Watercolor Leaves Workshop

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I taught my second watercolor workshop last Saturday and, since this is the season of fiery autumn leaves, that was the subject that I chose!

If you checked out my last post, EVERY LEAF A FLOWER, you would have seen the hyper-realistic leaves that I’ve been painting lately. Well, since I’m teaching children in the first session and predominantly art novices in the second, I thought it might be a little overwhelming if I presented those pieces for the class project!

So, I came up with a simpler example (the painting above) and put together a lesson plan and materials. As always, I gave the students a brief overview of watercolors, went over fundamental techniques, and guided them every step of the way. I was actually amazed at how well they did! Here are some photos of the set up, as well as their phenomenal work!

 

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 : 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.  At least it did with all of my students! 🙂 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:  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 🙂

 

 

So, that’s how to paint some fun, easy, vibrant autumn leaves. 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: 

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!  Until then, let’s create some beautiful art!