As a Christian, this Holy Week is going to be memorable, especially since I cannot celebrate it with my family this year–blood or spiritual. It feels strange to remain at home, experiencing a community service through my television and the livestream, and I find I miss my church more than I ever realized I would. Here in the Midwest, this is the fourth service we’ve attended via livestream, and we will likely have at least three more…if not more than that.
Today, for Catholics and Protestants, was Palm Sunday (I see you, my Orthodox friends, you still have a week to go, I know! ) My children were disappointed there would be no palm parade, no palms for me to help them make palm crosses out of, nothing of the normal traditions that we’ve done since I can remember (and longer)
So I thought, what if we DREW some of the symbols of Holy Week? The Palm and Palm tree, The bag of 30 pieces of silver, a cluster of grapes (Jesus talked a lot about vineyards that week), the bread, and cup, and the basin of water for the feet…the rooster…the cross…the tomb.
Anyway, here’s how you can draw a palm branch, step-by-step, followed by drawing a palm tree step-by-step. Cool information about the Judean Date Palm, which was liekly used on Palm Sunday, is at the bottom. (Seriously, the Date Palm is WAY cooler than I thought it was…and the connection to the resurrection is fascinating! If you do nothing else, scroll down to the bottom and read about the Date Palm! )
Drawing the Palm Branch
All Palm trees have a slender central stalk, and have leaves which are alternating along the stem. They are fairly easy to draw with a few simple steps.
1.) Draw the central stem, using a long stroke.
2.) Draw the general shape of the whole leaf–two lines parallel to the central stem, ending in a point. These lines are guidelines for stuff that’s coming later, so draw it lightly–you will erase most of these.
3.) Draw the central ribs of the palm leaves as they go down the central stems. If you’re trying to be scientifically accurate, most palm leaflets alternate emerging from the stem. However, it’s not the end of the world if you make yours match!
4.) Draw two curving lines around each central rib, ending in a point. Your palm branch is almost done.
5.) Finish the stem by adding a second line towards the bottom of the stem, and add an oval showing a cut end. If you haven’t already, erase the guidelines from step 2. If you don’t want to color your palm tree, you’re done! If you want to add some color, you can either color the whole thing green, or try something different with some highlights and shadows. (See Step 6)
If you want to color the Palm Branch, using some highlight and shadow colors, you’ll need three shades of green: light green (or a light yellow-green like peridot), a medium green, and a darker, preferably blueish green. Most of the time, I like to work from lighter colors to darker colors, which, if you’re working in crayons, markers, soft pastels, oil pastels, colored pencils, or water colors, is the easiest method. So…
6.) To start, add the highlights on the leaves. Choose one side of the ribs, and color it in the light yellow-green.
7.) Then, color most of the rest of the palm in the medium green.
8.) Finally, color the edge OPPOSITE the yellow-green in the dark green, or dark blueish green. The palm now has some simple coloring with some shading.
Optional: if you want, you can make sure to layer and blend the colors on the edges where they meet, to create a more gradual color shift. Use the dark green (or an even darker green) to re-establish any outlines that got lost in the process of coloring the palm (unless you trace over with the original pencil. That’s okay too!)
There you go! You’ve drawn a palm branch. Draw two or three palm branches by establishing the central stems and the outer guidelines, then fill in the leaflets like here.
Drawing the Date Palm “Tree”
The Palm branches of Palm Sunday originally came from the Date Palms which grew all over Israel and Jerusalem. Here’s how to draw that type of tree..once you learn this, you might see how you can alter a few details and draw some different types of palms from around the world. (Funny story though, Date Palms aren’t “trees”–not botanically or scientifically speaking. They don’t have rings, and they are closer to a gargantuan type of grass, or more specifically “a woody herb”. Nonetheless, they can be felled and used for lumber–lack of rings and knots doesn’t stop them from being used for construction. But anyway…)
If you want to color this, you’ll need a light (or medium) green and dark green, and a light brown/tan and dark brown.
1.) Establish the trunk. Palm trees usually have a slender, single trunk. I ended this one in a lightly-drawn peak, since the Date Palm erupts from the top section of the trunk, not from a single point at the tip-top of the stem. That peak tells me where I’m going to “anchor” my leaves’ starting points. (You can make your trunk taller or shorter, that’s fine. Date Palms can end up 15 feet or taller)
2.,) Establish the overall shape of the palm branches clustered around the top. Some Palm trees have a circular pattern, but Date Palms, when viewed from the side, have a more lotus-style pattern, or fan pattern. Like the guidelines in step two above, these are going to be erased, so draw them in lightly enough they won’t be difficult to erase later.
3.) Draw the central stems of all the leaves this tree will have. Draw several starting from within that top section of the trunk , then arching out to touch the edge of our guideline. Draw some smaller ones within there too–those represent younger leaves, or leaves that are facing the viewer and foreshortened.
4.) Now, fill in the palm leaves. If you’re going to color this, then change to your color here. There was no careful study here: I just traced with my green up each central stem from Step 3, then did a quick zig-zag down the stem, up the other side, and out the tip of the leaf. (See the leaf detail and process diagrams in the lower-right corner. The effect works. Not everything in drawing has to bee super-hard or detailed!
5. Now we start on the trunk of the date palm. The “Trunk” of the date palm, since they aren’t true “trees”, are actually the remains of the base of all the previous (now dead and dropped) leaves. To mimic this, draw lightly curved lines around the tree, crossing them like this pattern:
6.) Then, where the lines meet the edge of the trunk’s first guidelines, draw small “spikes”. These are the bases of those old leaves.
7.) If you’re adding color, now color the whole trunk lightly in tan or light brown. If you’re going to do a simple pencil sketch, just lightly shade the whole trunk in for a base shade.
8.) Using the darker brown, color the sides of the tree. This adds shadows and creates a three-dimensional effect for the trunk. Then, trace over the criss-cross pattern with the dark brown, which adds some shading to the trunk.
9.) To add some shade and three-dimensional effect to the palms use the darker green at the center of the palm cluster and on the bottom-sides of a few of the leaves. Again, I’m not being really technical here, I’m just borrowing that same “zig-zag” pattern from when I made these leaves in the first place. Have some fun!
10: The thing that makes a date tree is…DATES. Dates grow in clusters hanging down around the tree’s trunk. To add some dates, use the tan color to create these kinds of bulbs/bag shapes under the leaves next to the trunk.
11.) Now to add the dates. Dates grow in these 50-pound clumps, so drawing individual dates isn’t really necessary. Use your dark-brown color to create small “U” shapes all throughout the tan bulbs, and you’ll get the effect of clusters of dates hanging from the tree. Don’t forget the stem holding the date clusters to the tree!
To Finish: You have a Date Palm. You can add smaller clumps of “palm leaves” to the surrounding ground (Date trees send up little saplings that way) or a few scribbles of grass. Maybe you draw a second palm tree, taller, or shorter, behind it. Have fun with this. And now you now how you draw this palm tree, look at a few others and see if you can borrow these techniques about drawing a palm to drawing other palms you see in photos.
Remember, it’s about the Process and not the Product! If you don’t like your first attempt, try again. When you draw, your failures teach you how to be successful another time.
Cool things about Palm Trees:
Some of the things I learned about the Judean Date Palm after I had this idea where really fascinating,and since it’s Palm Sunday, maybe you’ll find them fascinating too.
The Date Palm was one of the most common trees in Israel for most of Biblical history, and grown in many places. Several Date palm plantations were famous throughout the ancient world for their medicinal properties, including one near Jericho. These palm trees went extinct sometime between 1,500 and 500 years ago, (accounts vary) and it wasn’t until the newly-formed state of Israel imported date palm trees from Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey in the 1950s that Israel once again had date palms, even though these date palms were slightly different breeds than the historical date palm from the Biblical era.
Until…Dr. Sarah Sallon, a woman who was interested in ancient medicinal remedies, learned of the Judean date palm and its extinction. Learning that seeds have been recovered from multiple archaeological digs throughout Israel, she asked one archaeologist, who had found seeds at Herod’s ruined Masada Palace, permission to sprout some of these seeds. The request was granted, but few had any hope that a seed would remain viable after almost 2,000 years. Moreover, after surviving 1,900 years in the Judean desert, these seeds had rolled around various boxes, envelopes, and drawers for nearly 40 years!
Indeed, most seeds are not viable after only a few years, and every year, the chance a seed will sprout decreases…but in the Masada seeds, there was one tough survivor. Meet “Methuselah.”
Methuselah sprouted in 2005, and now, 15 years later, he (yup, it’s a “he”) is over 15 feet tall and producing pollen. Based on the success of that experiment, more seeds from the Dead Sea region (including Qumran, the settlement which may have written and stored the documents now called the Dead Sea Scrolls) have sprouted. Of these SIX new survivors, at least TWO are female (Judith and Hannah), which means they can produce fruit. And since date palms can reproduce through offshoots from their roots, there is hope that once again, palm tress, which may literally be the children of those Jesus saw and ate from, can cover Israel again.
Date palms were so popular, and considered so beautiful and central to the food culture of ancient Israel, the name for the date palm in Hebrew “Tamar,” was a popular woman’s name in the culture and in the Bible (Judah and Tamar, Tamar the daughter of King David…not that either of those two women had a easy life…) and also became a symbol of Israel herself. The Maccabean kings, who reigned during the “[not-sot] Silent Period” of the Bible, issued coins with the Date Palm on them, and when Israel was destroyed by Rome, Rome issued commemorative coins showing women wailing beneath the date palm tree. Even in Greece and Rome, palm leaves and branches were often waved as symbols of victory and celebration.
So when Jesus entered Jerusalem that morning we now commemmorate as Palm Sunday, those waving Palm Branches were waving the essence of a national flag and the international symbol of victory.
And this from an occupied country. It was a very dangerous demonstration.
But even more interesting to me is the Scientific name now given to the phyla of all date palms, the Judean date palm included: Phoenix. Phoenix was the name used to refer to these trees by such ancient notables as Theophrastus, “The Father of Botany” (371 BC – 287 BC), Joesphus (Jewish Historian; 37-100 AD); and Pliny the Elder (Roman Historian; ca 23 AD – 79 AD [Pompeii]). So when Carolus Linnaeus ( 1707- 1787) began to organize his taxonomic categories for scientific organization, he re-assigned the ancient name “Phoenix” to the category of date palms, just as they’d been called for ages.
Of course, mythologically speaking, the phoenix was also the immortal bird, who resurrected itself from the ashes of its own self-immolating death. Thus, to the ancients, the phoenix was a symbol of resurrection.
And in some of the earliest Christian writings, as early as the first century, the Phoenix was used as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.
And thus, on the morning of the first Palm Sunday, the people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, waving the symbols of their national identity and the symbols of victory–symbols called by the name of the immortal bird…which would soon be borrowed by the followers of this very same group as a symbol of the Resurrection which was coming in just one week.
Kind of mind blowing, if you think of it. Science, Art, History, Theology…all blended together.
Have a blessed Holy Week!
For more Information
- Isreali Researchers grow new Date Plants from 2,000 year old seeds
- Scientists Germinate Date Palms from 2,000 year old Seeds found in the Desert
- Date Trees…not in my Backyard?!?..or Maybe… (An Archaeologist discusses the historical culture and background of date trees.)