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Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to Draw a Tree (for Sandy)

Along the Bridle Path, by little ol' me. Early spring in a place I used to ride, a long time ago.
We tend to see trees as silhouettes instead of three-dimensional objects. This is because the branches that move toward us in space become smaller as they get closer, obviating the primary visual clue of perspective—that things are bigger the closer they are to us. The trick to drawing a tree is to see it as a three-dimensional shape rather than a silhouette.

Here are some common 3-D solid shapes that you can recognize in nature, in the human form, and in architecture. Often, the crown of a tree conforms to one of these shapes, or a combination of these shapes.

Learning to see common shapes in nature will advance your drawing chops.

When the hidden lines are shown, as below, these are called “wireframe” renderings. Being able to interpolate the hidden lines of shapes is an important part of perspective drawing.

Rendering those shapes as wireframe drawings will help you see the perspective.

The woody parts of plants are essentially tubes constructed of xylem (wood) which moves water. These tubes are covered with phloem (bark) which carries sucrose.

Since we know that a tree is a system of tubes, we realize that the cylinder is the fundamental wireframe shape we encounter in drawing it. I have taken this handsome white oak and rendered it as a series of cylinders:

A beautiful old white oak in Nassau, Rensselaer County, New York. How do I know it's a white oak? By its branching pattern, its crown, its bark, its leaves, and the fact that it's on the grounds of the now-defunct Camp White Oaks.
Drawing it as a series of tubes allows you to render it in three dimensions rather than as a silhouette.

The white oak above, rendered as a wire-frame drawing of tubes stacked on tubes. I do this every time I draw or paint a portrait of a tree.
We can identify the species of a distant tree from the shape of its crown (which is also three-dimensional), the texture of its bark, and its branching pattern. Paying careful attention to these attributes will make your trees more realistic.

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