Art activity – draw yourself as a tree

Image from

I find that trees are very powerful images. When I was training in art therapy, I drew myself as a tree and it was one of the most incredible art experiences I have ever had. It brought out issues for me that I had been suppressing but really needed to deal with. So powerful. Another time, I went bush after an Aboriginal mother I was working with passed away. All I drew were trees.

I gave this activity to my expressive arts group. I simply said “draw yourself as a tree” and let the children go with it.

I’m wondering – if you set this exercise for yourself once per week – how different would the trees be each time? One week, would it be a strong tree firmly grounded? Another week, would it be a weak and struggling sapling? Another week, young and healthy, determined to grow? What plants, birds, animals, insects, inhabit the tree? Are any of them parasitic? How’s the symbiosis? You don’t need to draw the whole tree every time, some days you might only draw a section of the tree.


This post has been transferred from another blog, and backdated to its original posting date. I’m sorting through all of my blogs and putting things where they belong. Below are the comments that this post attracted on the other blog…

phrogmom Says:
January 29, 2011 at 9:36 am   i’d like to see some examples….is it too personal?

hakea Says:
January 29, 2011 at 11:21 am   hi phrogmom, If i could sit at the kitchen table with you, with a pot of tea, i would love to have a chat with you about the artwork.
The images require face-to-face communication. You could engage with me and ask questions and it would be a natural unfolding of understanding, a conversation. As the creator of the images only i can interpret them, but i could not effectively put in writing everything that those images represent. That’s the beauty of art, one stroke replaces the need for many words.

I am not an artist by trade, and the images i create are not aesthetic, but they have meaning to me. It’s the interaction between me, the paper, and my oil pastels. The ‘art journalling’ world that you have introduced to me is completely new to me and challenges me. I’m not knocking it, i am fascinated by it. My concept of art journalling is grounded in my art therapy training. The idea of sharing my art (and bearing my soul) in a public forum completely blows me away. I know that if i was doing an artwork which i intended to put ‘out there’, i would be guarded and cautious, and for me it would not be a genuine and effective piece. I need to be free to let it all hang out, free from interpretation and judgement, and give myself space to work it all out.

I just came up with this idea this morning of doing a tree picture every week, and it excites me. I’ve just come out the other side of a headache that lasted 4 days, and i think that’s going to be one bloody big knot in my tree this week.

kaet Says:
January 31, 2011 at 12:32 am   I’m intrigued by this, and wondering about trying it out, even if just today, in my private diary. I wonder about second-guessing myself, however. How much difference does it make to draw intending to express emotion/whatever than to ‘just draw’ and let the emotion show itself? Or am I overthinking this, particularly considering I don’t have the training to see ‘standardised’ meaning in such things?Hm, thinking about it, that’s precisely what I might have written in my diary about the issue!

hakea Says:
January 31, 2011 at 6:24 am hi kaet, just let it flow. going into it with intention – i’m going to draw myself as a tree – just provides focus. it may end up that the owl that you spontaneously draw or the ants climbing up the trunk, become the most important thing on the page. just draw, draw, draw. don’t worry about analysing it, the meaning will come to you when you are finished. there is no standardised meaning!!!!! red might mean happiness to you but anger to someone else. you interpret your own drawing according to how you feel about it. after you have finished drawing, you might need to write to get it all out of your head.

don’t be afraid, just do it. if you have any more questions, just ask.

kaet Says:
January 31, 2011 at 10:05 am   Thank you. I think that’s an exercise that may mean more to me as I get used to doing it, but as I thought about it after drawing I realised explicitly some of what I was doing less consciously. There was more to write about it than I thought there might be.Not going to say more, but thanks!

hakea Says:
January 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm   glad you gave it a go. it gets easier to do with practice.if you are feeling self-conscious at first, do some scribbling. a classic art therapy exercise is called ‘taking a line for a walk’. start by doodling and see where it ends.

hakea Says:
February 5, 2011 at 8:53 am   kayklam sent me an email through the week, her blog is Kay said…
Thank you for subscribing to my blog, from halfway around the world down under! I went through your blog too. I love your various ideas on art therapy. In Soul Coaching, we do collaging and some left-hand doodling, which are more adult-oriented activities. But you’re far more the pro at expressive art therapy, especially for children. Although those exercises can be very useful for adults too, just that they tend to be rather conscious and judgemental on their own works. I’m going to try the tree doodling myself, see what comes of it. Thanks! All the best, Kay

I replied…
Hi Kay, Thank you for your email. I have never heard of soul coaching. I’ll have to check it out. Children are thingy about their drawings too. I get them to do lots of scribbling. They hated it at first but they now like it. Drawing yourself as a tree can be extremely powerful. Don’t be surprised at what comes of it. Cheers

Kay Says:
February 6, 2011 at 12:14 pm   I was just about to try this tree drawing for myself, when I realize that I have been drawing trees in my artwork for decades! In my quilts, in watercolor…drawing forests is my absolute favorite subject. And on reflection, drawing the trunks is really my favorite part, not the frilly leaves. Ok, so there is one clue! I do emphasize on the core of myself and others, on authenticity, building up knowledge, sustainable lifestyle, spirituality as a foundation to life. And I don’t fancy the thought of drawing a lone tree — there’s another clue. That’s so interesting! Cool stuff! Thanks a bunch! Maybe one day I’ll incorporate that into my Soul Coaching work, as one of the many tools, do you mind?

hakea Says:
February 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm   Hi Kay, Thanks for visiting and commenting!

What a nice revelation, especially as you got so much meaning from it for yourself.

When I was studying art therapy, one of the last activities we were asked to do was to create a clay figurine for each person in the class. With one of my classmates I had the overwhelming feeling to create a snake for her. I had no idea why, and it worried me a bit as snakes don’t have good symbology in the West. So, I looked up Eastern symbology and it was all good. When I presented her with the figure, I explained it just as I have here. She was a bit puzzled but accepted it with grace. A few months after the class finished, I received a card from my former classmate saying that the snake is actually a very strong symbol in her life, from her own artwork to the artwork she surrounds herself with, she just hadn’t realised it.

Please use this activity to complement your work, but just as you have allowed your images to reveal their meaning to you, please allow your clients to do the same for themselves. The golden rule of art therapy – never interpret someone else’s artwork.

Best Wishes


About Narelle Smith

Child & Family Worker

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