In this post I will describe how to draw tree foliage in detail. Deciduous Trees are usually part of a landscape and being able to draw them in a believable manner is necessary for a convincing landscape. Following is the main ‘leaf’ stroke that is used to indicate a leaf from a distance and is the basis of deciduous foliage. Practice drawing this stroke extensively in different sizes and orientation till you can draw it with a ‘random’ feel as shown below. Click on any image to see it in a bigger size.
Basic ‘Leaf’ Stroke and Shape of Foliage Mass:
Open loops mimicking a leaf is ideal for drawing tree foliage. Study the stroke below and the general shape of a foliage mass in perspective. Click on the image to see in detail.
Suggesting Tree Foliage:
As I have mentioned before, in pen and ink drawing, it is the suggestion of certain texture using appropriate stroke that is the key. A tree full of foliage can be very effectively suggested by creating some foliage masses in a tree outline as shown below.
Click here for more examples in detail.
Drawing Tree: Importance of Contrast
Notice how in the above drawing white is left between the foliage masses. It is this contrast between white and dark (of drawn foliage masses) that gives the feeling of depth in the drawing. Our mind interprets the drawn foliage masses as foreground foliage and the white is ASSUMED to be the background foliage. It is this suggestion that helps our mind visualise the drawing appropriately.
For this technique to work, white shouldn’t be excessive creating discontinuity in our visual perception. Study the image below.
This technique can be taken further by adding more foliage as discussed below.
Drawing Tree Using Dense Foliage:
Above approach can be extended to make foliage dense with addition of more foliage stroke. But as you loose the white in adding more strokes, the depth perception is gone if the tone of foliage is uniform as seen in step 2 below. In this case, add some dark as shown in step 3 to bring out the volume again. Now the darker tone is assumed to be in the background and lighter foliage in the foreground as background areas receive less tone and have darker tone.
Drawing Tree: Levels of Foliage and Contrast
As we saw above, you can choose different levels of foliage density in your drawings but the key is to always have contrast to bring out the depth. You can either draw just bare minimum ‘foreground’ foliage and leave the rest white for our mind to interpret appropriately or you can take it further by covering all area inside tree foliage outline with leaf stroke but in this case remember to add darks to bring out the depth. Level of dark to add is also a matter of personal preference. In the following you can see how different feel of foliage and hence tree is achieved by drawing different level of foliage density and contrast.
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong level. Its a matter of personal preference. Practice and find yours.
Drawing Tree: Three Tone Contrast:
In Tree Trunk tutorial, we saw how having three tones (dark, middle tone and light) across the trunk gave it form, or feel of roundness and volume. Same holds for a foliage mass but in this case, the variation in tone should be from top to bottom (top light with bottom dark). This is because foliage receives light from Sun with top receiving most light.
Steps to Drawing Dense Foliage with 3 tone contrast:
There are 2 ways in which dense foliage with contrast can be done. In the first approach, foreground foliage shapes with 3 tones are laid down first and then background foliage with appropriate tone added as shown below.
Approach 1: Foreground foliage masses are drawn first and background added.
In another approach, outline is filled with light tone and then middle and dark tone added on the fly to create foliage shapes as shown below. This approach was taken earlier in the tutorial.
Approach 2: Light Background is drawn first which is darkened to bring out foliage masses.
The aim in both the approaches is the same, to define foliage masses using leaf stroke and to add tonal variations to create depth. As you get more experienced, you will be able to visualise foliage masses and create them on the fly using second approach, but practice both approaches initially.
When the size of tree reduces with distance, only second approach above can be used due to small overall size of foliage.
Same approach with ‘holes’ in the foliage and branches showing through can be used as shown below to draw a tree with airy foliage. Drawing thin branches using 2 tone technique is discussed in detail in drawing Tree branches tutorial.
Following are additional examples of drawing tree.
If the shape of tree is main focus, then in another approach, the branch structure of tree can be draw first leaving space for foliage, which can be added next as shown below.
Some branches can also be added as solid tapered dark to dense foliage later to give it more interest as shown below. Adding a branch can also give more depth to the drawing.
Drawing Tree: Key Things to Keep in Mind
Following are 2 key things to keep in mind when drawing tree foliage.
- There should NEVER be any indication of straightness in the foliage.
If a foliage has any suggestion of straight edge, either in foliage mass or in its outline, it immediately kills the foliage effect. Foliage in nature never has any straight edge feel and our eyes immediately catches it and is drawn to it. In this case, use more strokes to add more tone and ‘dissolve’ the perceived edge.
2. Never use a regular shape with defined edges for the foliage mass:
A foliage mass with defined outline shape is perceived to be stiff. To give an ‘organic’ feel to foliage, add swirls and tick marks along the edges to take away their ‘definedness’ and obtain a more ‘organic’ feel.
Other Strokes for drawing Tree foliage:
In addition to ‘leaf’ stroke that was covered above extensively, there are other strokes that can be used to mimic foliage. They give different feel to the foliage and in a drawing with many trees, using different strokes for foliage makes it more interesting. Some additional strokes are discussed below but with practice and study, you will develop your own repertoire of such strokes. All the key concepts discussed above apply to these strokes as well.
Stroke: Small angular line:
Small line at an angle is used as the basis of foliage stroke. Study the strokes below.
Here is a tree with foliage drawn using this stroke. Notice how the feel is different from foliage with leaf stroke.
Stroke: Loopy lines:
This is similar to open loop leaf stroke but instead of individual open loops, loopy lines (kind of number 3) as shown below are used. Depending on how tight or open lines are, different feel is obtained.
Stroke: Scribble Stroke
Scribble stroke can also be very effectively used for drawing tree foliage. This is very fast to do as pen doesn’t have to be lifted off the page. Scribble usually defines hard edges for the foliage mass which should be ‘smoothed’ by adding swirls and other marks along the edges.
There are indeed many other strokes and techniques for drawing tree foliage which is further discussed in my workbooks. If you come across a pen and ink drawing with foliage, study the stroke used and practice often.
Adding foliage to bare tree:
For drawing far out trees, it is easier to first draw their branch structure and then add foliage to it as shown below. Try to leave a streak of white between foliage and branches for the branches to stand out. Also add some dark’s to give volume to the foliage.
Another technique is to use parallel lines as discussed below.
Drawing Foliage at a Distance using Parallel Lines:
For tress that are some distance in the composition, parallel lines can be used to depict the foliage as shown below. The overall outline shape should be in the shape of tree foliage. Make one side (lower left) darker than the rest to give it feel of volume.
This is a great technique for doing quick sketches and drawings of trees. Following are some quickly done ‘mini landscapes’ using this technique. You can also use detailed ‘leaf stroke’ on close up foliage and parallel line technique on trees at some distance as shown below.
This should get you started. Use the templates below to practice
Templates & Workbooks:
Here is a PDF with templates and finished drawings that were shown above that you can use to practice drawing tree. The templates in the file are sized to the size of original drawings, when printed on legal size paper. You can find more examples and templates to practice in Mini Landscapes. Better yet, my workbooks contains hands on activities and guided exercises to help you practice the techniques discussed here. Try them today.
You can find many video demonstrations of techniques discussed above at my YouTube channel
Here are some of my drawings with deciduous trees.
This completes the tutorial. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
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