Sunday, October 22, 2017

Green Lake Trees

10/21/17 photo reference (in progress)
This cluster of trees is something I see whenever I walk around Green Lake. The trees form a distinctive group – growing so close together that they look like they might have been a single tree at one point – so they are unusual and memorable. When Suzanne, my graphite drawing instructor, suggested that we bring in our own photos for last week’s lesson on foliage, I knew these trees would make an interesting study.

Although I think I did a fairly good job of making the brightly lit trunks stand out from the background, I’m not as happy with the foliage. The branches in the light don’t seem to come forward enough, but I’m not sure how to fix that. As for shadows, I worked through the full range from 2H all the way up to 4B this time, and I finally stopped – not because I think it’s done but because after about 10 hours of work, I’d had enough of it for the week. I’m hoping Suzanne’s feedback will help me figure out what to do next.

Compared to clouds (which I prefer to imply rather than draw explicitly) and rocky cliffs and shorelines (which I rarely encounter here in the Maple Leaf neighborhood), trees are something I see and sketch regularly. I’m fully motivated to continue learning how to make foliage look more dimensional and tree-like because I think it will help to improve most of my urban sketches. During my first couple years of sketching, trees were such a challenging subject for me that I officially declared them a sketching nemesis. Since trees are (thankfully) unavoidable in the urban landscape, I decided it was easier to face them than run away, and I tried to practice them regularly.

Then, as now, I loved trying to capture the graceful structure of tree trunks and branches (I still enjoy sketching trees more in winter!), but when it came to foliage, I was always stumped. Buildings or other objects made primarily of planes can be shaded on one side to show their three-dimensional structure. Trees, too, face the sun in only one direction, but they are a hundred times harder to show dimensionally. Each leaf casts a shadow in a slightly different direction, and each branch is lighted on top but shaded underneath. The tree as a whole is spherical, cylindrical or conical, not cubic, so the shading moves gradually around it to the unlit side, not at a distinct plane. It’s easy enough to show a tree’s shape silhouetted against the sky, but what about all those foreshortened branches coming toward me? It’s enough to drive a sketcher bananas! 

Still, a few years ago when I first declared trees to be a nemesis, I would not have been able to articulate why they are so friggin’ difficult to draw, and now I am, so I guess I understand more about them now than I did then. Of course, understanding trees and drawing them are not the same.


  1. Looks good. You may need some darker value to make it pop? Have you tried something like Staedtler Mars Black or another high-carbon pencil to get the deep blacks without the shine of pure graphite and without the smear of charcoal? Or is that considered cheating in this class?

    1. Yes -- darker! That's exactly what I did (finished drawing coming up soon). I don't think high-carbon pencils would be considered cheating -- my instructor uses them, too. As you can probably tell from my sketches in a general, I'm a big fan of mixed media, so when I'm on my own, I'd probably mix it up that way. But for now, I'm really focusing on learning to use graphite only (which is the way she's teaching this class). I enjoy getting to know a medium thoroughly this way.


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