I didn’t intend to draw trees without leaves as my first colored pencil project, but my attempt to create fall colors quickly left me disheartened so I shifted my concentration to bark and limb. Below are few beginner (as in, I’m a beginner) tips I’ve gleaned so far. I’ve linked to the products I’m using but am not an affiliate with any of the companies.
- Begin with the background. One positive about drawing a tree that will be in much darker colors than the sky is that you can first create the background layer and build on it. Once I move back to including leaves, I’ll have to leave dead space for where they will be placed. In order to layer sky colors, I paid extra attention to some brilliant autumn mornings as my inspiration.
- Outline the tree in your mid-tone color. I’m using Faber-Castell pencils, so I outline the trunk and branches in walnut brown and add the highlights and shadows later. This choice makes it easy to adjust without creating weird lines between the branch and the trunk.
- Consider limiting your color choices if you are just starting out. I purchased the full set of colored pencils from Faber-Castell but am only using about 15 or so to create my drawings currently. This has greatly reduced my stress and has prompted me to think about how colors blend together. I’ve most enjoyed making purples and peaches in my sky by blending two or three colors together.
- End the branches in triangles not squares. I made a tree each way and the blunt-ended squares made it look like it was dead, whereas using a thinner, pointed end for the branches allowed it appear at rest. This is obvious if you think about trees, but didn’t register for me until I finished a layer.
- Consider proportions before placing any strokes. I got too enthusiastic on one of my trees with the grasses underneath, and they turned into a seaweed shape. The trunk to branch proportion has also been difficult for me to get my head around. I think the width of all the main branches should probably very slightly thinner when added together as compared to the trunk, and there should only be a few main divisions (one of my trees had a super-wide trunk with many main branches off of it and it did not work for me).
- Burnishing is where it’s at! I’ve been using Gamblin gamsol to burnish the sky colors together (lay down a layer of colors, burnish and repeat), and using my Prismacolor colorless blender pencils on the tree portion. The tree is draw over the background, so there is a great chance of smearing it if I tried to use the oil. Burnishing allows the colored pencils, especially if they are oil-based like the Faber-Castell, to appear more like paint.
My tree, if I am able to make one that I feel is good enough to include on a card for my In an Open Hand deck, will be set in winter rather than fall. I almost gave up on the whole enterprise after my first set of leaves looked ridiculous, so I’m glad I found something I am able to create that has potential.
If you are starting out and you get overwhelmed, I encourage you to break down the elements of what you were trying to draw and to see if you can perfect one component at a time. After drawing all the trees to get to one I like, I think I’ll be better prepared for that elements once I start including leaves. Please leave any colored-pencil tree drawing tips, beginner or otherwise, below!