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May 2011

May 2011 -- Dryads



  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Alexandra Knickel
  • EMG News:
    News for May
  • Behind the Art:
    Dryad in Watercolor


  • Dryads and Trees


  • Poem: Sylvia
  • Poem: Shelter Under a Tree
  • Poem: The Tree Spirits
  • Poem: Moonlight in the Wild Wood

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  • Dryads and Trees
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Dryads originated from Greek mythology. According to legend, they are nymphs, female nature spirits that specifically watch over and protect trees and forests. Dryads would punish mortals who damaged their groves, and, if a dryad were killed, it was said that the gods would punish the perpetrator. While a dryad is generally connected to a grove of trees, a subrace of the dryad, called hamadryades, are tree nymphs that are bound to specific trees. The hamadryad's life is so inexorably connected to that of her tree that if her tree was vibrant so was she, and if the tree had a disease or was killed, the dryad became ill or perished. In Greek myth, the hamadryads were eight tree-specific nymphs that were born through the union of Hamadryas and Oxylos. Their trees, and in one case a vine, sprung from the ground at their birth. The eight are Aigeiros of the black poplar, Ampelos of the grape vine, Balanis of the oak tree, Karya of the walnut tree, Kraneia of the cherry tree, Morea of the mulberry tree, Ptelea of the elm tree, and Syke of the fig tree.

    Other tree-specific classes of dryads include Daphnaie of the laurel trees, Meliai of the ash-trees, Oreiades of the mountain conifers, and Epimelides, also called Maliades, or Meliades, of apple and other fruit trees, as well as protectors of flocks.

    Don't feel you need to stick to these traditional dryad trees; a dryad of a palm tree, mangrove, or a baobab tree would be an interesting change.

    Drawing Trees

    When drawing a dryad, or hamadryad, you cannot overlook the most important feature in her life: her tree, or trees. Trees have four basic components: roots, trunk, branches and leaves. They come in diverse shapes, as different species of trees have distinctive growth patterns. Thus the fir is a cone or triangle shape, an oak is rather oval-like, and the maple has more of a rounded pear shape. The branches underneath correspond to the canopy forms.

    Trunk and Roots

    When a tree meets the ground, the base of the trunk becomes wider, and with some trees you can see the root system starting. Roots can even be exposed, showing off the gnarled forms of the tree's anchoring system. An interesting tree that shows its roots is the bald cypress; it tends to grow in swampy areas, and knobs, called "knees", grow up from the roots.

    Older growth tends to have rougher bark. When a trunk is wounded -- say a branch had broken off or another object has struck or been attached to it -- the bark eventually grows over the wound. There have been cases of interesting items found in trees once they had been cut down, such as fence chains and water pipes. Trees can also grow branches from the base of the trunk, called suckers. You will generally see these if a tree has been damaged; the suckers grow and use the already large and mature root system to grow fast.

    Not all trees go straight up to the canopy of leaves with one trunk; some have multiple trunks. At times this results from suckers, and at others they are separate trees that have grown together. The following are two shots of the same tree, or trees, from slightly different angles.

    Things that grow on trunks make interesting visuals in a picture, and add age to a tree, such as shelf fungus, moss, lichen, and ivy or vines. There are also mutated growths on some trunks called burls. These are highly prized and sought after for woodworking, as the wood grain inside is exceedingly beautiful once skillfully exposed.


    Trees have alternate or opposite branching, and most conifers have a whorled pattern. There aren't that many opposite branching trees; a few of the North American ones are maple, ash, dogwood, and the American horse chestnut (or buckeye). Keep in mind that older growth on these trees might not show the opposing branches, as the counterpart can die and break off, or be pruned.

    The limbs of a tree get progressively smaller until the tip. Be sure to vary the limb lines, so that the tree doesn't become too straight and artificial looking. Remember that branches can come straight towards you and straight away. As a starting point, and to help with perspective, a tree and its branches can be translated into cylindrical shapes. Use the negative spaces between the branches to help you with placement. When sketching from reality, don't feel the need to sketch every last twig, there are times when it is better for the composition to "prune" the tree.

    The red ash in the sketch above has an old wound at the base of the trunk, which accounts for the suckers. The red ash is an opposite branching tree; notice the arching of the limbs and branches, which is a distinctive trait of ash trees. The tree has compensated for the lack of branches on the one side of the main limb by growing in a curve back over itself.


    The leaves of a tree also adhere to the opposite, alternate, or whorled pattern.

    In addition, leaves also come in simple or compound forms. Simple is one leaf to a stem, compound is more than one leaflet to a stem.

    Even though leaves may be labeled "simple", there are still a lot of complex shapes these leaves can take. For example, there are two different oak categories, white oak, and red and/or black oaks (the willow oak is in the red/black group). White oaks have smoothly lobed leaves; red and black oaks have lobed leaves with rough or pointed edges. There are a lot of interesting leaf shapes in addition to oaks, including ginkgo and the maple.

    Most conifers have needle-like leaves; some have spiky or scaled leaves, like the cedar, juniper and arborvitae. Pines have needles in two three and five clusters, while spruce, fir, yew and hemlock have needles that grow singly from the twig. The larch has needles that grow many to a cluster. While most conifers are evergreen -- they lose needles, but not all at once -- the larch and the bald cypress are both examples of deciduous conifers.

    Whatever the pattern, the trick to drawing trees is to realize that you need not draw every single leaf to get the point across, though there are times that drawing every leaf is desirable. In the following picture, I decided that I wanted to draw each leaf of this oak tree. Once the leaves were inked, I went back in and used crosshatching to depict shade and give the foliage volume.

    As you can see, all the detail kind of cancels out when the picture is smaller. In the next image I used stippling for the leaves.

    You can also use squiggly lines to depict leaves. Here I used Faber-Castell brush pens in addition to my microns.

    In the next picture I have used a spiky, radiating pattern to depict the close spruce trees. Scribbling can be quite effective for rendering leaves; if you vary the pattern you can get the look of different leaves.

    In Closing

    This just scratches the bark on the world of trees! There are many books out there that go more in depth about the different aspects of trees, and illustrating them. I also encourage you to look at trees in your everyday life and notice how different they really are from each other, how they all have their own personality.

    Acknowledgements: Once again, thanks to my husband Alexander D. Mitchell IV for his editing (one of these days I 'll get the semi-colon use right!) , Jennifer Broschinsky, for her patience, and the Red Ash tree outside my window, who tolerated my spying on it with binoculars.

    The Tree Identification Book, by George W.D. Symonds, photos by Stephen V. Chelminskia

    Trees and Leaves CD-ROM and Book (Dover Electronic Clip Art)

    Illustration Guide for Architects, Designers and Students, by Larry Evans

    Sketching Your Favorite Subjects in Pen & Ink, by Claudia Nice

    Leaf Shapes Chart, by the University of Florida

    Clare Walker Leslie’s Guide to Sketching Trees

    Forest Landscapes: Trees, by Rio

    Trees in Pastel, by Deborah Secor

    Information on the Hamadryads

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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