How to Draw Trees in Urban Sketching

Drawing an urban landscape is challenging — but that’s what makes it really fun. As you’re trying your best to record all the details you can, things like trees can seem like an afterthought. But, they aren’t something to ignore; they both add to the scene and make it seem even more like a real place.

How to draw trees in urban sketching

If you feel befuddled by branches, there are some helpful tips and tricks that will make it easier to record the trees that you see. Best of all, you can do this in three simple steps.

For supplies, you’ll want to use your favorite pens and ink, as well as paper you like to work on. Personally, I’m a fan of Pilot pens and Legion paper — for this drawing, I used Stonehenge Warm White. 

Here’s a simple approach to draw trees in urban sketching

How to draw trees in urban sketching

Step 1:  “Plant” your trees.

The first step in drawing trees correctly is making a place for them in your drawing. As you draw the buildings and block out where the windows, lights and statues are, record the general shape of the tree.

Make sure that it’s in proportion to what’s around it. Is the tree as tall as the second story window? Is it in the foreground or background? Considerations like these will make it easier to know where to draw your lines.

Sketch of a tree

Blocking out the shapes needn’t be detailed or fancy. The width of the trunk and an outline of the leaves will do. 

Step 2: Build form with simple shapes.  

Once you’ve got the proportions done, turn your focus on the branches. Take a long look at the lower leaves and the crown. Where do the shadows fall? What is the fullest part of the tree? From here, draw what those shapes look like.

Some of the bigger (and darker) shapes will probably fall near the bottom of the branches, with less overall definition because the the leaves are clustered in this section. 

Sketch of a tree with some shading

Remember, keep these shapes simple. A quick line or two will do for a tree branch, and you can make hashmarks to signify leaves. 

Step 3: Give your tree volume. 

With your large and small shapes defined, you now have a roadmap for how and where to apply shading. 

Sketch of a tree with some shading

Working dark to light, begin to fill in the areas that you just made. I started with the darkest parts first and used my pen to practically cover the space in black ink. By doing this, I built contrast and made the other branches stand out in comparison. 

How to draw trees in urban sketching

To give your drawing a “tree-like” look, pen textures are vital.

To mimic bustling leaves, try using squiggly lines. They tend to appear loopy, just like what you’d find on the real thing. For darker areas, make your squiggles tight and close together. When you’re working on lighter areas, make the loops larger and more spread out. You’ll still get the look of leaves, but these areas will pop next to the dark ones. 

How to draw trees in urban sketching
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