4 Steps to Start Your Seasonal Sketchbook: Winter

In winter, the exposed twigs and branches on a tree offer important 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 too. 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.

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.

If you want to access the lesson videos without streaming / using internet, you’ll LOVE our USB Drive with our ENTIRE course library!

Buy USB Here

Step 1: Find your subject

Start by locating a tree or woody shrub that captivates your interest. The more connected you feel to your subject, the more enjoyable the whole drawing process will be.

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

Step 2: Collect and Observe

Gather branches, seed pods, and any available plant parts and carefully observe them. Before you can draw, you must observe. Developing your ability to see detail and translate your observations to paper takes practice. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes!

Horse Chestnut sketch page

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 

Step 3: Begin Drawing

Remember, your initial drawings don’t need to be perfect! Don’t give up or get discouraged 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.

Step 4: Ask Questions & Include Notes

Engage with your subject by asking questions. Compare and contrast plants, make analogies, and conduct research. Include these insights in your sketch pages.

Branch Studies

(Note: Draw life-size and then draw enlargements)

Include the following:
-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

Find the recording of our Wonderful Winter Branches Zoom Drawing Workshop here.

Habit Drawings

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.

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?


Tulip Tree illustration, with components from all seasons


Want to learn more?

Sketch your way through the seasons and create your very own seasonal guide to plants in your area. Join our course subscription, The Practice of Botanical Drawing to watch lesson videos, download helpful lesson pdfs, post images of your work to the Art Feed with your questions, and get confidence-boosting constructive feedback from our instructors!

Try your FIRST WEEK FREE and cancel any time with no hidden fees!

Suggested Products