How to paint a realistic leaf in watercolour

How to paint a realistic leaf in watercolour


Hi everyone, Leaves are crucial to botanical painting and
can really let your painting down if you don’t get them right. But they can be intimidating
because there is often SO much detail to try to capture and it can be very difficult to
paint a leaf so that you can see lots of detail – but also keep the leaf looking real and
solid. So here I’ll show you how I go about doing
just that. I work from a photo I take myself and begin
with a pale line drawing marking out the main veins and some of the more prominent smaller
ones. I make sure I work larger than life so it’s easier to capture plenty of that
detail. I start my painting by applying a pale wash
to try to match to the lightest vein colour. We have to be cautious with this because with
watercolour we never want to go TOO dark because we won’t then be able to lighten again.
So I keep that mix really watery. The colour in the main veins is more yellow
then the colour of the smaller veins in the rest of the leaf so I try to match to that. When that layer is dry I go in with a smaller
brush to begin the lengthy process of adding some of the detail using the tip of the brush
to create crisp lines. I apply to the darkest tone areas first with a thick paint – making
sure I leave gaps in my paint for the veins. This required close looking at the reference
photo but is relaxing and fun once you get into the flow of it. As I’ve applied this dark paint I can already
see that my lightest tone veins are too light and will need to be taken darker. So I change
back to my slightly bigger brush and apply another layer of paint to the lightest vein
tones in the top part of the leaf I’ve not yet added detail to. Once that’s dry I apply some of the darker
details over that, again leaving gaps to create the impression of veins. Next I darken up the main veins by applying
a thicker darker yellow green mix gently over the top so it doesn’t disturb the paint
underneath. And I then use some milky consistency green
paint to apply a gentle, smooth wash over the whole of the bottom portion of the leaf,
so that it darkens up the smaller veins there. Once those lighter tones have been taken darker
I can see that I need to darken the darkest tones some more – and can use this stage to
add more detail effects with my smaller brush, again leaving gaps to create the impression
of the smaller veins. This detail is required but adding it again
throws out our contrast levels and means that the veins are standing out as too light – and
the whole leaf looks disjointed. So, this is the time I want to bring the leaf
together. And I do this by again going up a brush size and using a milky consistency
wash to apply over the now dry leaf – everywhere except for the lightest veins. Then, yet again (yes, leaves DO take a long
time), I break out my smallest brush and the thicker dark paint and I continue to darken
up my darkest tones and add detail. There are so many tiny veins in our reference
photo that I just try to give an impression of them with the brush markings i make as
you can see here as I work on some of the lighter parts of the leaf. Once I’ve painted the acorn, effectively darkening
it, I can see I need to darken my leaf’s darkest tones just a little more, again with
my smallest brush and some thick paint. And I’m done. I hope you found this useful.
If you want more detailed instruction on how to paint this leaf and many others, it’s
available via my online school.

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