Sometimes painting plein air, potentially in the public gaze, is daunting to many artists who would rather be secluded and work from photographs in the privacy of their own homes. This watercolor lesson allows you to do both, simply by bringing nature outdoors, indoors should you so desire.
Learn how to paint leaves by using watercolor blooms, which is an effect of putting a wet wash down into another wash that has not fully dried. This underpainting creates the interesting texture and value that can be painted over to create a realistic looking leaf, complete with water drops.
Watercolor Art Lesson
Collect a leaf from the garden.
Sketch or trace it out onto a piece of rough watercolour paper.
Draw in two ovals - later we will use these to work in a couple of drops of water. ;-)
Also mark the position of the veins with thin lines.
Next, mix the colours required for your palette.
1. Yellow ochre.
2. Green made from yellow ochre/ultramarine blue
3. Burnt umber with a touch of light red added
4. Burnt umber with a touch of alizarin crimson added.
Before we start applying paint, wet the leaf area with clear water - being careful to leave the two oval water drop shapes dry.
Wetting the area will make it easier to get a light wash of yellow over the leaf without the paper drying out too much.
Paint in the whole area, leaving the two oval shapes clear.
As you can see the whole area is still shiny, showing that it is still damp.
Using our mix of burnt umber/light red, drop some colour onto the damp surface.
You will see it spreads and merges giving a nice soft edge.
Apply in a random fashion, mainly at the tip end of the leaf and along the edge.
Apply single spots as well.
Then apply some of our burnt umber/alizarin mix, which is a more reddish shade.
This must be done while the paper is still damp.
If it does start to dry then stop. Allow it to dry completely, then redampen the whole leaf using your brush lightly over the painted surface. Then continue to apply our mixes as before.
The paper has been left to completely dry before the next stage.
Make sure you have enough green mix to cover the whole leaf. Also be sure to have some of the brown mixes left for the tip of the leaf.
Our next job is to paint the leaf green, but leave the veins by painting around them. The original wash will still show through in the vein areas.
Complete one side of the leaf at a time.
Slowly work along one section at a time being careful to paint around our water drops.
As you paint along each section, and while they are still damp, you can using a separate brush to add the odd spot of brown to produce some blemishes.
As you approach the end sections, mix in some brown. Just dip your brush into the brown mix and paint on. Go back to green for the start of the next section and change to brown halfway along.
As they are both applied while wet, the two colours will merge smoothly with soft-edged joins.
Work along the other side in the same way.
Changing from green to brown in the latter sections to give the autumn burnt leaf look.
The very ends are painted with pure brown mix.
A mix of ultramarine with a touch of light red is added to our palette.
The paper was left to completely dry again.
Then a wash of our ultramarine mix was painted over the whole leaf except for our oval water drops.
This softens the edges of the veins and merges the whole section washes together, making it look more realistic.
While this was still damp, I painted the stem with burnt umber allowing it to spread slightly into the leaf.
Add some ultramarine to your burnt umber mix to darken.
Then, while the paper is still damp from our last wash, add some spots here and there at random.
This will give the leaf a realistic look of decay.
Also add some more green here and there just to give a slight variation, so the wash doesn't look too flat.
Allow the paper to dry completely - ready for our water droplets?
If you look closely at a water droplet you will observe that on the side furthest from the light source the colour is warmer . The middle section is the same colour as the leaf and the side closest side is cooler.
Take some of our original green, to one mix add some yellow to warm, to the other add some ultramarine to cool. This is a very small amount. The color change is not great.
The paper is dry so paint will be controllable when placed onto the paper.
First, paint the strip furthest away from the light source with our warm mix.
Then using the original green mix paint across the middle.
This takes careful application so that it doesn't darken the first strip.
A delicate touch with a small brush is required.
Finally using the cooler mix, paint the last strip, but leave one small spot blank for the highlight.
You can just see the small spot I left blank, unfortunately the flash from the camera makes the wet surface shine.
Leave the paper to dry completely.
My highlight is now visible, also the warm and cool sides of the water droplet.
It now needs a shadow behind the droplet.
Paint the shadow using our green cooler mix, which will be darker than the original green as we added some blue.
We now have a leaf with two water droplets.
However, we still need some highlights to give it some addtional shape and shine.
There are two ways to acheive this.
The first way is by lifting paint by simply dampening the surface.
Have some paper kitchen towel, tissues or a piece of toilet paper ready.
Using a small reasonably stiff brush, wet carefully the area where you wish to lift the paint.
Then dab with your tissue.
By using a small brush you can get varied shapes by carefully dampening small areas.
You can see the lifted paint on my tissue.
Keep repeating the process until you have sufficent shapes of a now lighter shade.
The original yellow wash will show through.
Your leaf should now look like this.
Allow the paper to dry compleletly.
A hairdryer will speed up the drying.
Another way to add shape/shine is by scraping the surface to lift paint.
After lifting paint with the damping method, which gives shapes of lighter colour with soft edges, we will use a craft knife to scrap the top surface off, revealing the white paper.
This method requires rough watercolour paper to be effective. Holding the blade vertical and flat to the paper, it is lightly scraped across the surface. This only removes the highest spots of paint on the rough surface.
Using the tip of the blade small spots of white paper can be revealed in the middle of the previously lifted areas. This will give the extra effect of a shiny leaf surface.
I decided to darken the inside edge of the leaf next to the veins. I first dampened the section between the veins, being careful not to wet the actual veins. Then, I dropped some green into the damp area.
I created a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine to give a bluey grey.
I quickly painted the shadow around the leaf.
Before this dried, I used a clean damp brush to soften the edge of the shadow by wetting the paper along its edge so the paint would disperse.
The final touch was to add a few more highlights alongside the area we darkened with the green mix using my craft knife technique.