View Full Version : Help on painting leaves

11-08-2007, 03:45 PM

It's been a long time since I posted in this forum.
I am taking a botanical art class, and I could use some help on painting leaves. I have to paint 3 leaves seen flat on, and the first I am working on is a leaf from a Lupine.

I paint on Saunders Waterford, hot pressed watercolour paper.
I use brushes no. 3 and 4 (tutor told me to LoL)

The edges on this kind of leaf is very clean and sharp, but I find it hard to make the edge of my painted leaf sharp.

What about colours? I used : Indigo, Hooker green, Oliver green, yellow lemmon, light ochre, and phthalog green.



11-08-2007, 05:07 PM
Hi Ranunkel,
Your drawing of the leaf cluster is very nicely done. I don't think the greens ae dark enough to match up with the reference photo, especially at the top right portion of leaves.

Perhaps add more indigo to your olive green and go over the darkest leaves first. Then mix up another mix of indigo with the Hooker's green and use it on the medium dark leaves to bring them down somewhat in tone.

I would love to see more of your botanical paintings as you go through the class.


11-08-2007, 11:34 PM
I really do like your leaf and Sylvia has given you good advice for darkening if you wish to.

As for sharp edges you need the paper to be dry when you lay the painting down and a steady hand. I would lay the hard edges of the outside of the leaves first and then dampen the inside edge to keep it soft and continue towards the middle of the leaf. Repeat for the other side.

Have a practice on scrap paper first as to the water/paint ratio you need..

Cheers JJ

Laura D
11-09-2007, 12:21 AM
In an everyday world this would be wonderful as it. For botanicals, well, aren't they real sticklers for representationalism? I'd leave the lemon yellow out completely. You want darker tones definately and more toned down colors. For the edges make sure you are using the point of your brush as you work the edges. The bristles' tips will work down into the dimples of the paper and give you a more even line.

Thumbs up and do keep us posted!

11-09-2007, 09:35 AM
Thanks for your help :)

I would lay the hard edges of the outside of the leaves first and then dampen the inside edge to keep it soft and continue towards the middle of the leaf. Repeat for the other side.

I will try that next time!

I added 6 more layers to the leaf.


11-09-2007, 09:47 AM
Carefully observed each leaf and look for the variations in where it is darker and where it is lighter. The parts along the center vein seems to be lighter and the outter edges darker. This gives the leaves a little bit of a concave appearance with the vein down below the edges.

I also noticed that the vein on some of the leaves is dark, but on others it is light. Little details that make a difference. :)

If you can blow you reference up really large on your screen and look at one leaf at a time, that might make it easier to see.


11-09-2007, 10:51 AM
This gives the leaves a little bit of a concave appearance with the vein down below the edges.

That is just what I feel is missing in my painting!

I decided to try one more time from scratch.

If you can blow you reference up really large on your screen and look at one leaf at a time, that might make it easier to see.

I did that and printed the leaf in 4 sections, on 4 pages of paper.

11-09-2007, 12:05 PM
In my first painting I treated the leaf as one hole leaf, now I am going to treat each part of the leaf as a single leaf to make it more realistic.

I have divided the leaves in warm and cold leaves.

The cold = hookers green, phthalog green, and indigo
The Warm = Oliver green, light ochre, cadmium red light, and indigo fro deep shadows

I am going to use thin layers to build up the leaf.

Laura D
11-09-2007, 01:37 PM
It's looking really good! Good plan and great colors - thanks for sharing.

11-09-2007, 02:34 PM
You learned things with the first attempt, things should go smoother with this one as you apply them.

Just be patient as you work on each leaf. You might move around the whole image as you do the leaves individually just to keep the color visible all around.


11-09-2007, 05:04 PM
Hi there again :) Im glad that you are perservering with this, you are doing really well. I just glanced at your colour list there & i am personally not in agreeance of the red, i also feel that youll get a better result with raw sienna than with ochre. Finally, perm. sap green is a good green, similar to hookers but easier to manage.....but if nothing else, id stay away from the red with your greens.

Youll be better off with perm rose or with something like a windsor violet (better mix with the green) instead. I notice that you are not using any of the brighter blues either which can give leaves a real lift, so serhaps this is worth revisiting again too? Good luck.

11-10-2007, 06:11 AM
I also messed this one up :mad:
This one turned out to messy, and my edges are worser than ever.
I also used to much wet in wet painting I am not supposed to, the leaf should be painted with graduate washes.

Hidy- you were right on the colours the light ochre and the cadmium red won't work with the greens.

I got a questions about colours. My tutor told me to start the washes with a mix of the local colour mixed with Neutral Tint by Winsor & Newton, but it wont work for me, the leaves gets muddy, and they looses their shine. I did try to use very little Neutral Tint in the mix. I did not use Neutral Tint in this leaf, but I am wondering if I should give it one more try.

It would be an great help if some of you could help me with a pallet.


I also have a problem with the veins, either they show to much or I completely loos them.

Here is my worst ever try for the world to see :D
So I better get back to work, and start all over one more time. I am so glad, that I have the words by Vincent Van Gogh to comfort me :lol:

'If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.'


11-10-2007, 01:35 PM
First let me tell you from my screen it looks good. I've been delving into botanicals for a while too. (self taught) I don't think you'll get that real precision look without practice practice practice butin the process each work will have it's own personality. What I found is if you work on each separate blade it won't be unified overall. I also very very rarely use tube greens, preferring to mix with blues and yellows then usually I use the flower color to mute my green mixture for shadows. Enjoy the journey.

(if I can find the link and can figure out how to bring it up, I will) I posted 2 works of mine where the first attempt at full bloom is stiff and then as the flower started to close and I was loosened up and relaxedhow much better it turned out. Hidy is terrific at botanics and Laura, JJ and Painterbear each have great experience to draw from, haha pun:)

11-10-2007, 02:00 PM
Ranunkle, Macro Floral Revisited HW II, you could spend hours there and that is II, my work is on page 54 or was it 56, it won't matter anyway because you are going to be totally emersed in great work, there is so much to learn. I haven't had time to visit the botanical forum but there is one as well. I've heard most teachers like the students to stay with their teaching until they finish the course.

11-10-2007, 05:17 PM
This is a new painting of the same leaf I did to day, I think I improved it :)
this time I feel that I captured the concave form of the leaves better.

I change two things in my way of working.
I used much thinner colour mixes than I did on the other leaves.
I left out lemon yellow, neutral tint and cadmium red.
I used a smaller brush size 2.

Comments are still welcome and if you can convince me that I have to do this one more time I will :lol:
As my son said to night: There is no end to the madness of this world.


11-10-2007, 05:27 PM
Looks like 3x is the charm. This is really a definite improvement and much, much closer to the reference photo.

Way to go Ranunkel. :thumbsup: I'm giving you my Merit Point today because you were so persistent until you got it right. :D


Laura D
11-10-2007, 07:18 PM
:clap: :clap: Spot on! :thumbsup:

11-11-2007, 04:10 PM
Good morning again :) Yay, your last attempt is really getting there now, you can see the improvement with each try cant you? My advice on colours would have been very similar to where you headded on the last painting, leaving out the red, raw sienna instead of ochre, no lemon or neutral tint.

My own selection for this painting would personally have been: Olive Green, Perm Sap Green, Indigo, Ultramarine, Raw Sienna, Green Gold (perhaps), Voilet (perhaps) But whatever you used in te last one seems to be working for you. Good stuff & great perserverance! :)

11-11-2007, 05:12 PM
Thanks for your support!
I have been dreaming about my self painting that leaf over, and over again so I think I need a break from painting to day LOL

I got some very good advise in the botanical forum and I thought other beginners might find it helpful!

Hi, Heidi gave you some good advice. I am a botanical illustrator and teacher and I would have given you similar advice. The other help to getting straight lines is to draw the outline of your subject very lightly and carefully then very carefully erase the line and replace it with the very lightest finest line you can make with the colour of your leaves/petals/stem. For example, the lightest colour of your subject is the veins or central joint of the leaves to the stem. I would use this colour as the base colour for my leaves so I could also use it as my outline. When you are first attempting this, erase very small sections of the pencil line and replace it with paint using your smallest brush. I use a sable three zero brush. By doing this line on hot pressed paper, it creates almost a "dam" so the paint tends to stay inside of it. The other piece of advice I can give you is to keep checking your edges with every wash of paint. Good edges come only with practice and diligence. Use a magnifying glass if you have to. Pamela Stagg, Canada's best watercolour artist, told me that at one of her shows she saw a buyer examine the edges with a magnifying glass. After that she always checked her edges with one as well.

As to the hot pressed paper, most botanical illustrators/watercolorists use it as it is the only way to record minute detail. It may not seem like a great idea to use it now but once you are more experienced you will realize that you cannot accomplish what you want on cold pressed paper. I resisted using it as I found it so difficult. Perseverance paid off and I would never go back. Even now when I want to do a loose painting, I find it difficult.

I hope my instructions were clear but if not, let me know. Judging by the improvement from the first to last painting, you will do well with this course. Good luck!

Karen Taylor
Richmond Hill (Toronto), Canada