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