Create a 3 part drawing that documents your in-depth exploration of a tree using observation, notation, and sketching.
Watch Meet A Tree
Chiura Obata, Untitled (Redwood Tree Spire, Alma), ca. 1925
Born in Japan, the artist Chiura Obata (1885–1975) came to California in 1903, when he was just 18 years old. He became a professor and spent most summers camping and painting in Yosemite. He combined his classical sumi-ink training with his lifelong pursuit of painting the California landscape. Obata is known for incredibly detailed woodcuts and large ink and watercolor paintings on silk, as well as his countless studies of nature. He describes an experience in Yosemite: “On the oil paper, I painted lodgepole pines and impressions; I worked almost without taking a breath. Really, the object is so great that I became absorbed in it.”
To learn more about redwood trees, visit the California Academy of Sciences’ Giants of Land and Sea exhibit.
Redwood tree facts: Sequoia sempervirens
California coastal redwoods can grow as tall as 350 feet; that’s as tall as a 35-story building. These giant trees can live to be 2,000 years old.
Redwoods have a shallow root system. Baby redwoods sprout at their parents’ base, latching on to their roots for nutrients. This is why the trees grow in circular clusters called fairy rings.
- Backpack and sun hat
- Long, narrow piece of paper (6 x 18 in. works well), folded into three sections
- Pencil, eraser, and sharpener
- Colored pencils
- Binoculars and magnifying loop (optional)
- String plus ruler, or tape measure
- Tree ID book
Questions to Consider
- What do you notice about your tree?
- What do you see when you look up at your tree?
- What sounds do you hear?
1. Find a tree: pack a backpack with the activity materials, don a sun hat, walk outside, and choose a tree to observe for this activity.
2. Look up: draw the top of the tree on the first page of your book. Add notes, colors, and details about the sky, the birds that you see or hear, and other things you notice about the top of your tree.
3. Look straight ahead: notice the width and the bark on the tree. How could you measure the circumference of the tree? How does the bark on your tree feel? How could you draw the texture of the bark? (Hint: use wiggly lines and different colors.)
On the second page, draw the texture of the tree bark using colored pencils. Write texture words and observations next to your drawing.
4. Look down: on the third page, draw the tree’s roots as they enter the ground, then observe the ground and plants that surround the tree. Add color and notations to your drawing.
5. Draw a leaf: pick up a leaf that has fallen from the tree. Make a scientific sketch in an empty area of your book, use a magnifying loop to observe details. An accurate drawing describes the size, shape and unique elements of your leaf. Use colored pencils to add more detail to your sketch.
A Scientific Sketch Is Accurate, Big, Colorful, Detailed, and Explained
- What did you learn about your tree?
- What story does your tree tell?
Share your scientific observations with the California Academy of Sciences through the Community Science Program. Community scientists can add their observations of nature where they live, to a database that helps scientists study biodiversity.
We would love to see what you create! Email pictures of your artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on any social platform with #deyoungsters.
- Chiura Obata, Untitled (Redwood Tree Spire, Alma), ca. 1925. Color on paper watercolor on paper, 12 x 9 in. (30.5 x 22.9 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 2001.93.4. Photograph © Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
- Scientific leaf sketch from the California Academy of Sciences lesson plan Introduction to Scientific Sketching
- Process photographs by Jill McLennan