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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!

Five Questions With Grace: Steve Olson

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Steve Olson is a Washington-based nonfiction writer who has published articles and books on an array of fascinating topics. Subjects such as genetics, race, human origins, climate change, and even punk rock! His most recent book, ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, was named one of the best books of 2016 by Amazon, was nominated for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and, most recently, has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.  His next book, to be released in 2020, is about the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation during World War II and the Cold War.

You can check out more of Steve’s work at www.steveolson.com

 

 

 

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a physics major in college, and I’ve always been enamored of the idea of mastering an idea at the forefronts of physics. For a while, my attention was focused on the book Gravitation by Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, and John Wheeler. I can’t say that I ever read the entire book or understood even a portion of it, but the general concept of mastering a particular area of knowledge is still the approach I take toward writing.
Oddly, I’ve been running across Wheeler again in my research on the history of the Hanford nuclear reservation. (I happen to be answering these questions from a hotel room in Richland after a day spent doing research.) He helped design the reactors at Hanford and solved a problem that threatened to shut them down when they first started up.

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

I can write almost anywhere. But to work on a book, I need libraries, archives, and knowledgeable people. The problem with the way I write is that every single sentence is based on something I had to learn somewhere. Though I wish I could, I’ve never been able to write sentences that sound nice but don’t have much content.

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

I’m going to interpret this as a “desert island” type of question, so six books that I’d choose if I could never again have any other books. They’re:

Don Quixote, since I’ve heard that it’s three different books if you read it once as a young person, once in middle age, and once in old age
A History of the World, the longest and most comprehensive volume I could find (though I guess multiple volumes would violate the rules)
The Bible, so I can reflect on the profound history the Bible has had on world history.
Ulysses, since I’ve been wanting to reread that book ever since college (preferably, right before a trip to Dublin)
Gravity’s Rainbow, both for its humor and complexity
The Collected Stories of Chekhov, to dwell on the reasons why people think and act the ways they do

Hmm, I guess all six of those books are kind of like Gravitation, now that I look at them.

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

I always tell aspiring writers the same thing: If you want to write full time, keep your financial needs as low as possible. Yet I’ve never followed that advice myself. And, sure enough, I spend most of my time on high-paying but routine writing projects that subsidize my lifestyle and occasional books.

 

5. I actually have a second ‘go-back-in-time’ question for you! As a science writer, if you had the chance to cover any scientific discovery or major natural event, and gather firsthand information, what would it be and why?

It would be the event I’m writing about now: the discovery of nuclear fission and the application of fission to produce nuclear weapons. Many journalists and scholars have listed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the top news story of the 20th century. It’s a great privilege for me to be writing about those events.

 

Thanks for the great answers, Steve! Next week, I’ll be chatting with David Berger, author of the recently released, RAZOR CLAMS: Buried Treasure of The Pacific Northwest