When Every Leaf Is A Flower

My two favorite times of the year are Spring and Fall – the temperature is perfect, Nature is entering a period of growth and change, and there is an abundance of color everywhere. An almost psychedelic amount of color in fact!

Spring, a period of renewal and excess, when flowers burst forth from every little nook and cranny, is probably the perfect opposite of Fall, when everything is cast off and life enters conservation mode. However this annual dying off of the leaves brings much beauty and vibrance to the environs, with the reds, the ochres, umbers, and siennas- all swirling and dancing in the electric, autumnal wind.

In the words of Albert Camus, “Autumn is a second Spring, when every leaf is a flower.” How true! I have been having such a lovely time this Fall, combing the ground for interesting leaves – no two ever the same. Where I live, there are many beautiful Maple trees and so there are brilliant bursts of red all over the place.

Can any artist ask for more? These leaves that I’ve been collecting are making their way into my paintings and I even taught a watercolor Fall Leaves workshop over the past weekend (more in a later post.)

Here are a couple of my most recent pieces, next to the leaves that inspired them. Almost a wordless eulogy for their last days in this world – I feel honored to have witnessed their beauty before they left.

 

Watercolor Autumn Leaves Tutorial

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Fall is in full bloom here in the Pacific Northwest. The trees are a symphony of colors : yellow, ochre, sienna, and rust. It’s an artist’s dream! I’ve been collecting leaves in my neighborhood and doing some still life paintings – you can see those in my post from a few days ago, EVERY LEAF A FLOWER .

Naturally, with all of this great inspiration around, I decided that my second workshop should feature Fall Leaves. Please see my previous post, AUTUMN LEAF WORKSHOP, for a recap of the fun details.

In THIS post, I will show you all the same technique that I taught my students at the workshop. It’s a really simple way to achieve a realistic autumn leaf, full of vibrant colors and textures.

 

MATERIALS:

1. 140lb cold pressed water color paper.

2. A medium round brush (size 4-8) or whatever will easily fill the area of your leaf.

3. A pencil with light, soft lead, such as an H.

4. A soft art eraser.

5. A palette of colors. I created my piece using the Sennelier Aqua-Mini travel set. This set comes with :ย Primary Yellow, French Vermilion, Cinerous Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Light Green, Burnt Umber and Paynes Gray. I used the yellow, phthalo light green, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, vermillion, and gray for this project.

6. A thumbtack with a sharp, long point.

7. A thinner round brush to paint the shadows and stem.

 

STEP 1: DRAW YOUR LEAF

Draw an outline of your desired leaf shape, stem, and shadow. Press lightly, using a hard lead, so that you can easily erase any lines you wish to and you don’t have to worry about smudging.

 

STEP 2: ADDING THE VEINS

There are many ways to suggest veins in leaves. This time, to make it easier on my students- who are all brand new to the world of painting – I decided to go with the scratching or etching technique.

Using the thumbtack, I scratched in some veins, as many as I wanted to, making sure I branched them out in an interesting manner.

 

 

 

STEP 3: PAINT THE SHADOWS AND THE STEM

Using the smaller brush, start painting the shadow with a mixture of grey and blue.

Also using the smaller brush, paint the stem. I used vermillion for most of my stem, ending off with a tip of yellow, as this combination was common in most of the maple leaves that I had studied.

 

STEP 4: START PAINTING THE LEAF

Now, this part is amazing and will BLOW. YOUR. MIND.ย  At least it did with all of my students! ๐Ÿ™‚ Using the Wet (paint) on Dry (paper) technique, load your brush with some paint ( I started with the green) and start painting anywhere on the leaf. And just magically watch those etched-in veins appear!!

WOW, RIGHT??!! It’s that simple!

 

STEP 5: ADD A SECOND COLOR NEXT TO THE FIRST

Now, take a second color – I chose yellow- and while your first color is still wet, add another color right next to (but not overlapping much with) the first. The goal is to maintain crisp, pure colors throughout the leaf, rather than mixing colors together. It’s ok, and encouraged, for the borders between two colors to blend into each other though. Remember, no hard edges.

 

REPEAT 6:ย  REPEAT STEPS 4 AND 5 WITH A FEW MORE COLORS

Now do what you did in the previous step – have two colors meeting – using all of the colors, except for the Paynes Gray, which we will use for the final accent details.

The great thing about this project is that you can be as loose as you’d like and use whatever combinations of colors you find pleasing. Like I always tell people, if looking at what you’re creating brings you joy, then you’re doing it right. That’s all there is to it! Trust your instincts when it comes to laying down paint. Even if you don’t believe it right now, your brain will know when things are working. Believe in the process.

Artist Tip: strive for balance in your piece – don’t overwork one side but make sure to distribute tonal values evenly. It will make for a more pleasing composition.

 

STEP 7: STOP!!!

I can’t stress this one enough. Once you are pleased with the way your leaf is looking ( and you WILL know- just trust yourself!) – STOP PAINTING!! More watercolors have been ruined by overworking than anything else.

Artist Tip: Watercolors can get muddy really quickly and there is no really good way to fix that. That’s why it’s important not to mix too many colors or overwork them. Part of the beauty of transparent watercolors is that the white of the paper shines through the paint, giving it a luminescent glow. So, when you are pleased with the way your paint is looking, put down that brush!!!

Artist Tip: Watercolors also dry to a less vibrant finish than when they are wet, so take this into consideration when you decide how strongly you want to pigment the piece. If you are a complete beginner, I would recommend playing with your paint on a separate piece of paper so you can see this effect for yourself. Experience is your greatest teacher.

 

STEP 7: ADD SOME DETAILS

I like to go in with a darker color, either while the paint is still slightly wet ( if I want a more diffuse effect) or while it is dry (if I want a more precise result) and add some blemishes to my leaves. Again, pick up some leaves and study them if you need inspiration – there are so many little spots and variations that will add interest and texture to your final piece.

I used spots of Payne’s Gray in this piece.

I also did this while the other paint was still slightly wet – see how my spots became more diffuse and less precise? You can do it either way – they will both provide lovely effects. In fact, if you’re just learning all about watercolors, it might be a fun idea to try both ways!

 

STEP 8 : ADMIRE YOUR FINISHED PIECE ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

So, that’s how to paint some fun, easy, vibrant autumn leaves.ย I hope you found some useful tips and, at the very least, some inspiration in this tutorial. Go out and collect some leaves – study their beauty and let them guide your art! And remember, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! If you’re on Instagram, I’d love to see your creations – so do share your work using the hashtag #gracerajendranworkshops

STUDENTS’ WORK:ย 

I’ll leave you with the beautiful work that my workshop students did. For manu of them, that class was their first time experimenting with watercolors and the youngest participant was 8 years old- didn’t they do an AMAZING job?!

Since I was asked to conduct another workshop soon, stay tuned for exciting class news in the next week or so! ย Until then, let’s create some beautiful art!

Three Steps For Dealing With Setbacks

Setbacks happen to everyone. Whether you’re building your own business, trying to lose weight, or fostering better relationships with family members. Things can’t go smoothly all the time, that’s just a fact of life, but don’t get so caught up on the ‘downs’ that you forget the many ‘ups’ that got you to where you are at this point.

However, just because setbacks happen doesn’t mean it’s the end of your dream. The key is to stop thinking of setbacks as failures and see them, instead, as a natural part of the process and a real opportunity for growth.

Here are some ways to deal with setbacks:

1. GIVE YOURSELF A SET TIME TO FEEL BAD

You just faced a setback! This means that something happened to derail plans that you’ve been working really, really hard on. That’s harsh and deserves a suitable period of mourning. Give yourself that time to feel bad for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. But, and this is key to achieving anything, make that time finite. Set yourself a limit and then start the rebuilding process.

2. REMOVE THE EMOTIONS

When things don’t go well, our emotions go into overdrive and it’s difficult to see things as they really are. However, although it’s really painful to see things that we have worked really hard for not go according to plan, now, more than ever, it’s important to stop for a while. Do nothing on impulse, don’t succumb to the pressure to ‘fix things now’ , and step back from the situation. When you’ve cleared your head and can see the facts without emotional bias, that’s when you can truly start figuring out your next moves. Ask yourself what went wrong. How did you and other factors contribute to this? What could you have done differently? What can you do to help things now -objectively, not emotionally. Write these things down so you can see them concretely in front of you.

3. TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME

It’s important, when we have goals, to look at the big picture. The better health a year from now, the publishing of your first book, or a happier home life. These things can keep us going. However, sometimes it helps just to think of getting through things a day at a time. Don’t think of how hard a year of waking up early to write your book, or a year of changing your diet will be – just tell yourself you just need to make it to tomorrow. If you’ve just been thrown a huge setback, ask yourself what you can do to make things better tomorrow. And then, the next tomorrow. And the one after that. ย Soon, you’ll be back in the swing of things again!

And above all, remember this : only people who take risks, work hard to follow their dreams, or even just HAVE dreams to begin with, face setbacks in the first place! It means you’re out there working towards something. And THAT is a good and brave thing.

The Hurricanes

    It’s utterly heartbreaking -seeing the devastation of homes, infrastructure, and even complete islands, in the case of Barbuda. The loss of lives is the worst of all. We, watching from a distance, feel powerless to help. However, we can continue to support all of the brave relief workers – with our prayers, good thoughts, and donations- now, and in the months and even years to come, as they heroically rescue and rebuild these ravaged areas.

Amma’s Hair Advice

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The author having a particularly good hair day and wanting to capture that moment for all time!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

If there’s one thing Indian women have in common, it’s taking pride in the appearance of their hair. Growing up, the ladies in my life – mom and aunties – never wore a lot of makeup (mainly just kohl eyeliner) or used fancy bottles of perfume (fresh roses and jasmine in their hair was fragrance enough.) However, every woman had a bottle of hair oil on her dresser and used it religiously. Beautiful glass bottles of coconut oil or amla (Indian gooseberry). And after the oil was applied, the long locks were corralled into one or two thick braids, into which a flower was expertly,and elegantly, tucked.

I had to go through this ritual every morning as a child but as I got older, I traded the oil for manufactured confections of conditioner, and just preferred wearing my hair out and free (I still do!) but the main difference was that I stopped putting the same level of care and time into maintaining my tresses. And believe me, every time I saw my mom, she would dispense the same pieces of advice I’ve heard all my life. And my response each time : ‘ok, mom’ *eyeroll*

Then, I moved to a windy, dry, temperate country and got a lot of split ends, tangles (GIANT tangles, actually), and hair loss due to yanking ย those tangles out!! So, although I will still continue to wear my hair out, it’s definitely time to admit that mom (Amma, in my language) was right all along!

Amma’s Hair Rules:
1. Hair oil: it’s important to hydrate your locks to keep them glossy, tangle-free, and healthy. How much hair oil you use is totally up to you and is influenced by how much oil your scalp normally produces and your environment (is it hot and humid or dry and arid?) I generally do a hot oil hair treatment once a week and rinse it out in the shower. Oil treatments are great because it provides a chance to give yourself a head message! This is not only relaxing, but also increases circulation and hence the delivery of nutrients to your scalp. Occasionally, I would run a light amount of oil on my ends only. I find that it doesn’t really matter what oil you use but I prefer to have natural elements in it. Often, I would use raw coconut oil, as that is traditionally used in the part of India I’m from. As a treat, and for nostalgia’s sake, I recently bought a bottle of Amla (Indian gooseberry) oil as that was found on the dressers and vanities of all my aunties back home. However, use what you like – olive oil, argan oil etc- they will all keep your hair shiny and split end-free.
2. Braid your hair: I never listened to my mom on this growing up. In fact, it was only recently, when I moved to colder country with drier hair, that I noticed how tangled my hair kept getting. I would have to struggle to take out the ensuing rats nests and, in the process, lose a LOT of hair! I still wear my hair out and flowing wherever I go, but these days I braid them at night (bonus: beautiful waves!) and when I walk around a lot outside (the wind does a lot more damage than your would imagine!)
3. Cut down on your use of hair styling tools and harsh products. I hardly ever blow dry my hair – I’ve always preferred the way my waves look when they air dry anyway. ย However, I know that many people simply feel more confident styling their hair. So, if that’s the case for you, try to give your hair a few style-free days a week: no alcohol-based products, no heat tools, or tight hats, scarves, or headbands. Let your hair – and your scalp- breathe and be free!

Remember – nourish your hair from inside and out and every day will be a good hair day!

Focus: Or The Power of A Timeout

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We all feel harried at times by the pressures that life, and sometimes we alone, put on ourselves. During those times, whether we notice it or not, many physical changes can occur: our breathing becomes shallow or we might even hold our breath; we become tense and overloaded by every little thing that’s going on and get angry and frustrated by even the smallest inconveniences. That’s when the power of focus comes in. For a few minutes at least, while you are feeling this way, try and put everything else out of your mind and focus on simple, uncomplicated things- like taking slow, deep breaths, admiring the beauty and details of a flower, or even really studying the forms and lines of the stapler on your desk. Whatever you chose, really focus on it- so that your mind and thoughts slow down and, even if just for a few minutes, you will experience peace and a liberating change in perspective.

Take these beautiful rhododendrons, for example. I was having a stressful morning. You know, one of those mornings when you’re running late and the cat knocks over her water dish and your toast burns and you got about five hours of sleep as usual and that of course inevitably sets you on a downward spiral of negative self assessment and wondering how you’ve managed to waste most of your life and whether you’re actually even doing anything purposeful now … well, you get the idea. With each passing moment, I could feel myself getting more and more agitated as I was waiting for the bus. Well, to be clear, waiting for the NEXT bus -since I already missed the first one. By a minute.

In the middle of all of this, I looked over and saw these beautiful rhododendrons. And I wish I could say that their beauty immediately bettered my mood but to be honest, I just glanced at them for a few minutes before resuming my internal grumbling and worrying. ย I did, however, eventually decide that while it came down to me to make whatever life-altering long-term changes I needed to, I can also choose not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ today. Annoying things happen but they don’t have to derail your life – you owe it to yourself to pick happiness as often as you can. So, I looked at those flowers again- and this time felt wonder at every detail. That shockingly beautiful shade of pink, the tiny pearls in the center, the delicate papery petals. I focused on all of those things and while my problems still remained, I found myself in a better mood to deal with them.