Friday, February 19, 2021

Final Assignment: Foliage

2/16/21 maples (graphite on Strathmore Bristol vellum, 5.5" x 8", photo reference)

The last assignment in Kathleen Moore’s tree-drawing class was foliage, which, at least for me, is the single-most challenging part about drawing any tree. Although this lesson, like the rest of the course, was done from a photo, I think it will be the most useful for sketching on location because it focused on the large, massive shapes of trees in the distance rather than the details of trunks, roots and branches.

Digging through my files for a reference photo, I had several that would have been easier – taken on sunny days with trees nicely lighted on one side. However, I purposefully chose this one of a couple of blazing maples that I took last October in my neighborhood (on a cloudy day, to boot). This is exactly the kind of tree scene that confounds me when I try to sketch it from life. I am dazzled by the brilliant colors, but they confuse me, and I can no longer see the values and forms. I end up with lots of pretty colors, but the trees look flat.

As Kathleen suggested, I converted the image into black and white and used prints of both the color and monochrome images as references (see below). Initially, the black and white image was more useful in seeing the values. As I was finishing, though, I put the black and white one away and tried to squint at the color image to continue refining the values. On location, I will not be able to convert the scene to monochrome (well, I could do it with my phone, but I’m not inclined to bother), so I want to learn to see those values and forms with my own eyes – even when I’m dazzled by colors.

Yes, it broke my heart to draw this with graphite, but I know I learned much more from the exercise than I would have if I had drawn it in color. Maybe next time I try to tackle trees like this from life, I’ll get the payoff. (And yes, it also broke my heart to omit those power lines. 😉)

Dazzled by color!

It's always surprising to see the values I missed when I viewed only the color image.


  1. You did such an awesome job on this!!! I love that you really challenged yourself.

    1. Thank you, Joan! I'm pleased with it, too. I'm thinking I might use this as a values study to try it in color...


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