Watercolor leaves are one of the best design motifs to utilize on anything, really, because they’re beautiful and gender-neutral. They’re a great go-to when you want to quickly add a little somethin’ somethin’ to a piece of artwork or calligraphy. In today’s blog post, I’m going to go over three watercolor leaves tutorials with you, which I have arranged in order from least time-consuming (~5-10 minutes) to most time-consuming (~20-25 minutes).
1. Mediterranean Royalty Laurel Wreath
If you were a prince or princess living in the Mediterranean, you would definitely be wearing a real-life version of this laurel wreath as a crown while you ate figs and enjoyed being fanned by servants. I can’t provide you with any tips as far as how to, you know, garner the royal title or the servants — but you can buy figs at Trader Joe’s, and I can teach you how to paint this wreath!
To make a wreath like this, use a round object to trace a circle; you can see that I am using a spool of ribbon.
Once you have traced your circle, use an eraser to partially erase it. Your goal, basically, is to make it such that the pencil marks are barely visible. Otherwise, they may show under your watercolor paint (and once you paint over the pencil marks, it’s very difficult to remove them).
Saturate your paintbrush in green watercolor paint, and use your traced circle to draw a crescent like the one shown in the photo below. Note that you’ll want to start the crescent a couple of centimeters to the right of the center of the circle. Make sure the crescent begins below the traced circle, then goes up to meet with the pencil line.
Once you paint the first crescent, repeat the process on the other side. Your goal is to end up with two crescents that intersect at the bottom, as shown in the photo below.
Next, you’ll designate a few different shades of green to paint leaves with. To vary the shades, you can add different levels of water to the paint. If you have a lot of watercolor paint on your brush and not very much water, the resulting color will be bold and opaque. If you have a lot of water on your brush and not much paint, the color will be delightfully sheer. Use whatever different shades (and different colors!) of green that you like.
Painting leaves for this wreath should be a very zen process that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. The “leaves” are really just green shapes that resemble thin almonds. Each one will take just a couple of seconds to paint.
If you want to get fancy, you can add a darker green to individual leaf halves. You can also make it such that some leaves appear to be behind other leaves, as I have done in the photo below with the two leaves on the left.
You’ll notice that I have made some of my leaves slightly wavy; feel free to do that as well!
Keep painting watercolor leaves at random until they creep all the way up the branch!
Once you’re finished with one branch, you’ll repeat the process on the other branch. Then, boom! You’re done, and you can put whatever you want in the center. I decided to make a simple thank you card out of this piece using Kaitlin Style calligraphy and iron gall ink, which makes delightfully thin upstrokes.
There are multiple uses for this concept; I’ve seen it used a lot on wedding invitations, for example. It looks really pretty with whimsical calligraphy inside! You could also use it for mail art … it would make for a quick, easy, and beautiful envelope. Gift tags, monograms, bookmarks, and artwork for your home will also benefit from this lovely way to visually frame a subject!
2. “Kitchen Sink” Watercolor Leaves Art
“Kitchen sink” is the adjective I use for this concept because it incorporates a a lot of different kinds of leaves. You can throw in even more varieties if you want to! I’m showing you step-by-step how I created this artwork, but feel free to modify the idea to fit your style and project.
To start, paint a slight crescent using a shade of green watercolor.
Paint leaves coming from the crescent; you can, again, make a sort of an almond shape.
Once you’re finished with the laurel branch, draw a squiggly line using a different shade of green. The green I am using here was created from mixing Green Earth and Mayan Blue from the Greenleaf & Blueberry Mayan Colors palette. (Have you entered the G&B giveaway for this palette detailed in the last blog post? If not, take a look — I love these watercolors!)
Use a small paintbrush (anywhere between size 0-000, if possible) to paint thin, somewhat long and wavy leaves as shown below.
The thin leaves should overlap; that aspect adds visual interest to the piece.
Next, paint a wavy branch with several other smaller branches coming out of it.
Use your small paintbrush to paint heart shapes coming from the ends of those branches.
Next, use yet another shade of green to paint a curly, vintage telephone cord-esque shape.
Paint tiny almond-shape leaves that connect to that shape.
Once you’re finished painting the phone cord vine-thing, paint another wavy line at the top. This time, use a shade of brown, gray, or gray-blue. Make sure you draw itty-bitty stems coming out of the line.
Use a vivid green to paint almond-shaped leaves coming from those stems.
Next, you’ll paint a wonky series of lines, then paint circles on the ends. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the piece in this step before I made the circles!)
Use the technique you used to paint the first laurel branch to add a couple of small laurel branches. You can see I added three: one on the upper right, the lower right, and the middle left.
Paint in some individual leaves to fill out the space a little more.
To finish up, paint various shapes of little blue dots in order to balance everything out.
This concept could be used for anything because it’s relatively quick and simple, but I like it most for greeting cards! It would make for a fantastic thank you/happy birthday/whatever card for anyone because it’s neutral and neat.
3. Just a Pretty Watercolor Leaf
If you’ve ever just wanted to paint a watercolor leaf, then this tutorial is for you. I know that the photo instructions aren’t incredibly detailed (the process is a little more tedious and subjective than the first two tutorials), so you’ll find a helpful time-lapse video at the end of this tutorial!
Begin by tracing around a leaf (or free-hand drawing it from a reference photo) with a pencil. I plucked this leaf off of an unsuspecting houseplant.
Use the “eraser trick” explained in the first tutorial (the Mediterranean Royalty Laurel Wreath) to partially erase your pencil markings. You want to make it such that you can barely see them.
Paint inside your pencil outline with a light green. I’m using Green Earth from the Greenleaf & Blueberry palette.
Build on that base layer by painting over it in areas with a darker green. To figure out where to paint, you’ll want to look at your leaf and determine where the shadows are.
Painting with watercolor is all about layering! I see a little bit of yellow in my reference leaf, so I’m adding that to the center of each half of my painted leaf.
I like to finish up my leaf paintings with a secret weapon: Violet Hematite. It’s much less jarring than black, and pairs so well with green!
Is the final result identical to the reference leaf? No. But — that’s the way I like it! Remember that whenever you paint anything, the completed project is the subject according to you. I happen to love leaves that are full of contrast, so that’s what I painted!
Stand-alone leaves like this make for gorgeous gift tags! I punched a hole in the stem of this one, put a string through it, then used Amy Style calligraphy and white ink to create an earthy, awesome tag. (Wouldn’t it be cool to print off a bunch of these and use them as escort cards or place cards for a wedding or dinner party?)
If you’re curious to see the Just a Pretty Watercolor Leaf process in action, here’s that time-lapse video I promised. (If you can’t see the video, you may watch it on Vimeo!)
If you like the Just a Pretty Watercolor Leaf, I can guarantee you’ll love the Herbal Watercolor Tutorial. Definitely give it a read if you are interested in painting realistic botanicals!
As we get closer to the season of gift-giving and sending lots of cards, it’s nice to have ideas like the ones in this blog post to keep in your mental artillery! Honestly, using watercolor is only as easy or hard as you make it, so it’s a very friendly medium for anyone. If you have any questions along the way, I’m glad to help you out; just leave a comment!
Thanks very much for reading, and have a good weekend!