Part 3: Project 1: Exercise 3 – Study of several trees


This drawing demonstrates the artist’s ability to be selective and simplify the scene. It captures the most striking feature – the fall of light on the trees – by simply leaving white areas free of marks. Note the very simple use of perspective where the more distant forms are not only smaller but also less defined.

Spend one to two hours on this exercise. Work in a wood or study a group of trees. You might decide to work using a variety of media and introduce colour with crayon, oil pastel or watercolour pencils. Look for a point of interest; this could be a path to introduce an element of perspective, or strong contrasts in light and shade, or the dynamic forms of the trees themselves. A bank or rocks could form part of your study.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 - course notes image
David Jones, Greenwich Park, 1921 (pen, ink and crayon)

Foliage will provide its own contrasting tonal areas, but in autumn and winter you can see contrast and depth in the intense darkness of evergreens or the density of receding layers of bare twigs and branches. Notice the effect of ivy on a deciduous tree or the presence of conifers, holly or laurel in woodland. Try to work in broad tonal areas. Look for strong contrast in light or dark or intense areas of colour, especially evident in autumn, or the brightness of moss in winter. Tree trunks will dominate in either dark or pale tones.

Your drawing should suggest form and mass, but don’t get stuck with detail. If you use watercolour pencils, use a wet brush to develop some simple watercolour washes so that you can map out areas of tone. Through autumn and winter leaf litter often makes for vivid and complementary colour and tonal interest.

If woodland or several trees overwhelm you as a subject, ‘zoom in’ on an area that interests you and make a more abstract drawing composed of elements that have strong lines, texture, colour or contrast.

When you’ve finished, make some notes in your learning log.

• What techniques did you use to distinguish one species of tree from another?
• How did you convey the mass of foliage and the spaces between?
• How did you handle light on the different parts of the tree?
• Did you manage to select and simplify? Look at your drawings and make notes on how you did this, and what you could have done better.


My selected view for this exercise is the mixed woodland at the rear of our property in Glenurquhart. Looking across the intervening field from our fence line I took a board mounted 250gsm A3 mixed media paper with water colour sponge wash to lay down the basic areas of the composition – sky, skyline background, middle and foreground.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 %22Study of several trees%22 - ground prep
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 – Study of several trees – ground prep

Once dry, I sketched in the tree and feature outlines with a 6B sketch stick. I hadn’t used one of these before and found it a nice tool to handle – clean, no mess and no smudges. The field had recently been cut for silage and I tried to avoid being distracted by the tractor cut lines.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 %22Study of several trees%22 - initial outline
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 – Study of several trees – initial outline

This particular patch of woodland has a variety of trees – birch, scots pine, maple and others I haven’t identified yet. It even has a ‘lightning-struck’ survivor (just off to the right behind the 5-bar gate). Starting with the hill skyline I used water colour pencils and water brush pen to pick out and wash-in areas of tone.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 %22Study of several trees%22 - 1st application of colour
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 – Study of several trees – 1st application of colour

Finished drawing

In keeping with the brief, as I moved down the drawing I used a variety of media – from the water colour of the skyline, through using water soluble wax pastel in the middle-ground and finishing with Inktense block ink in the foreground.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 %22Study of several trees%22 - finished drawing
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3 – Study of several trees – finished drawing

Critique of Exercise 1 – 3

Exercise 1 – Individual tree
(sketch 1) used pencil line to depict outline with a hint of darker shadow on the side opposite light source.
(sketch 2) used dabbing of side of pencil onto paper to suggest foliage.
(sketch 3) loose line scratches with pen to suggest the form of the trunk.
(sketch 4) loosely scribbled lines and shading to suggest texture.

Exercise 2 – Larger observational study
(sketches 1 & 2) pencil line and shading to suggest form of trunk and tree burr.
(sketch 3) pencil line to capture twisty branch work and dabbed side pencil work to suggest foliage and darker tonal areas.

Final drawing of sketch 2 – pen line to capture a much simplified branch network and line and washed penwork to define the tree burrs, and just a hint of background detail for placement of tree in space. Not sure that I really managed to capture the ‘roundness’ of the massive trunk – looks a bit 2D flat to me now.

Exercise 3 – Several trees
I found it hard to simplify due to the sheer mass of trees on the hillside, but have used different shades of colour to suggest both individual trees, types of trees and light and shadow. I think the mix of media worked pretty well to suggest a sense of depth of the woodland rising from field level upwards to the skyline.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
8 September 2015

Part 3: Project 1: Exercise 2 – Larger observational study of an individual tree


Now spend more time really looking at a tree in detail. Spend at least an hour on this drawing. Choose which media will suit the individual characteristics of ‘your’ tree. For example, you might decide to use A3 cartridge paper and a fine drawing medium such as a drawing pen, pencil or ballpoint.

Try to work fairly quickly so that you keep a free and flowing hand to follow the fluid lines and forms of the tree. What makes the tree distinctive? Its solid massive presence (a mature oak, horse chestnut, sycamore or ash), its airiness and delicacy (a birch), or its bent windblown form (a hawthorn)? You don’t need to draw twigs and branches in detail but try to capture a sense of directionality. Ash twigs curl. Beech twigs grow straighter and are almost on a horizontal plane when in leaf; in winter they reach up. Some Scots pine, larch and firs only branch out high up the trunk, making for a very distinctive form. Continually observe your subject and don’t be afraid to keep drawing without looking at your paper.

Notice the light source; see where the deepest shadows are and the strongest light (these are usually next to each other). Hint at texture by fluid use of shading or lines.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 course notes image
OCA student, Andrew Macdonald

Idea sketches

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 %22Larger observational study of an individual tree%22 - idea sketches 1 & 2
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 – Larger observational study of an individual tree – idea sketches 1 & 2

These are trees that are meaningful to me and which I sketched using pencil. Both are tree trunks and I think Larch, but I’m not sure. I was attracted by the burr bowls attached to the trunk in both trees and the unique/individual contours and shapes these growths provided.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 %22Larger observational study of an individual tree%22 - idea sketch 3
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 – Larger observational study of an individual tree – idea sketch 3

This sketch is of a Hawthorn (without the ‘e’) bush trying to become a tree. I just loved the twisty, curling, reaching branches. Again using pencil I think I captured its living, aspiring essence.

Finished drawing

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 %22Larger observational study of an individual tree%22 - finished drawing
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 2 – Larger observational study of an individual tree – finished drawing

Reflecting on my three sketch ideas, I was hard pushed to chose between them. In the end I selected idea sketch 2. Why? It touches me in a way that shouts survival against all odds.

Finished drawing of old larch tree with burrs in fineliner ink pen and waterbrush pen on A3 heavy weight 220gsm cartridge paper. I decided on this tree as my subject due to the dynamic limb shapes and the wrap around/clingy effect of the burrs. The whole tree appears almost other-worldy. It has been growing for a very long time and seems to force its self up through the ground. I tried to concentrate on the bulk of the tree from the ground to just above the burrs and simplified the branch network substantially in order to display the key features. Introducing suggestions of colour adds to the tree’s mystery for me.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
5 September 2015

Part 3: Project 1: Exercise 1 – Sketching individual trees


Find a tree that interests you in a park, garden or anywhere where you feel comfortable sitting or standing. Look out from a ground floor window if that suits you better. You’ll need to be at some distance from a big tree.

Do around four preliminary drawings – it may help to divide your paper up into four landscape or portrait boxes. Use a soft pencil (2B–6B), charcoal or pen and ink. Keep building up on the basis of previous sketches.

• Draw a simple outline of the tree’s overall shape.
• Draw basic shapes in outline, or shaded areas that describe how the foliage forms in different masses around the tree.
• Draw the outlines of the trunk and the main branches of the tree that you can see.
• Draw with lots of scribbled outlines or shade roughly to try and indicate something of the texture of the foliage.

These simple studies will help you get to grips with the structure of the tree.


Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 1 %22Skectching individual trees%22 - sketches 1 & 2
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 1 – Sketching individual trees – sketches 1 & 2

These are studies of a tree from the garden. I used pencil for them all to try and capture the individuality of this weeping cherry that we rescued a few years ago. It has some good years with lovely pink bloom and some bad ones with no bloom at all. But it survives through Highland winters and is cared for and much loved. These two sketches show its outline and a detail of one branch with indicative foliage.

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 1 %22Sketching individual trees%22 - sketches 3 & 4
Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 1 – Sketching individual trees – sketches 3 & 4

The trunk outline is shown on the left along with a close up drawing of the trunk where it starts to branch off. The sketch on the right hand page tries to capture bloom, small sections of twig and an end branch with leaves. I used fineliner ink and felt-tip pens to add some colour. Scribbled lines and shading attempts to suggest texture.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
5 September 2015