How to Draw a Realistic Tree?

Drawing trees in a realistic way can be surprisingly challenging. In this article, I will show you my approach to easily draw trees in a realistic way.

The main secret to drawing trees is to simplify them in the right way and you shouldn´t try to add to much texture all over the drawing, as this will distract the eye and make the tree look weird.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive but controlling your textures is key here.

What Tools Do I Use?

I use a regular 6b graphite pen and a kneadable eraser.

I am drawing on a regular smooth sketching paper.

Generally, any regular sketching paper and any graphite pen between 1B to 9B are good.

Let’s Start With Drawing our First Tree.

We will start by drawing the first tree without smudging. After that, we will draw another tree with smudging the graphite.

You can judge by yourself what style you like best. I personally like the non-smudging method better.

Let´s start with the First Step!

Step 1: Establishing the Form of the Tree

In the first step, we will roughly draw the form of the tree.

You don´t need a lot of detail or anything fancy yet you really only need to draw the rough silhouette of the tree.

Keep your lines light because you will erase them later on. These lines are only meant as guidelines.

Step 2: Sketching the Shadows

In this step, we will sketch in the rough forms of the shadows.

Keep in mind where the light is coming from and where the light will hit the surface of the tree. This area is the lightest in the whole drawing.

The opposite side of the light side is going to be the shadow area.

Just as before you should keep the lines light and you don´t have to be extremely precise in drawing these lines.

These lines are only guidelines.

Most trees have some “holes” in their general form. Adding these holes will make your tree a lot more realistic looking, but don´t overdo it with these holes as it can make the tree look sick or just weird.

Step 3: Defining the Lines

Now we will erase the guidelines and define our lines with some more detail.

This step is very Important! The lines will give the tree a sense of texture.

It helps when you take a look at trees. Look at the leaves and try to replicate the pattern of the trees at the outlines of the tree.

Define all the lines, that we already established so far.

Be careful not to repeat the leaf pattern too regularly. Nature is chaotic and rarely has exact repeating shapes so make the pattern somewhat random by still keeping the forms of the leaf in mind.

Step 4: Adding some Details

In this step, we will add the first details. I added some twigs and holes in the tree.

This will establish the overall silhouette more and make the tree look more tree-like.

By just adding a few twigs at the right spots the tree will start to look like a proper tree. You don´t need to add a lot of twigs everywhere just a few in the right place will be enough.

Our brains are amazing at picking up some detail and subconsciously understanding the structure behind it. If you add just enough detail our brains will do the rest for us. It´s as simple as that.

It is very important, that you don´t overdo it in this step. Don´t add too much detail and try to keep the overall form as simple as possible!

Step 5: Let´s Start Rendering the Tree.

At first, we will start by shading the shadow area of the tree.

Keep it light and try to stay inside the lines as good as possible.

By just adding general big shapes and shading them in we can convey enough detail, that our brains will understand the structure of the object and what it consists of (in this case leaves).

If you would render every single leaf of the tree or try to add too much texture to the tree the drawing will very quickly look chaotic and wrong.

So keep it simple and keep the forms big and clean.

Step 6: Continue Shading the Tree.

Make the left part of the shadow area a little darker than the left side.

Now establish the light area of the tree. Keep the lines very light and don’t cross the lines too much, because it will make the drawing look chaotic.

Step 7: Let´s Add Some Final Details

Finally, add some darker areas in the details and you are done. You drew a realistic-looking tree!

When you are done with drawing this single tree you can add a few more or even draw some mountains in the background if you want to. Just keep the atmospheric perspective in mind when you are adding more in the background!

Let´s Draw Tree Number Two!

Now we will draw a second tree with about the same method only that we will smudge the shaded areas.

Step 1: Let´s Establish the Generall Form and Shadows of our Second Tree

Exactly like the first time, we will establish the general form.

And then we will define the shadow areas. Keep all your lines light as we will erase them later on. Like before, they are just guidelines.

Again keep in mind where the light is coming from and add the light and shadow forms accordingly.

After we have established the general form of the tree we can now hint at some of the shapes of the tree by adding some more detailed lines.

We will also hint at the leaves by adding very jagged lines all around our defined light and shadow areas.

Step 2: Let´s Shade in The Areas

Now we will fill the silhouette of the whole tree very lightly.

Then either use your finger or a piece of cloth or tissue to smudge the whole area.

Step 3: Render the Shadow Area

Like before, let´s fill in the shadow areas and smudge them as well.

Step 4: Add some final Details

Add some final details in the top part of the tree and smudge them as well.

And with that, you are done!

So, in essence, the main secret when it comes to drawing trees is simplicity. Keep it as simple as possible and keep your silhouette sharp and defined.

If you liked this guide I have a few other guides on how to draw a rose and how to draw a dragon in watercolor and digitally.