attract the eye, but don’t look at all natural in a landscape.

How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

As mentioned earlier, I’ll send you over to EmptyEasel, where you can see the first article in a series showing how I drew a landscape with trees. I started with an umber under drawing, and you can read that article here.

How to Draw Trees with an Umber Under Drawing

The second part is all about color, and you can read that here.

This two-part tutorial will help you see how to separate the trees in the foreground from the trees in the middle ground.

And I hope to do a new landscape tutorial sometime in 2020, so stay tuned for that.

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