How to Interpret Tree Drawings

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The direction to “draw a tree” might seem more at home in a kindergarten art class than a psychologist's office; however, according to some psychological research, you can learn a lot about a person by the way he or she draws a tree. With 10 minutes and no instructions other than "draw a tree," people will create pictures with a large variety among them. The size, shape, placement and adornments of tree drawings can provide insights into the drawer's personality. Understanding what each characteristic of a tree drawing represents can provide a great ice breaker for new friends, or a way to get to know your old friends even better. It should be noted that while interpretations of tree drawings are subjective, there is some consensus among art therapists that this exercise is indicative of certain emotions, feelings and personality traits.

Things You'll Need

  • Blank paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Colored pencils or crayons

Look at how large the tree is in relation to the paper. If the tree is relatively small, the artist is frugal and careful with time and money. If it is large and fills more of the paper, the person is very generous and tends to tackle more than he or she can handle.

Check the placement of the tree on the paper. If the tree is located at the top of the page, the artist is independent and values creative freedom. When at the bottom of the paper, the tree represents a practical and sensible person. A tree in the center of the page means that the person is well-organized, while one drawn diagonally across the page indicates an open-minded person.

Study the outline and detail of the tree. Strong, definitive, thick lines indicate self-confidence and aggressiveness, while lightly sketched lines indicated gentleness and a person who tries to blend in. If the tree features many details such as leaves and branches, the artist is likely to completely immerse himself in the details of a project, while few details indicate that the person prefers to look at the big picture.

Observe the shading around the tree. A shaded tree indicates seriousness and commitment, while an unshaded, light tree implies an easy-going personality. If only one part of the tree is shaded, the artist may be concerned about a single aspect of his life. A shaded trunk relates to concern about something in the home while a shaded treetop relates to worries about the future. The presence of roots indicates the artist puts an important emphasis on the past, and that it influences his everyday life. If the roots are shaded, he may have concerns or troubles in his past. A tree without roots indicates that those artists are strong and confident in who they are today.

Look at the shape of the tree. A tall tree, or one with a pointed top, indicates a forward-thinking person with high goals, while a short tree says that the artist is satisfied with his or her current situation. A wide tree indicates a very protective personality; a bent tree symbolizes restlessness and energy.

See what type of base has been drawn for the tree. If the tree is floating in the air without a base, or if the the tree is drawn in a pot, the person is spontaneous and easily adaptable. A ground-based tree indicates a need to plan and feel secure. A soft line of ground beneath the tree indicates contentedness, while a hill symbolizes someone who wants to be noticed.

Observe the tree's trunk. A wide trunk indicates strength, while a narrow one indicates that the person is flexible and adaptable. A straight trunk indicates a well-organized personality. A clean trunk indicates a happy home life, while a gnarled or dark trunk indicates unhappiness at home. A knothole symbolizes a forgiving person, though a dark knothole says that the artist forgives others but is very hard on himself.

Review the top of the tree, as there are many ways to draw a treetop. A fluffy top indicates a person who is content with life and who has a warm personality, while a simple top indicates a private and reserved person. A treetop with a lot of lines indicates a busy and energetic person, although, if the lines are all tangled up, the person may be unsure about where life is heading. Artists who have drawn a tree with the treetop cut off may be holding themselves back from progressing as far as life can take them.

Study the branches of the tree. If the tree has no branches or leaves, the person cares about the means and the end of a particular goal. If the tree has branches but no leaves, like a tree in winter, the person is honest by nature and cares more about methods than results. If the tree is full and has leaves, the person cares more about the ends than the means. When all of the branches are facing up, the person is focused on the future; if the branches reach out in many directions, the person is outgoing and reaches out to others. If every individual leaf is drawn, the artist is well-organized.

Observe any objects drawn around the tree. Extra drawings indicate that the artist pays attention to the surrounding environment. Objects often found in tree drawings include fruit, nuts and grass, which show a focus on the comforts of home; flowers -- an emphasis on beauty; birds, animals or people -- an outgoing personality and kindness; a sun -- optimism; clouds -- disappointment; and a swing -- joy and fun in life.

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