Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Monday? It Must be Leaves

Yesterday was such a great day and Mondays for me this autumn have been extra lovely, as I have been hopping on over to The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre to teach some botanical watercolour workshops. It's been such a wonderful privilege to introduce the style of painting I love to others, and it's been great to see how the confidence and enthusiasm has grown in others.

This time around the focus was on the wonderful colours of the season. Like nature's own fireworks, colours of every description are in abundance just now, and the deluge of crunchy, fiery leaves fluttering to the ground is just amazing. My previous post on tips for painting leaves Tasty Tips on Tackling Leaves followed the progress of a summer bramble.

All the leaves are brown And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day

                                                                                    California Dreamin' (J and M Phillips)

For all of the classes I do, I always try to include a summary sheet or chart of some sort to go along with the demonstration I do. Pinpointing the main stages and areas of painting, from first wash to final glaze. So, for this post, I thought I would take you through my ready-reckoner checklist for painting leaves. One of my students who came to the studio last week said she hated leaves. At the end of the day I asked her how she felt about them, 'not so scary now'. Enough said

Leaf collage of students work.
Excellent effort all round

  • Study your leaf carefully before starting to draw. Note the veining pattern as it's important at this early stage, especially the central vein. Remember to study the back of the leaf too.
  • Draw the central stem and vein first, then any other significant veins in the two halves. The leaf will always look more natural if you do this bit first. 
  • Get the overall shape right first. Details such as serrations can be concentrated on once the basic drawing is right. 
  • Take some basic measurements of width and length for the leaf and each of the main veins, before starting to draw and to make points on your paper.
  • Leaves are not always symmetrical, especially when you focus on drawing them. Undulations, and serrations or points are never the same. Think of the two sides as sisters rather than twins with the central vein separating them. 
  • Lightly draw in the main veining pattern that you can see. This will help with the washes, establishing where the light and shade is, and for the  finer detail later.
A small, unfinished 'Smoke Bush' leaf
Rusty tones and imperfections are starting to take shape.

The main vein and stem were drawn in one smooth line first.
Then the rounded shape followed by the lateral veins

Note how the light falls on the leaf.
The left side here is lighter than the right, as this is where the light is falling.
The tip of the leaf is also lighter than the base.

Getting this right is difficult,
but it gives the painting it's 3 dimensional, realistic appearance

Really obvious veining pattern, with the colour concentrated between them 

Shapes, sizes and variation in colour makes autumn leaves
a challenging but fun subject to tackle

Wet-in-Wet Washes
  • The first wash for an autumnal leaf is important as this will give you the basic areas of light, shade and the colours in the leaf.
  • Wet one side of the leaf first with clean water and allow the water to get a satiny sheen before you drop in the first colour. Allow the colour to ‘bleed’ a little and with a clean, damp brush manipulate the colour where you want it to go. Try not to let the colour go too far.
  • As this colour dries, you can now drop in a second colour and allow the colours to blend together. Use a clean, damp brush to blend. Remember to allow the paint to settle a bit and don’t try to work it for too long.
  • Once you are happy with the first side, you can now work the other side in the same way. Remember to leave the central vein free of water or paint, otherwise the whole lot will bleed together and spoil your wash. You now have your base on which to build the rest.

Autumn leaf and its mixes
Perylene Maroon, Sennelier Yellow Light, Ultramarine Light
and a little Lemon Yellow
gave me all the mixes I needed for this one.

General colours used for the Smoke Bush leaf

Moulding the Fine Detail  
  • Once this first wash has dried, you can now work in smaller areas, adding depth and tone with further wet-in-wet washes, and start to use darker mixes to build up the light and tone. Remember to leave areas of the lightest first wash to show through, especially as autumn leaves have a fragile appearance.
  • Wet a small area of the leaf,  this could be between two lateral veins. Drop the colour in and working it as before with a clean, damp brush, move the colour around, keeping your areas of light and shade.  Keep looking at your leaf, so you can see where these areas are.
  • By working only on small areas, you have more time to work the colour, lifting and moving it around to achieve the look you want, whilst leaving the veins in place.
  • You can carefully map in the veins with a light, dry brush technique, and the tip of the brush. Often the vein is lighter than the area around it, so work the colour close to it, but not on it. If your lines appear too heavy or dark, you can blend them in with a clean, damp brush. 
  • Veins can also be lifted out using a damp brush and a tissue to dab the paint away.
  • Add the colour to all the veins and stem. A darker shade can be stroked onto the area where any dark shadow lies. Again, blend with a clean dry brush. 

Stages of the Smoke Bush leaf
Step 4 could go on further with additional dry brush details and shading  

  • Using a dryish brush and a nice rich mix of colour, you can carefully add some ad hoc imperfections and ripply edges. Greys, neutrals and rusty reds within autumn leaves add great shape and tone and will ‘lift’ the overall appearance.
  • Adjusting 'temperature' with a light glaze of Translucent Yellow by Schmincke here and there, where the 'warm' tones are, can really bring the leaf to life. 
  • To finish your leaf completely, a final light glaze of clean water over your painting can bring all of the colours together and soften the overall look, giving a coherent, 'settled' appearance. Take care doing this that you don't upset any of the washes underneath. 

On this piece, Cherry decided to use a light glaze of Schmincke Translucent Yellow
over most of the right side of the leaf, but left areas without it,
to suggest light hitting the leaf.

This was the last job to do here, and we noted how the whole painting was immediately altered,
with a luminous quality.
She was very pleased, as was I.  

     Hope this all helps  



Carole Jurack said...

What a wonderful demo. Thank you so much for posting. Almost all the leaves are brown here now so I will have to go out and hunt up an appropriate leaf in order to try out your technique.

Best, Carole Jurack

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you Carole. So pleased it has given you some confidence to go out and have a good old forage for your own leaves. Just play around with the colours you have, and I am sure you will do a fab job. :) x

shevaun said...

As always, highly informative and en enjoyable read! Well done!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thanks Shevaun. Writing this one really got me thinking how I paint leaves. x

Janene said...

I am glad that your classes are going so well, but then again it is not surprising. It's obvious that you love to teach and know how to break down the painting process into digestible bits. Your students leaves turned out great!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you Janene, that is so incredibly encouraging. I have enjoyed getting back into teaching, and love the process of helping others get the results they want. So pleased. x

Debbie Nolan said...

This is just wonderful. What a superb demo. Just appreciate your sharing. I paint leaves but never seem to get them life-like. Yours are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing. Have a great week-end.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thanks Debbie. For me it has been a learning curve of tips from other artists and trial and error.Just have a play with it.