Practice Sketching Seasons: Winter

Botanical sketchbook documenting an Elderberry from flower to fruit

The Practice of Botanical Drawing started as a year-long Challenge, prompting students to track a tree or woody shrub of their choice through all its stages for a year. The final product becomes a “Sketchbook of the Seasons,” with color and tonal drawings, herbarium components, and journal documentation from one or two trees and or woody shrubs as they change with the seasons. Visit your plant as often as you like. Because this project spans many months, we encourage you to join our course to post your progress online and get feedback from our knowledgeable instructors and fellow students as you build your sketchbook.

Dogwood sketch page

Winter: Gather Information

We begin in winter, when it may seem at first like trees and plants have few botanical merits to draw. But look closer to find that even in winter, the exposed twigs and branches on a tree offer information about a tree’s structure and identifying characteristics. Leaf arrangement and leaf scars are studied easily on these exposed branches, and often dormant buds, dried bracts, seed pods, nuts, dried berries, and capsules are present. Observing these details can help you understand the life cycle of the tree as the seasons progress and will be the first building blocks to your seasonal sketchbook.

Drawing starts with observation. Developing your ability to see detail and translate your observations to paper takes practice. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes! Don’t give up if your drawing isn’t gorgeous in the beginning. Mastering basic skills of scientific illustration will help take away some of the confusion and mystery of making realistic and dimensional drawings. Read motivational tips on observation and measuring here.

Horse Chestnut sketch page

Observe your specimen carefully, making notes as needed, including questions and color notes.
Research and include the following information (as shown in top left corner of Horse Chestnut sketch page above):
-Scientific Name
-Common Name
-Family Name
-Location of collected/documented specimen
-Date collected/documented

Tulip Tree parts in winter

In winter, collect and draw branches and twigs. Observe and draw dormant buds, and any remaining seed pods, dried fruits, etc. on the plant. Ask questions, make notes, and research answers. Include what you learn in your sketchbook notes. Make color notes.

Step 1: Find your subject

Step 2: Collect branches, seed pods, and any other available parts.

Step 3: Observe and start to draw.

Step 4: Ask questions, make analogies, compare and contrast plants, do research, and include these notes in your sketch pages.

Include the following in your branch studies:
(Note: Draw life-size and then draw enlargements)
-Dormant buds – Cut one open for a cross section
-Leaf scars
-Leaf arrangement (opposite, alternate, etc.)
-Bark characteristics
-Dried seed capsules – whole capsule and individual seeds
-Dried leaves if available
-Draw a detailed section of bark
-Habit drawing of entire tree

Habit drawing of a Tulip Tree in winter

Observe and draw a habit drawing in winter, when branching patterns and bark are visible. This is a small scale drawing of the entire tree or shrub. It can be quite simple but should have the overall proportions and patterns correct. (Hint: Did you know that each time the main trunk branches out and splits, each branch part combined is equal to the width of the main trunk?)

Learn more about habit drawings by watching the recordings of our Zoom Drawing Workshop, Trees in Winter: Habit Drawings in Graphite, recorded March 6 & 10, 2022.

Tulip Tree illustration, with components from all seasons


Sketch your way through the seasons and create your very own seasonal guide to plants in your area. To share your progress and get helpful feedback, join our course, The Practice of Botanical Drawing.

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