How to Draw Tree Trunks

In this tutorial we will learn to draw tree trunks using pen and ink. There are many ways of drawing tree trunks and I will explain few of the simple techniques here.

To believably draw a tree trunk, two things need to be accomplished:

  1. Show the roundness of the trunk.
  2. 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.

pen and ink tutorials drawing tree trunk

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.

Finishing Trunk:

Adding some crevices and edge roughness using tapered dark makes the trunk more believable. A trunk should also be grounded using grass appropriately.

pen and ink tutorials drawing tree trunk

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.

pen and ink tutorials tree trunks

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.

pen and ink tutorials drawing tree trunk landscapes

Different compositions that can be done with trunks as the main element is discussed here.

Adding Character to Trunk:

Techniques to add character to a trunk are discussed in detail in vol 1&2 workbook in my workbook series. Here I will give an overview of them. We saw earlier use of tapered dark to bring out the feel of bark. Shape, size and layout of such tapered darks can be use to further add character to a trunk as shown below.

More Tapered darks give old age and character to trunk

Surface irregularities, like a tree knot can be added as well. In addition, longer flowing bark lines can be used to create crevices that are flowing and when used with interesting tree trunk shapes, they add great character to them. Following are some examples of trunks that use these techniques. These techniques are illustrated in step by step manner in my workbook.

Other Strokes to Texture Bark:

The bark stroke discussed earlier 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. Tapered dark can itself be used to indicate bark as shown below. Depending on their use, age and character can be imparted to the trunk. Additional techniques are discussed in my workbook.

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 tree trunk - grounding

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. Individual bark shading is again darkened in one end to give it appearance of roundness and depth.

Following is another example. Click on the drawing to see detail.

Pen and Ink drawing, tree trunk

Experiment with different shapes of bark outline and pen strokes for texturing to see how it affects overall texture. Consult my workbook for more information. 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.

Pen and Ink drawing, tree trunk

By using different shape and sizes of ridges, different texture is obtained. here is another example.

Pen and Ink drawing, tree trunk

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.

Pen and Ink drawing, tree trunk

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.

pen and ink tutorial drawing tree trunk

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.

pen and ink tutorial drawing tree trunk

Following are some additional examples of 2 tone shading.

pen and ink tutorial drawing trunk

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.

pen and ink tutorial drawing tree trunk

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.

Pen and Ink drawing, tree trunk

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.

Pen and Ink drawing tutorial, tree trunk

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.

Pen and Ink drawing tutorial, tree trunk

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 easy pen drawings page 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 $10 (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 this tutorial on drawing tree trunks. 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.

Have Fun,


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