There is an autumn leaves watercolor project that I do every year. I teach it to my students every year. It’s an exercise in overlaying color in watercolors, blending colors, and dropping in color, splatter, and adding detail on top with pens or colored pencils.
When I create it myself, I just draw in the leaves to start. I noticed that my students struggled with that part. Leaves are complicated, more than one leaf is extremely complicated, overlapping leaves are overwhelming. My solution was to come up with cardboard templates of leaf shapes for them to trace.
Print out the leaf outlines, Tape down watercolor paper on a backing.
Cut out the leaf shapes. It is easier to cut them out and then cut them one section at a time.
All I asked of my students was to trace around the templates. I asked them to overlap the shapes and make some of the leaves go off the page. Use a mechanical pencil and trace lightly. Then, lightly erase some of the darker lines.
Next, I had them put a light yellow wash all over the watercolor sheet. I had them drop in yellow okra in various places. I taught my students to work from light to dark, simple shapes to detail.
I had them paint some of the leaves yellow, yellow-orange, then orange, red, and finally brown. Because the leaf shapes were overlapped, where the colors were overlapped, it created different colors. All along as they are filling in the leaf shapes with color, they could drop in other colors. For instance, if they were painting on an orange leaf, they could drop in red. Between each color layer, I had them allow the painting to dry.
I also suggested that they sprinkle some of the wet areas with salt. When salt is added, it slows the process down because I like salt in watercolor to dry for 24 hours before I do anything else to the painting. The extra salt needs to be brushed off and its best to do that when it is completely dry. Salt in watercolor makes awesome things happen and it’s worth the wait.
For this project I sprayed water into the wet paint in the leaves with one short spray. It made the paint bleed into the other leaves with some interesting effects.
By the time they use the color brown, most of the leaves are finished. If not, they can add purple or any of the other colors that they’ve already used to finish the shapes off.
I asked them to fill in the back ground by filling an area with a wash and dropping in color to let it bleed. To make the leave stand out I had them add in contrasting colors . I sprinkled salt into the wet background areas.
At this point, I like to add splatter. You can splatter with any color. Metallic gold is one of my favorites. I always suggest they practice splattering before they start. You can fling paint with a toothbrush or you can tap it with a wet brush. I wrote an article on these techniques in another blog that you can find here.
Last, and probably my favorite part, is to add a pencil on top. For autumn leaves, I use colored pencils to draw the veins. You can paint them if you want. I’ve even added outlines and veins with gold metallic pens, with wonderful results.
I found that besides drawing realistic leaves or using templates, you can draw leaves in a distorted or simplified manner in order to make it a very interesting work of art.
I found that besides drawing realistic leaves or using templates, you can draw leaves in a distorted or simplified manner in order to make it a very interesting art work.
Patience is important
Besides, all of the techniques that my students used in doing this lesson, they needed to learn patience. Each layer needs to dry before they moved on to the next. I liked this part a lot because it teaches them to not do everything with watercolors all at once. That’s the best way to just end up with muddy color. When painting watercolor patience equals brilliant colors.
There are no hard-fast rules, but the steps I taught my students leads them through a process where the result was creating beautiful autumn leaves in watercolors.
If you want to do a less complicated versions of this exercise you can use the same instructions and paint a solitary leaf.
If you hope you enjoyed this tutorial and plan to try it out. Feel free to share it with someone you know who is interested in learning how to paint with watercolor.
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I have made great progress in getting The Shop on Ruthieonart ready to launch new art. But… in order to launch the Hydrangea Paintings I need to create 14 product pages and test them. I plan to release them next week. I do have the product art work completed and I wanted to give you a sneak peek of two paintings that will be included.
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