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There are many ways of drawing tree trunks with pen and ink and I will explain few of the simple techniques here. Key as always is to practice and you can use the templates provided here to practice. Every person has their own unique pen style and your drawing will look different than mine but if you follow the steps below, you will gain core understanding of how to depict a tree trunk and you will improve with practice.
To believably draw a tree trunk, two things need to be accomplished:
- Show the roundness of the trunk.
- Show the bark texture.
Roundness is indicated by darkening one side of the trunk more than the other. Bark texture is indicated by using pen marks that imitate bark shape and texture.
Drawing an effective outline of tree trunk is also very important as without an effective outline, any texturing will not bring out the desired effect. Drawing outline of individual trunk and landscapes based on trunks is discussed in detail here.
Suggesting Bark Texture:
It is very important to understand that in pen and ink drawing, the goal is to use pen strokes to create a suggestion of specific texture that our mind interprets accordingly. To do this effectively, we don’t have to draw the texture in great detail but use the stokes that convey the appropriate feel most effectively. Following is a very simple and effective stroke for drawing and suggesting bark texture. The stroke consists of slightly wandering line along the length of trunk which conveys a feel of bark grooves.
As you can see in step 2 above, just by adding few lines suggesting bark grooves, an effective feel of bark is conveyed. It is not necessary to make extensive use of the stroke but always strike to convey the right feel with as few strokes as possible.
Adding some crevices and edge roughness using tapered dark makes the trunk more believable. A trunk should also be grounded using grass appropriately.
Giving Roundness to Trunk:
As shown above, adding more stroke to one side from step 2 to step 3 to make it more dark brings out the roundness of the trunk. This is because on any rounded object light falls unevenly and there is different level of darkness or ‘tone’ on its surface. Direction of light on the object determines how the level of darkness varies, but for a trunk it is usually best to make 1/3 left side darkest, with 1/3 in the middle facing the viewer in middle tone and 1/3 on the right lightest. This assumes that Sun is shining from the right with the right side lit the brightest. Level of darkness to use is a matter of personal taste but usually using darker tones gives the trunk an old feel. Experiment with different levels to see what you prefer.
Trunks are often receding in a landscape and become smaller with distance. Same technique discussed above can be used to draw trunks of different sizes till a certain minimal size. Below this size, the stroke can’t properly be done and we switch to ‘2 tone technique’ discussed later.
Different compositions that can be done with trunks as the main element is discussed here.
Other Strokes to Texture Bark:
The stroke shown above is the simplest to use to texture trunk and you should practice and get comfortable with it in the beginning. There are many other strokes that can be used as well and I describe some of them below. Indeed after some practice you can experiment with different strokes of your own and create your own repertoire of strokes.
Stroke : Small, slightly wiggly vertical and horizontal lines:
In this stroke, horizontal wandering lines are used with vertical wandering lines to create bark texture.
Following shows how this stroke can be used on trunks of different sizes as they become smaller with distance.
Stroke : Short, slightly angled vertical lines
Short, slightly angled intersecting lines gives feeling of bark texture. Use of this stroke and steps are shown below.
As the following close up shows, small areas of white that are left between the intersecting lines provides bark highlights and give feeling of bark. Use techniques discussed before to finish the trunk.
This simple stroke can also be used for trunks of different sizes as shown below.
Stroke : Flowing, slightly curved vertical lines:
Avoid any kind of uniformity in drawing these lines.
Different strokes give different feel for a bark and in a drawing with many trees, use different strokes to add interest. The concept of varying tone or level of darkness from left to right to bring out the roundness and use of tapered crevices to finish trunk is applicable when using different strokes.
Grounding a Trunk:
It is very important to ground a trunk with grass or any other ground cover. More information on drawing grass and other ground cover can be found here.
Drawing trunk with more bark details:
In the approach discussed above, the aim is to give a general feel of bark through use of appropriate stroke. But as the trunk gets closer to the viewer, more details regarding bark shape and texture need to be shown. For this, the general technique is to first draw outline of bark ‘pieces’ and then texture them individually. By using different shape for bark pieces and different stroke for shading, different feel for bark can be obtained. Two approaches are shown below. Individual bark shading is again darkened in one end to give it appearance of roundness and depth.
Approach 1: Parallel lines for shading rounded bark pieces.
Approach 2: Dots and small marks for shading elongated bark pieces.
Experiment with different shapes of bark outline and pen strokes for texturing to see how it affects overall texture. You can watch video demonstrations of drawing bark details on my YouTube channel here.
Drawing a Ridged Bark:
In the above techniques, the trunk is not ridged, i.e. it doesn’t have exposed form. Old trunks usually have ‘ridges’ and in this technique, ridges are given prominence and indicated to draw trunk. This method is useful for depicting old trunks with rough ridged bark.
By using different shape and sizes of ridges, different texture is obtained. here is another example.
You can watch video demonstration of this technique on my YouTube channel here.
Drawing a deeply grooved bark:
Here, the focus is on deep crevices in some barks. Deep crevices are explicitly indicated in this method to give effect of very rough texture for bark.
You can find video demonstration of this technique on my YouTube channel here.
Drawing a Young or Far Away Trunk using 2 tone:
As we saw before, usually 3 tones (dark, middle and light) that vary across the trunk are used to bring out the roundness of trunk. But if the size of trunk is too small (when it is a very young sapling or a trunk that is very far away) then three tones can’t be properly drawn in it. In this case, middle tone is eliminated and two tones (dark and light) is used to convey trunk volume as shown below.
It is very important to darken one side in a zagged manner to give some impression of bark roughness as shown in close up below.
Following are some additional examples of 2 tone shading.
As the trees move farther out from the viewer in a scene, they become progressively smaller with less details visible. Use appropriate technique to draw trunk based on their size.
Following’ trunk study’ shows use of different techniques discussed. Notice how bark details are shown in trunks up close and 2 tone shading is used for far out trunk. Size of trunk decreases with distance due to perspective.
Thoughts on Relative Shading of Trunk:
As we saw above, 1/3 of trunk should be darkest and 1/3 lightest with the 1/3 in between to give it illusion of roundness. What constitutes ‘dark’ may though be matter of individual taste. Following shows 2 drawings with the one on left lot less darker than the one on right. I prefer bold contrasts in my drawings and hence would probably go for the shading in the right drawing, but you may have a different opinion. Play with the level of dark you use in your drawings and see what fancies you. Experimentation and Practice are key to improving in pen and ink drawing.
Also experiment with using different marks for the bark texture. To draw a particular species of tree, you need to study the shape and texture of its bark and experiment with different pen marks/strokes to capture it on paper. Following is an example of birch tree.
Templates & Workbooks:
Click here to download PDF with templates and finished drawings to practice drawing tree trunks. You can also find many more examples of tree trunks in Mini Landscapes that you can further use to practice. Better yet, vol 1&2 of my pen and ink drawing workbook series discusses these techniques in detail with hands on exercises. Available for only $6 (paperback) and $2.99 (Kindle), Try them today.
Compositions with Video Demonstrations:
In this tutorial, the focus was on learning to draw and texture trunks. Next step is to learn how trunks can be used together to create simple pleasing compositions. This is done here along with links to video demonstrations on my YouTube channel.
Try to study how trunks are done if you see one in a drawing. Following are some examples of how I have done it in some of my drawings.
This completes the tutorial. I would love to hear from you any suggestions for new content or thoughts on improving the tutorials. Do feel free to reach out to me if you need any help or clarification.
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