How To Draw A Perfect Tree

I’ve been sketching way more often lately, which is proving to be simultaneously exhausting and relaxing. It feels nearly theraputic, especially when things need to be shaded with a mechanical pencil. It’s exhausting when you realize there are more ideas in your head than hours in the day it will require to get them all down. Part of my work lately has been just to practice the technique of getting things on paper as they are in real life.

I'm lucky to have several good areas in the house suitable for artwork.

It’s tough, because normally if I don’t get things down right on the first try, I’ll toss it. But there is plenty to practice with. You don’t have to have a model or anything, really, you just look around.

My west-facing window.

My east-facing window.

I found Urban Sketchers recently and want to improve a bit before submitting anything to them, but it’s my goal to become part of that group. Step 1 is feeling confident enough to submit something, so this means more practice. It was very hard for me to realize at first how much patience is needed. Having always felt like a patient person, it seemed like merely a matter of waiting and suddenly I’d be able to draw just as I planned. The thing is… the pictures in your mind won’t magically appear on paper the way they should without some help.

This is a practice piece that I hope to turn into a mural on the side of a friend's house.

This is a tree I can see from my bedroom window.

“A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.”

I’ve known for a long time that my drawing skills, when it comes to photo-realism, need polishing (to say it nicely). The problem is that the following tends to happen just as my sketching is about to start. I’ll sit down, paper and tools all ready, pick up a pencil, draw a line, frantically erase, then realize there is TOO MUCH TO DRAW. Panic sets in. Mentally berating myself, why even bother trying? It’s ridiculous. Look at the complexities of that brick, what are you even thinking trying to make this look like anything? Why are you even pretending you can do something? Your art sucks. You suck. You’re terrible at this. Just pack up your stuff, go home and read a book.

Except the last book I read was called “The Zen of Seeing”, which basically tells you to quietly send your inner FailVoice packing, and pick up your freaking pencil already. If you don’t draw it, you can’t fix it. Who cares if your geranium looks nothing like a geranium? The point is you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t have that creative drive in there, and that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It may sound cheesy but it’s true.

My biggest problem is the fear that I’m essentially making a mockery of everything I attempt to draw, if it’s something from real life. My afternoon today was spent in Balboa Park, one of the most beautiful and inspiring places in this city. There are a few paintings in my mind that will be centered around how certain things look in Balboa Park, so it seemed like a good idea to familiarize myself with the landscape by sketching.

There was a bench that seemed like it would be comfortable, until the sun came out and made things too warm. It was donated by a Miss Daisy Thompkins, which struck me as oddly humorous.

It was just me and Miss Daisy, for a little bit.

Regrouped myself on a bench under the trellis that seemed like the view I needed, finished my tall-iced-skinny-vanilla-latte, prepped everything and took a look around. It was time to start.

Except I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

All the plans and inspiration went out the window and my InnerFailVoice started asking me what I thought I was doing here exactly. Trying to draw? Who cares if there are 500 branches on an evergreen tree – you aren’t about to sketch a single one, so just give it up now. You won’t do it justice. You’ll make it worse, you’ll wreck EVERYTHING. Just go home.

You see, everything around me was awesome… and why did I want to go wrecking that by trying to draw? How can anyone take the beauty of this and explain it, express it just by putting lines on paper?


There isn’t much to say except that I almost started to cry. It took me a minute or ten, then something from Mr. Franck’s book came back to me: “After my eye calmed down, my hand was able to draw“. The wording may not be exact, but it’s the same feeling. He went on to say that if you’re trying to draw buildings, those same buildings were once drawings themselves. You just take a deep breath, stop looking, and start SEEING.

I took a breath. I thought back to PTI and remembered all the things that Bove taught me. How each line you make compresses the fibers in the paper. How to do contour line drawings, perspective stuff, how to basically give a crap about what you’re putting on paper – a lot of things. Hell, he once made me a ring just because I asked for one, and it was a serious bummer when I lost it… so he made me another one that I’ve been wearing since 2001. I’ll keep wearing it because it reminds me that he was the best art instructor ever, and it looks like he’s still doing well (good for him). 🙂 For any of you in the Western PA area that are into art or jewelery/metalworking, Jim Bove is the man.

I digress; sorry. Was worth it though.

Anyway, sketching happened and took about two hours. The entire time my mental dialogue consisted of convincing myself to look at a line, then draw it – not try to draw the whole trellis at once.

A random person asked me what I was drawing, then as they looked (while I explained my dire need for a straight edge), they said: “Oh! That’s not too bad at all.” It made me realize that you can’t draw one tree before you draw a thousand.

Speaking of trees, a little seedpod fluttered down to join me. It was cute. 🙂

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re wondering about the part where I give a tutorial on how to draw a perfect tree. You may have figured out that’s not going to happen, because there is no such thing as a perfect tree, even in real life. You just look, and then you start seeing.

Don’t forget the most important step though: getting started.


2 thoughts on “How To Draw A Perfect Tree

  1. Stacie Chadwick says:

    Totally punked! I thought I was going to learn how to draw the perfect tree. But I learned something much more valuable instead…”You just look, and then you start seeing.” Beautiful. =)

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