Realistic Tree Drawings in 4 Steps With Photoshop

Would you like to make realistic tree drawings? This guide will teach you all the necessary steps to draw trees either by itself or have it form a forest. The trick is to divide a tree drawing into three elements: the trunk, the leaves in the back, and the leaves in the front.

An artist will need to be capable of drawing an environment. Trees are a very common element of an environmental drawing. At the same time, it's also one of the most complicated things to draw due to so many small leaves.

Certain tools can make it a lot more easier, however. With layers, you can go back and forth between background foliage and detailed foreground foliage. With textures and textured brushes, setting the brushes on splatter can ease the monotony of drawing each individual leaves.

With filters and other tools, you can unify colors, blur or sharpen composition in specific areas, and even adjust variations with a simple click of mouse. But first, we need to know how to draw a tree in the first place to take advantage of these tools as it will not draw itself.

The trunk in realistic tree drawings

The first step for learning realistic tree drawings is to set up the trunk. Start with a single trunk and start to bend it to get more variety. The bends can be angular or round. Try to keep the width the same initially but taper it the higher it goes up.

The trunk gives an outline of the entire shape of the tree. Focus on the shape of the trunk and how each of the branches will evolve from it. As you reach the top of the tree, spread the branches out. You may want to start thinking about depth as well. Which branches should be in the front or back?

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Often, textures can help quite a bit. You can use the smudge tool to do this. At 100% pressure, it will smudge values a lot faster than just drawing it all in. This way, you can be creative with how you want the branches to fan out.

Once you have the main branches, you can duplicate the layer to get even more branches. Try transforming the layer and the opacity settings to reveal more variety. Once you have an idea, merge the layers together and repaint the trunks.

The foliage in realistic tree drawings

The first step is forming the trunk. As suggested, the trunk will form the entire shape of the tree. Focus on the random nature of branch division. The higher up you go, the smaller and abundant the branches become.

Next, work on the background leaves. Using a scatter option, set the brush head to a leaf texture. The scatter option breaks up your designated brush shape and scatters them around an area. To control it, set the scatter to your pen's pressure sensitivity.

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Once that is done, work on the foreground leaves. While the process is the same as the background leaves, the goal is here is to spread out the leaf clumps so it still shows some of the branches. This can be done on another layer till you feel it looks natural enough.

You are more than welcomed to merge all the layers once everything looks complete. From here, work on a light source and how light will bounce off your tree. The dodge and burn tools here are helpful in that it still retains some of the leaf textures as you highlight or darken the values.

The forested areas of realistic tree drawings

Start by simply blocking in the forest focusing on color values using a chalk brush. The darker the value is, the more it will stand out. Use the eyedropper tool to quickly reference surrounding values. Once you have a composition set out, start a new layer.

You will be doing the exact same thing in the previous exercise:splatter in clumps of foliage while drawing trunks and branches. Depending on the location of the light source, you may have to adjust to a very dark value if the light source is behind the trees.

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From here, continue to splatter in the foreground leaves. You may want to add in a cast shadow on each clump of trees to blend it in with the environment better. Sharpen the edges of select trees to bring it closer to the foreground while blur in others to push it towards the background.

Sometimes, color values can still look too out of place if there is too many contrasting values. You can duplicate some of the trees and toggle its opacity to create more unifying textures. For unifying the entire composition globally, color gradient layers set to a soft light blend mode are very helpful.

Forested interiors of realistic tree drawings

A forest interior can be another challenging tree drawing. Start off here with a simple and rough gesture drawing focused on blocking in large tree trunks. It isn't about details as it is more about creating large concrete objects.

From here, use a splatter brush and suggest far away foliage. You will be focusing on the trunks more in this step. Bark can be drawn in with simple short strokes. Lighter values will turn bark into rim light near the edges.

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If needed, duplicate the layers and manipulate it to form additional trunks or leaves. There are a lot of freedom in this step to decide on your composition.

When values are too close together, it can be hard to distinguish what is in the foreground, middle ground, or background. On a different layer, use a large round brush and glaze in a light value to form the background. Erase back into it to reveal some of the trunks if necessary.

You can draw a nearby tree in the foreground to add even more depth. Just keep in mind that the more closer the object is, the more details you need to draw. You could blur it, but you would need to sharpen up something in the middle ground to keep the proper focus going.

Color corrections can easily be done in the end. Once more, global value corrections can be done using gradient tools or filters. Smaller adjustments can be done with the dodge and burn tools. The rest is up to your imagination and using the basic skill foundations you have developed over time.