Activity: Out On A Limb

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Do you sometimes wonder where artists get their ideas for works of art? The answer can be as simple as looking out the window. Enjoy these two very different images of trees, then have fun applying your creative interpretation to a tree in your world.

A drawing depicts a tree with no leaves against a plain background.
Edward Hopper, Tree, Maine, 1925–1930, Carnegie Museum of Art
 The loose outline of a maple tree with leaves appears against a plain background.
Charles E. Burchfield, Maple Tree, 1944, Carnegie Museum of Art

See and Think:

These very different versions of trees were created by two good friends, Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper. These American artists were both keen observers of nature and sketched the world around them often.

Allow your eyes to trace over Burchfield’s image. Imagine the varied touch of his pencil to paper, from the dark areas of the trunk to the circles and curves that suggest a canopy of leaves floating above the branches. Now imagine Hopper’s process, which resulted in the dark, textured trunk and clearly defined branches. Is one approach more to your liking?

Do: Draw A Tree from Observation

  1. Find a sunny spot outside, or look out a window—anywhere you can find a view with a tree! Sit for a few minutes and study your tree from the roots up: what is the size and texture of its trunk? The shape of the limbs? Are there just a few leaves, or a thick canopy? Take a few descriptive notes.
  2. Using pencil and paper, draw your tree, starting from the ground and working upwards. Try to make your hand follow exactly what your eye sees. Begin with a light, sketching approach. Where will you add more detail?
  3. Keep working until you have represented nature according to your personal style. Are you a realist, like Hopper? Or do you lean toward fantasy, like Burchfield? Make another version using a different approach.