Monday, June 3, 2024

Bigleaf Maple and its Guests


5/31/24 Ravenna neighborhood

Last summer when I reported on Luma, the endangered cedar tree, I started learning about many other endangered trees in Seattle. In addition, by following several tree-related accounts on Instagram, I’ve learned about old trees that are not necessarily endangered but are fascinating in many ways. One that recently caught my attention was shown in a video by treeswithtaha (Taha Ebrahimi): a bigleaf maple that is one of the city’s widest street maples. Growing in the Ravenna neighborhood, it is distinctive for “hosting” at least two other trees growing from it!

What?? Trees growing from within another tree? I had to see (and sketch) them for myself. An easy mile-and-a-half walk from home, the residential area of 17th Northeast and Northeast Ravenna Boulevard has many other mature trees, too. Last Friday morning the temperature was ideal for both walking and sketching, so I head out to see this very special bigleaf.

My daily-carry sketchbooks for a long time now have been only an Uglybook and an A6-size Hahnemühle. Instead of a comics page that fits so well on an A6-size spread, I intended to do more of a “portrait” of this special tree. I brought along an A5-size Hahnemühle sketchbook that would give me enough space to capture this grand old tree properly.

Indeed, even the A5-page spread was barely wide enough to show its huge trunk and the lower part of its canopy. Although this isn’t intended as a comics page, I guess I have had comics so much in my mind lately that I found myself making callouts for details in small boxes similar to my comics style.

Sketching this magnificent tree had multiple challenges. The biggest was that the entire trunk was in shade, so it was difficult to visually separate all those branches and mini trunks: Which belonged to which tree? I kept having to follow a single branch with my eyes to spots way over my head to see what kind of leaves were attached to it. Even as I sketched, I interrupted myself many times to walk around the bigleaf’s trunk to understand what was going on (which attracted the attention of a neighbor who asked if I was a tree surveyor).

Since everything was in darkness, and all the entwined trees were basically the same color, how could I draw them to show the “guests” apart from their “host”? Using my favorite secondary triad mixes, I made the guest trunks slightly warmer than their host (even though in reality they were all the same color) to separate them visually.

I saw what looked like two smaller maples growing out from the bigleaf’s trunk, one on each side, but Taha said they are one maple growing through the large maple’s trunk! Another attached tree had entirely different leaves, which Taha speculated was some kind of cherry plum. That one was so close to one of the guest maples that I couldn’t show it well as a separate tree, so that’s where the callouts became essential.

Barely fitting everything I wanted to show on the A5 spread, I could have used a much larger sketchbook – though I wouldn’t have, as it would have been too heavy and cumbersome to hold standing (and walking around) for more than an hour – much longer than I typically spend on any sketch.

Walking home, I felt such appreciation for marvelous legacy trees like this bigleaf and gratitude that it’s still standing on a residential street.

P.S. As much fun as I am having with comics in my Uglybooks, I have been missing my watercolor pencils dearly. This sketch gave me a good fix.


  1. This is wonderful! Nature can be so interesting. You did such a great job indicating the different trunks meshed together. I'm glad you thought ahead and brought a bigger sketchbook.

    1. Thank you, Joan! Trees are so fascinating! And this one was especially challenging and fun to draw!


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