top of page

How to draw a Gnarled Oak

Draw Like a Boss - illustration

How do you draw a tree that stands out in a forest, commanding attention with its unique character and energetic presence? In this tutorial, I'll attempt to demystify the process, making drawing trees as easy as possible. From the intricate details of leaves to the sturdy branches that weave stories of resilience, I'll guide you step by step through one really good process of creating a realistic tree portrait with just a pencil.


There's an abundance of complexity here, but I have also embraced the simplicity of making this about a single, fairly big tree amid a blurred and relatively simple backdrop. Let's get on with exploring the techniques borrowed from portrait drawing, adapting them to bring out the gnarled branches, folds, and textures that breathe life into the drawing. 

Tree drawing by Draw Like a Boss
Ginny and Jack - Draw Like a Boss
sketching a tree

To depict this majestic ancient oak tree, I begin by outlining a chaotic shape that will serve as the foundation for the trunk. Once the outline is established, I focus on delineating the inner shapes, allowing me to develop a clear understanding of the tree's underlying structure. This initial step lays the groundwork for adding value and creating a sense of depth in the artwork.


By defining the shape of the trunk, we establish a solid starting point for the overall composition. As I delve into the inner shapes, I gradually build a visual blueprint that guides me in adding value and texture to the tree. This strategic approach enables me to plan and execute the shading process effectively.


Creating a realistic representation of a tree requires careful observation and attention to detail. By mapping out the internal shapes, I gain insight into the tree's anatomy and how light interacts with its various components. This, in turn, informs the subsequent steps of adding value and refining the details of our artwork.


Let's move forward and explore the next stages of bringing this ancient oak tree to life, as we delve deeper into the process of adding value and infusing our artwork with a sense of dimension.

workign on a tree drawing

In the second step, I employ loose lines created with a 3B pencil to initiate the process of blocking in the values. These preliminary lines serve as the foundation for establishing the overall tonal distribution in our artwork.

drawing trees

Taking advantage of the loose lines, I interlock hatches to create large blocks of value.

how to draw a tree

I also pay attention to the smaller shadows, but these are less of a priority right now.

tree drawing step by step

Next, I utilize a smudge stick blender to gently move graphite material across the larger areas of the drawing. It is important to exercise caution and avoid applying excessive pressure. The objective is to diminish the distracting white paper value to a certain extent.

The smudge stick blender not only helps reduce the white paper value but also introduces a captivating sense of texture to the drawing. As I gently maneuver the smudge stick over the graphite, it blends and smears the marks, creating subtle variations and adding depth to the overall composition. This technique lends a touch of realism and tactile quality to the artwork, enhancing the visual experience for the viewer.

adding shadows to a tree drawing

Continuing from the blended area, I employ the 3B pencil to add smooth and simple shadows on top. This step further refines the framework of light and dark areas, allowing me to gain a clear understanding of the drawing's progress. With a visible sense of what is effective and what needs adjustment, my confidence grows—a vital aspect as I venture into the next phase of the artwork.

pencil drawing of a tree

In retrospect, I realize the usefulness of the chisel-tipped pencil for quickly blocking in shadows. Incorporating this tool earlier in the process would have saved considerable time, as it excels at efficiently establishing large areas of value in a single stroke. Its effectiveness in creating broad swaths of shading is a valuable lesson learned for future drawings.

drawing tutorial for a tree

The 4B mechanical pencil comes into play to accentuate the craggy details. By working over the rough shadow foundation already established, I can effectively stay on track and maintain consistency throughout the drawing. This approach ensures that the intricate textures and rugged features of the subject are brought to life with precision and clarity.

how to draw a realistic tree

The process of creating intricate details continues until the entire trunk is covered with fine lines. It is crucial to work in a manner that prevents the picture from appearing flat. Therefore, it's important to keep the concept of a cylinder in mind while working. Not all the details should receive the same level of focus. The ones near the edges of the trunk should be slightly fuzzier, creating a sense of depth and adding dimension to the drawing. By implementing this technique, we can achieve a more realistic representation of the tree's texture and form.

tree drawing with details

Meticulous attention is given to ensure that even the smallest details align consistently with the top right light source. While a strong and well-organized picture may tolerate a few minor inconsistencies in the smaller details, it is best to minimize these hiccups as much as possible. By maintaining consistency throughout the artwork, we enhance its overall quality and create a more harmonious and cohesive final result.

Adding details to a tree drawing

When drawing from my imagination, I frequently employ a back-and-forth technique. This involves darkening certain areas and then lightening them with erasers to achieve the ideal balance of darkness in the drawing.


A key focus of mine is to convey the sense that the tree is a rounded object. By reinforcing the outlines in this region, I create a visual effect where the lighter section just below appears to recede into the background, enhancing the impression of the tree occupying three-dimensional space.


Maintaining the rounded form of the tree is essential in evoking depth and realism. Through careful manipulation of the outlines, I can emphasize the curvature and shape, imbuing the drawing with a sense of dimensionality.


By employing this interplay between darkening and lightening techniques and prioritizing the three-dimensional nature of the subject, I strive to strike the perfect balance and bring forth a captivating and lifelike representation of the tree.

Draw Like a Boss 2

More demos like this can be found  in DLAB 2! 

  • Are these books suitable for artists?
    Definitely! Our drawing books offer advanced techniques and concepts that can help artists refine their skills.
  • Are these books suitable for drawing beginners?
    Absolutely! Our books are designed to help novices grasp the basics and steadily improve their skills.
  • What makes the Draw Like a Boss books the best for learning to draw?
    The Draw Like a Boss books stand out from other drawing resources because they offer a clear, step-by-step guide to learning the fundamental skills involved in drawing, and progressively help you level up. The books are designed to be engaging and fun, allowing you to learn at your own pace and develop your skills in a low-pressure environment. Whether you are a complete beginner or have some experience drawing, Draw Like a Boss will help you improve your technique and build your confidence.
  • Do you offer books on how to draw for adults?
    Our books excel at teaching people to draw, no matter what skill level or age group (although being over 10 years old is probably preferable).
  • How can I learn to draw using these books?
    Our Draw Like a Boss books will immerse you in a unique educational world of adventures with comprehensive guides and exercises that you can follow at your own pace.
  • How can I improve my drawing skills online?
    By following our step by step drawing tutorials and practicing regularly, you can improve your drawing skills online.
  • How can I start learning to draw online?
    At Draw Like A Boss, we offer step by step drawing tutorials that are perfect for beginners and veteran artists. You can start learning by visiting our website where you will find free tutorials.
  • Are your drawing tutorials suitable for beginners?
    Absolutely! Our drawing tutorials are designed to be easy to follow, making them perfect for beginners.
  • Do you offer step by step drawing tutorials?
    Yes, we offer a variety of step by step drawing tutorials that make learning to draw online easy and fun.
  • What kind of online drawing tutorials do you offer?
    We offer a range of art pencil drawing tutorials that cover various techniques and styles.
  • What are sketching exercises?
    Sketching exercises are tasks designed to improve your drawing skills. They can range from drawing simple shapes to sketching complex scenes. With Draw Like a Boss, you'll gain a solid foundation in the drawing process, including how to sketch objects, people, and landscapes. You'll also learn about shading, composition, and perspective, which are essential elements in producing high-quality drawings. Aside from improving your drawing skills, sketching exercises can also have other benefits. They can help you develop your creativity and imagination, increase your confidence in your artistic abilities, and provide you with a sense of achievement when you complete a task or project. Plus, the exercises and projects can be fun and relaxing, helping you to reduce stress and unwind after a busy day.
  • What materials do I need for sketching exercises?
    All you need is a pencil and paper to start.
  • What should I focus on when doing sketches for practice?
    Focus on improving your technique and understanding of shapes and forms. Don't worry about creating a perfect drawing, it's all about learning and improving.
  • How often should I practice sketching?
    At Draw Like a Boss, we believe that practice is an essential part of becoming better at drawing. We recommend that you try to sketch daily if you can. The more you practice, the better you'll get, and the more confident you'll become in your ability to draw. Don't worry if you don't have a lot of time to dedicate to drawing, though - even a few minutes a day can make a big difference over time. Remember to take breaks and give yourself time to rest and recharge, too, as a tired mind can make it hard to focus and be creative.
  • Can sketching exercises improve my drawing skills?
    At Draw Like a Boss, we believe that anyone can learn to draw, regardless of their skill-level or experience. Our sketching exercises are designed to be challenging yet achievable, so you can develop your skills at your own pace. With our guidance and support, you'll be on your way to becoming a skilled artist in no time.
  • How can you accurately capture human anatomy and movement in pencil drawings?
    To draw human anatomy and movement accurately with pencil, here are some simpler steps to follow: Learn Basic Body Shapes: Start by learning how to draw simple shapes like circles, ovals, and cylinders. These shapes help you form different parts of the body. Look at People and Photos: Observe real people or look at photographs to understand how the body looks and moves. Notice how arms and legs bend and how the body changes shape in different poses. Start with a Rough Sketch: Begin your drawing with a light, rough sketch. Don’t worry about details at first. Try to capture the basic pose and proportions of the body. Use Simple Lines for Balance: Draw simple lines to help you see if the body is balanced and standing or sitting in a believable way. For example, a line for the spine can help you see if the pose is natural. Add Details Gradually: Once you have the basic shape and pose, start adding details like the outlines of muscles, fingers, and facial features. Practice Shading: Use your pencil to create light and dark areas. This adds depth and makes your drawing look more realistic. Areas where muscles bulge might be lighter, and creases or overlaps darker. Keep Practicing with Different Poses: Drawing people in different poses will help you get better. Try quick sketches where you capture a pose in just a minute or two. Be Patient: Remember, learning to draw well takes time. If your drawings don’t look perfect right away, that’s okay. Keep practicing, and you will improve. By following these steps, you'll get better at drawing people accurately and making your drawings look more lifelike.
  • How can figure drawing exercises improve my drawing skills?
    Building a solid foundation in figure drawing is super important when it comes to honing your art skills. Our exercises aren't just about getting the human form right – they also help you infuse emotion and motion into your drawings. It doesn't matter if you're a newbie or a seasoned artist; our books and tutorials are designed to provide a supportive and encouraging environment to help you reach your artistic goals.
  • Is Draw Like a Boss a book about figure drawing?
    Draw Like A Boss 1, covers a variety of drawing subjects which includes figure drawing exercises which are great for beginners. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive set of resources and lessons for artists of all skill levels, helping them to develop their skills and master their craft
  • Can I learn to draw eyes if I'm a complete beginner?
    Absolutely! Our step by step guide is designed to help beginners learn at their own pace.
  • How can I draw a realistic eye with graphite pencils?
    Drawing a realistic eye involves understanding the structure of the eye, shading techniques, and patience. Our step by step guide will walk you through the process.
  • What is the hardest part about drawing eyes?
    Many people find the shading and creating a realistic look to be the most challenging part.
  • What materials do I need for drawing eyes step by step?
    You will need a pencil, eraser, and a piece of paper to start with. These are the basic materials that will help you get started with your drawing journey.
  • Can I use this tutorial to draw eyes for different expressions?
    Yes, once you master the basic structure, you can modify it to create different expressions.
  • How can I improve my eye drawing skills?
    The key to improving your drawing skills is practice. Regularly dedicating time to draw, experiment, and learn can greatly enhance your abilities. Additionally, studying real eyes and understanding their structure can be immensely helpful.
  • How can I use textures in my drawings?
    Textures bring life to your drawings, making them more realistic and engaging. The key is observation, experimentation, and practice. To effectively use textures in your drawings, start by observing the world around you and noticing the different textures of objects. For example, observe the fine lines in skin, the rough patterns on tree bark, or the softness of fabric. Here are some steps to incorporate these textures into your artwork: Choose the Right Pencil: Different pencil grades can create different effects. Softer pencils (like 2B or 4B) are great for dark, soft textures, while harder pencils (like H or 2H) are better for fine, detailed textures. Experiment with Strokes: Practice different pencil strokes on a separate sheet. Short, quick strokes can create fur-like textures, while smooth, even shading works for surfaces like metal or skin. Apply Pressure Variedly: The pressure you apply to your pencil affects the texture. Light pressure creates a soft look, perfect for smooth textures, while harder pressure gives a denser and rougher texture. Use Reference Images: When you're trying to capture a specific texture, look at a photo or the actual object. Notice how light and shadow play on the surface and try to replicate that in your drawing. Layer Your Shading: Start with light shading and gradually build up to darker areas. Layering helps in creating depth and a more realistic texture. Practice Regularly: The more you practice drawing different textures, the better you'll become at incorporating them naturally into your drawings.
  • What are some common textures to draw in pencil?
    Common textures to draw in pencil include the smoothness of skin, the roughness of tree bark, the softness of fur or hair, and the hardness of rocks or bricks. Each texture can be created using different pencil strokes and shading techniques.
  • Can beginners draw with textures?
    Absolutely! With practice and the right guidance, beginners can learn to draw with textures effectively.
  • Can drawing with textures improve my overall drawing skills?
    Yes, learning to draw with textures can significantly improve your observational skills, attention to detail, and overall drawing skills.
  • How can I improve my texture drawing skills?
    To improve your texture drawing skills, practice regularly by observing and replicating various textures around you, like the roughness of tree bark or the smoothness of skin. Experiment with different pencil strokes and pressures, and study reference images or real-life objects to understand how light and shadow affect textures.
  • What is drawing with textures?
    Drawing with textures means using pencil strokes and shading to mimic the feel of different surfaces in your artwork. This includes creating textures like the smoothness of skin, the roughness of fabric, or the bumpiness of a rocky surface. By varying your pencil techniques, you can make your drawings look more realistic and detailed.
  • What are some beginner drawing techniques?
    Line Drawing: Start by practicing straight, curved, and wavy lines. This helps in developing control over the pencil. Shading: Learn different shading techniques like hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, and blending. These are essential for adding depth and texture to your drawings. Basic Shapes: Practice drawing basic shapes like circles, squares, triangles, and ovals. Many complex objects can be broken down into these basic shapes. Simple Perspective: Understand basic perspective principles, like how parallel lines converge in the distance. This is important for creating a sense of depth in drawings. Contour Drawing: Focus on the outline and shape of an object. Contour drawing helps in improving observation skills and the ability to capture forms accurately. Light and Shadow: Learn to observe and depict light and shadow in your drawings. This includes understanding where the light source is and how it affects the appearance of objects. Texture Practice: Experiment with creating different textures. This can be as simple as making a rough surface for a rock or smooth shading for a metal object. Proportion and Scale: Practice getting the proportions and scale of different objects right. This is crucial for making drawings look realistic. Remember, the key to developing your pencil drawing skills is consistent practice and patience. Each technique builds a foundation for more complex drawings.
  • What are some easy drawing ideas for beginners?
    For beginners, easy pencil drawing ideas include simple objects like fruits, household items, or basic shapes. Nature elements like leaves, flowers, or simple landscapes are also great to start with. Additionally, practicing basic geometric shapes and shading techniques helps build fundamental skills.
  • How can I improve my drawing skills as a beginner?
    As a beginner, you can improve your drawing skills by practicing regularly, starting with simple shapes and gradually moving to more complex subjects. Focus on mastering basic techniques like shading, perspective, and proportions. Also, seeking feedback, observing real-life objects or photographs. Learning from tutorials or classes can greatly enhance your skills. Patience and perseverance are key to your progress.
  • What can I expect to learn from the step-by-step drawing instructions?
    Our step-by-step instructions will teach you the fundamentals of drawing, including shapes, shading, and perspective.
  • What are the benefits of drawing mandalas for beginners?
    Drawing mandalas offers several benefits for beginners in art. Firstly, it helps improve concentration and focus, as creating symmetrical patterns requires attention to detail. Secondly, mandalas are great for practicing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, essential for any budding artist. Additionally, mandala drawing encourages creativity and self-expression, as each design can be unique and personalized. It's also a relaxing and meditative activity, reducing stress and providing a sense of calm. Plus, it requires minimal materials – just pencils and paper, making it an accessible and easy way to start exploring the world of art.
  • What are some basic patterns and shapes I can use in a mandala?
    Beginners often ask about simple yet effective patterns and shapes that can be used in mandala art, especially those that are suitable for pencil drawing.
  • How do I start drawing a mandala using pencils?
    This question typically seeks guidance on the initial steps of mandala creation, such as setting up the basic circle and dividing it into sections for symmetrical patterns.
  • Are the step-by-step drawing tutorials suitable for beginners?
    Absolutely! Our step-by-step drawings are designed to be easy to follow, making them perfect for beginners.
  • What makes Draw Like a Boss advanced drawing lessons unique?
    Our advanced drawing lesson promise to be a comprehensive guide that not only enhances your technical skills but also fosters creativity and personal expression in your art journey.
  • What can I expect from advanced drawing tutorials?
    Advanced drawing tutorials, delve into sophisticated pencil drawing techniques that go beyond basic shading and outlines. This could include detailed texturing, achieving depth and volume, and fine detailing to create a lifelike rendition. Advanced drawing tutorials will also focus on creative aspects, teaching you how to blend realism with imaginative elements to create a compelling composition.
  • What skill levels are the Draw Like a Boss books tailored for?
    The Draw Like a Boss books are designed with six levels of difficulty, each with its own set of challenges. The first level, 'Silk Curtain,' is geared towards beginners who are just starting to learn the basics of drawing. As you advance through the levels, you will face more complex challenges, culminating in the sixth and final level, 'Demon Door,' which offers a much harder challenge to overcome. At every level, you will be guided by knowledgeable companions who will provide step-by-step instructions and helpful tips to help you along the way. Whether you are a complete novice or an experienced artist looking to improve your skills, Draw Like a Boss has something to offer for everyone.
  • How do you draw a tree step by step?
    To draw a tree step by step: Start with a basic outline, sketching a large oval for the crown and a vertical line for the trunk. Add main branches from the trunk, making them thinner as they go outward. Sketch smaller branches off the main ones. Refine the shape of the crown, adding bumps and irregularities for a natural look. Add details like leaf clumps or individual leaves, depending on your style. Finally, draw the bark texture on the trunk and branches, and use shading to give depth.
  • How do you start a tree pencil drawing as a beginner?
    Draw Like a Boss book 2, is full of wisdom when it comes to drawing trees and you don't have to be an expert artist to learn the secrets of trees. Check out the store to learn more about how you can kickstart you creativity journey.
  • How do you draw a realistic tree?
    To add realism to a pencil tree drawing, focus on details like varying the thickness of branches, adding texture to the bark with fine lines, and creating depth in the foliage with light and dark shading. Observe real trees to understand how light and shadow play on their surfaces, and incorporate these elements into your drawing to enhance its lifelike appearance.
  • How can I make a portrait?
    Making a portrait involves observing your subject, sketching the basic shapes, adding details, and refining your drawing. In Draw Like a Boss book 1 you will find all the guidance you need to learn how to draw a face and create your own portraits.
  • How can I draw faces realistically?
    Drawing faces realistically involves observing your subject closely, understanding human anatomy, and mastering shading techniques. Our courses at Draw Like A Boss can guide you through this process.
  • How can I draw a face with a pencil?
    At Draw Like A Boss, we offer comprehensive, step-by-step tutorials tailored to teach you the art of pencil portrait drawing. Whether you're a complete novice or an experienced artist, our guides are meticulously crafted to suit all skill levels. They cover everything from basic facial structure to intricate detailing, ensuring you master the nuances of creating lifelike facial features with ease.
  • How can I draw portraits as a beginner?
    At Draw Like A Boss, we offer a friendly and fun approach to learning, which is suitable for beginners.
  • How can I draw realistic images with pencil?
    Focus on understanding light, mastering shading techniques, and practicing regularly.
  • Can I learn how to draw with pencil online?
    Yes, Draw Like A Boss offers a range of online tutorials designed to help you learn how to draw with pencils.
  • How can I start learning how draw with pencil?
    To start learning how to draw, a pencil and piece of paper are enough to get the ball running, for guidance and inspiration we recommend checking out Draw Like a Boss book 1.
  • What are some tips for sketching with a pencil?
    Maintain a relaxed grip, start with simple shapes, and practice shading techniques.
  • Can I use this guide to draw other types of trees?
    Yes, the basic principles in this guide can be applied to draw other types of trees as well.
  • What materials do I need to draw a bonsai tree?
    You'll need a pencil, eraser, sharpener, and a piece of paper to start with. Some references would be useful too.
  • Can beginners draw a bonsai tree?
    Absolutely! Our guide is designed to help beginners learn how to draw a bonsai tree step by step.
bottom of page