Drawing a Stick, or the Geography of Sassafrass

This post is about drawing a stick.

A stick of sassafrass.

For the first year or two of growth, sassafrass bark is green and fairly smooth.


Sassafrass twig at dawn, West Tisbury, MA.

As time passes, browns and tans of mature bark “invade” the green juvenile growth.


For comparison: green-barked young sassafrass twig, with developing areas of mature bark,  next to older (about five years old), sassafrass trunklet. 

The transition stage, part green new bark and part mature bark, is really interesting.

That transition stage has been the subject of my most recent drawing.

Here’s my stick setup, under the drawing lamp, with the two paper “L” shapes used to find and frame the final image.


The first step was to get proportions and their relationships drawn on tracing paper.


The tracing paper image is transferred to good quality illustration board.

I often make a test card, to help choose colors and to test ideas for the drawing.


Colors are interesting. Plain old black can be boring, but if you mix a dark, earthy red with a dark green and a strong, dark blue, you end up with an interesting “black”.

Colors are built in gradually.

This next image is about a third or half way from “done”.


At this stage, the shape and relationships transferred from the tracing paper have been rendered, and the colors located.

Here, the stick is about three-quarters done.


Colors are more fully laid in. The “old” bark and twig stub at upper left are still very unfinished.

And here is the finished piece.


I may yet darken the blues of the upper right background.

Some friends remarked that the drawing seems as a miniature world seen from above, that the new “old” bark looks like islands in a sea of green.

So, I guess it is time to say,

“Thanks for visiting the Sassafrassian Archipelago.”

3 responses to “Drawing a Stick, or the Geography of Sassafrass

  1. I love those ambiguities of scale. Nice job! (I also particularly like that first “dawn” photo.

  2. Interesting to spend time looking so closely. I like how you picked a part of the stick such that the bark was winning on the left, but the right was still mostly green. It gives a funny sense of motion to the image.

    • Thank you! One of my very first drawings was an oyster shell. Every ten minutes to an hour, throughout the entire process, I kept seeing things I’d not yet noticed. According to my illustration teacher/mentor, the pre-photography scientist was pretty much expected to be a capable illustrator. To be able to draw vastly improves your ability to see.

      Re your “moving bark” comment, a digression.
      It’s amazing how fast a tree can move. There’s a nice big black oak on the edge of my road, and I could put my hands around it when I was a kid. Now I can’t put my arms around it. There’s a photo of it in my “Speed of Trees” post.

      And thank you, also, for your toughlittlebirds blog, which is one of my favorite blogs. Really! Your bog is a wonderful example of what a good blog can be.

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