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A Step-By-Step Drawing

From Pencil to Pen

Step-by-Step Drawing of a Tree

Per request, here’s a step-by-step account of a pen and ink drawing—this time (I know, it’s shocking) of a tree…

My Favorite Pastime

On a recent cold, sunny morning I set out to partake in my favorite pastime: hiking through the woods of eastern Kansas and drawing trees. I put on my boots, layered up with shirts and a jacket, threw my drawing paraphenalia (pad, pens, pencils) and water in my backpack, put the dogs in the pickup and took off to a favorite place about ten miles outside of town.

Jagged limestone rocks protruded from the embankment on the other side of the creek where I walked and between pools that were partially iced over. My German short-hairs, Scout and Zoey, ran ahead of me, wandering about and putting their noses to use. As usual, Scout stayed within eyeshot and Zoey, the younger of the two, didn’t. But I knew she wouln’t wander off. We’ve been doing this since I got them, each at 2 months old, 11 and 8 years ago.

Decisions, Decisions

I thought for a moment about drawing another view of a favorite bur oak, but kept walking, deciding on a different tree. Through the timber I spotted a sizable brute with the knobby bark of a hackberry. I walked around the tree and saw it had a number of small boles—round protrusions—and one good-sized hole ten feet off the ground. I bet there are some squirrels getting in there, I thought and decided what view I wanted to draw.

A thick, hairy poison ivy vine clung tightly to the bark, climbing high into the tree’s top, splitting into separate vines more than once. I took my handy piece of plastic out of my backpack (fancy, fancy) and sat against another tree to begin. The ground was still mostly frozen and damp. Chiggers and ticks abound in summer here, which makes winter a wonderful season to hike.

Turkey Hunting turned Tree Drawing

I’ve had my share of ticks crawling across me in the past when I’ve gone turkey hunting in late spring and forgotten my bug spray. I’m no longer interested in shooting turkeys, and the last several times I have gone out dressed head to foot in camo to hear tom turkeys call to hens I have left my shotgun home and taken instead my backpack, drawing pad, pens and pencils. I have favorite trees which I like to visit and draw. Friends of mine. I think this hackberry may become one of those favorites.

Tree Types of Eastern Kansas

I’ve been drawing trees for over 40 years. Eastern Kansas where I live, only 40 miles from Missouri, has many heavily timbered areas.We have large white oaks, bur and chinkapin, red oaks, walnuts, hackberries, honey locust covered by long, dangerous thorns, ash (although they are starting to die out from the green ash borer plague), hickory with large flakes of loose bark, osage orange with their softball-sized hedge apples, and sycamores.

The water-loving sycamores along creeks and rivers get huge and their white and pale-green, smooth bark is prominent against the grays and browns of winter. Crop land and pastures intersperse pretty evenly with the wooded areas here. But in the flint hills, to the West, where I also hike and draw, the trees become more infrequent and mainly follow the rivers and creeks.


Hackberry Tree in Eastern Kansas

With my # 2 pencil I drew the outline of the tree on my 11” by 14” pad of Bristol board. It was the largest pad I could fit in my packpack. With the pencil, I noted the shaded areas and filled in some of the bark’s unique texture. Much of the bark high up on newer and more slender branches and trunk stems was relatively smooth. That’s the way many species of trees are. Youth has fewer wrinkles. But, with age comes character. Ten feet off the ground most of the bark had the typical knobby surface of a hackberry.

Almost all of the bark at the base of the tree was split into irregular segments with fissures between. Shaded by the late afternoon sun, the deeper crevices at the bottom of the tree contrasted from the light gray bark. One prominent area of shade wound around the largest and most vertical section of trunk. I squinted my eyes which made the contrast between light and dark even more pronounced, and decided which places needed the most shading.

After I penciled in the drawing, I took a cell phone pic.

Step 1: Pencil Sketch

Step one of drawing of hackberry tree - pencil sketch

Then I started using my ultra fine point sharpie. I also draw with Sakura pigma pens which have archival ink. I’ve been told the Sakura pens are better as they are a more true black than the sharpies. I assume the archival ink would last longer than the sharpies, but I have my drawings photographed and digitized anyway, so that hasn’t bothered me much. I do have a few drawings made with sharpies where the ink isn’t pure black but that just makes them different.

Step 2: Sharpie

Step 2 of drawing of hackberry tree

I wanted to get a photo of the dogs but only Scout was close by. Zoey kept wandering off, coming back to check up on me then she’d be off again. I took a couple of photos of Scout and I close up—really close!

Selfie Attempt

Selfie of J.R. Hooge with Dog licking his face

The drawing was mostly done but I worked on it a bit more after I got home. First I erased all the pencil lines which always changes things. It whitens the lighter areas and removes the smudges on the paper from my hands which accumulate some graphite from the pencils. I let the drawing sit for a while so I could look at it and decide where to add more shading.

Almost There: To Shade or Not to Shade

Step three of drawing of hackberry tree

The lighter areas are made even lighter by darkening the areas right next to them but I have a tendency to darken things too much by continuing to draw. I like the action of drawing and sometimes I find it difficult to stop until I realize I’ve gone too far. But this drawing seemed okay.

I added more shadow to the side of the vine and boles, highlighting them, added more shadow to the edges of the highest branches and the lowest bark on the tree and finally called it Done.

As I often do, I did not fill in the entire tree, preferring to leave some of it white and merely outlined.

All Done

Not all of my drawings turn out to my liking. This one did. I hope you enjoy it.

To see more of my drawings, click here. To get a free print of one of my drawings from Leafensong: First Telling, click here.

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