Trees are a ubiquitous part of the landscape. We need to get comfortable drawing them close up, in the middle ground, and distance. This step-by-step demonstration will help you draw a tree in the middle distance. At this range, individual leaves are not clearly seen, rather the shapes of large clumps of leaves dominate what we see. Getting the feel of these masses is the key to drawing trees. I often draw front to back. I start with the elements of a subject that are closest to me and then move back in space adding more parts of the subject in layers behind what I have already drawn. In drawing trees, this means I start with the clumps of leaves that are the closest to me, then add the branches and trunk, and then the shape of the leaf masses at the back of the tree. This helps me depict depth by having a series of intentionally overlapping layers. Search this tutorial for tricks and techniques that you can incorporate into your style. Try copying the demonstration then use the ideas that you like to draw trees in your neighborhood. Working from several real trees will train you to adapt these ideas to the varied life forms you will find. Click on the first image to start a step-by-step tutorial.
I start with a light non-photo-blue diagram of the basic shape. This helps make sure I have the overall proportions of the tree, height of trunk base and width and height of the canopy.
Now draw the masses of the leaves that are the closest to you. Use an irregular line that suggests the sense of the foliage without needing to draw individual leaves. Make sure the clumps are different sizes and avoid mechanical regular spacing or your tree will look artificial.
Draw the trunk from the top down, connecting branches together and widening as you go. Keep looking back at the real tree instead of going with your idea of how branches should look. The models we carry in our heads of what tree branches “should” do are too simple.
Add the foliage behind the branches and trunk. The overlap of leaf masses and branches suggests depth.
Look for holes in the larger masses of foliage. Do not make these “leaf windows” the same size and shape.
Add shadows to the underside of the leaf masses. Leave a rim of light at the top of the upper leaf clumps. The shapes of these shadow areas will change depending on your angle to the sun and the time of day. Draw what your really see rather than the way you think shadows should go.
Add shadows to the trunk and branches. In some places you will see light trunks against dark leaves, in other spots you will see dark trunks against a lighter background.
Adjust the values of the shadows as necessary. Here I thought the branches seemed too dark against the foliage so I darkened the shadow areas.
You could leave the drawing just as a pencil drawing or add paint. Because the shadows are already indicated with pencil, a light wash of green watercolor is all you need in the leaf masses.
Observe how the trunk appears brighter when contrasted against a darker background.