How to draw trees in watercolour pencil

Learn how to draw trees using watercolour pencils to add to your pictures.

We can use a tree as a focal point or just to add interest, perspective, or texture to an image. Whether you include the bare branches of a winter tree, the lush greenery of summer, or the brilliant colours of autumn foliage, trees can really add life to your paintings.

Add in the effect of light filtering through the leaves and you can create an incredibly realistic scene, without having to draw every individual leaf.

Many people say they can't draw trees because they do not know how to go about it. Well, drawing trees doesn't require advanced drawing skills, just follow the steps in this article.

All it takes is a little practice, patience and four easy steps to draw trees using watercolour pencils. Why these pencils? Because they are easy to use for this kind of work and their smooth flow gives a realistic effect.

The key is to use scribbled strokes of several appropriate hues on your watercolor paper. Don't be put off if it all looks messy at first - you'll be surprised at how the tree will take shape as you build up the layers of coloured pencil.

To begin with, look at the reference photo or picture you are using for inspiration, and choose the colours you want to use for your tree. In the example shown here, Peter used a range of greens, yellows and browns.

If you haven't tried this before, I recommend you try copying the example shown below on a separate piece of paper to improve your abilities before working on a larger project.

Step 1

Start by lightly sketching the outline of the foliage onto your paper, using your photo as a guide to the overall shape.

Start by lightly sketching the outline of the foliage onto your paper with a pencil, using the photo as a guide to the overall shape.

Then, using a scribble stroke, lay down a succession of layers within the shape of the foliage, leaving empty spaces scattered throughout. This will give the impression of overlapping leaves with the sky peeping through in places.

Once you are happy with your sketch, add more layers of pencil to build up depth and body. Remember to apply different shades and intensities of colour.


Step 2

Once you are happy, use a damp nylon watercolour brush to merge and spread the colours. (Don't wet the paper – just the pigment). Leave some variation in colour and strength for a more natural look. We will continue to add more pigment on top of this layer in subsequent steps so don't worry about blending out all the scribble lines at this stage.

Remember to leave gaps for the sky.


Step 3

Work more pigment into the leaves to darken some areas.

Now, take your pencils and sketch the outlines of the branches across the foliage. This will give definition to the spaces between the leaves, breaking up what might otherwise be a confusing tangle of scribbled lines. Colours such as Bistre or Sepia work well for the branch structure.

Don't draw in the branches from trunk to tip, leave spaces for them to disappear behind the foliage. Depending on the size and number of your sky holes, you can also take some branches across them and leave the others empty.

You are now ready to go back over this area with a DAMP brush to create a more realistic effect.


Step 4

Then, using a small springy brush, you'll be able to spread the color around on the paper and create the shapes you need to highlight the tops of the branches and cast shadows on the undersides.

You'll also be able to add some light into the tree trunk, as seen in the lower portion of the fourth picture.

Keep in mind that you may still add fine detail to the final tree drawing using dry wax or watercolour pencil with a fine point. All the structure is already there, and the paper can handle a lot more dry color.

Then give the tree a final light wash over the entire image with a wet brush to blend all the colours together and to soften any harsh edges.

Finally, with a sharpened pencil, add some finishing touches such as the twigs and thinner branches. Now you may definitely say that you can draw trees!

Different shapes and sizes of tree

If you want to draw trees in your landscape that resemble actual species you may see in the countryside, then check out our page on tree types.

There is also a section on learning how to use watercolour pencils that you won't want to miss.


Ready for more landscape tutorials?

Now you have had some practice, you will find more opportunities to draw trees in the landscape and tutorial sections of this site. For example, you could try the following...

Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes - tutorial

This step by step watercolour pencil tutorial features a Canal scene from coventry. 

Tavy Rocks in Devon, worked with Polychromos pencils

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