More Truth About Shapes and Trees


Sketchbook Pages of studies
More about studying trees and their shapes. . . . . . Even after ten sketches, yesterday, I wasn’t sure of a universal profile that would identify cottonwoods. Today, many more drawings of cottonwoods revealed that there is, indeed, a universality about them. While there is much variation among these trees, there certainly is a FAN Shape that typifies their nature. As you can see from the sketches above, there is much variation in their fan shapes . . .from skinny to fat . . .but the shape still is there. Also, I noted they are somewhat flat on top. No points. And one other cool distinguishing factor. . . . . . .they are built of a series of “clumps” that have volume . . . .shown by value changes of light and shadow. You can see a few value sketches here of the ‘clumps’ stacked into a fan shape (with a few significant chops out of the edges of the fan). These clumps also help identify the tree.

As Frank Gardiner pointed out in his comments yesterday, the trees have ‘holes,’ too. They are important.

The lesson here is to study your trees carefully. The effort pays off in a great way; you have a memory of the trees and how they are constructed so that you can improvise on your canvas and get the idea across to the viewer. Look at a series of maple trees, or elms, or some of the pine varieties. Each has a distinctive shape.

The last photo here is of a series of cottonwoods near some farm buildings and a sketch of some different variations on the fan theme of a line of cottonwoods. Note, these trees often have multiple trunks, too. Interesting.

You may not be interested in cottonwoods. However, in building art about a subject, the more you can modify and create changes in the reality, yet retain the character of it, the more your own style comes to life. It is important to be able to improvise! That can only happen when you keep the core truth about the subject . . . .Jazz is the same exact thing: Improvisation around a melody. We still hear the melody, but the stylization is mezmorizing.

7 thoughts on “More Truth About Shapes and Trees”

  1. Everything in nature has a DNA, and as artists, we discover that and choose the variations that suit us. I really like the figure like quality of these studies.

  2. These tree sketch/studies are so well done. Thanks, Mike for the continuing education on tree rendering. I found yesterday and today’s posts very helpful. In particular the point about the tree’s silhouette. Seems it should be obvious, but when I’m standing in front of a tree with my paint brush in hand I blank out and paint a green blob, like a 5 year old would (then I leave angry).

  3. Silvi . . . .My first art teacher accused me of painting neon green lollipops. don’t feel like the lone ranger when it comes to trees. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Knowing you, you will have it down in nothing flat!

  4. Yikes! Trees!!! Great sketch studies here, Mike. I squint like the devil when I render a tree. Forget leaves and look at shapes and values. I tell my students that most of the time when one looks at trees (casually of from a distance), one really doesn’t see leaves. In fact, we really don’t see a lot of fine details in life unless we focus in on them. I’m learning to edit out a lot of detail because of this fact. I like to render the impression or gestalt of things.

  5. Trees often make or break a landscape, it’s probably the first thing I look at. Surprising how many people make the most obvious mistakes with them, even those who are otherwise good artists. I like your sketches and the explanations…keep the torch burning.

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