How to Paint Leaves

Learn how to paint leaves by using a few paintbrushes and your favorite colors along with painting techniques, like layering and color mixing.

Painting leaves can be easily done with a few paintbrushes and colors.  Team your supplies with this step-by-step guide using layering and color-mixing techniques to create leaves.

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3 round rose color flowers with dark centers, 2 coral flowers with 4 pedals and dark centers. Foliage is painted with layered paint from dark to light.
How to Paint Leaves

Is it possible to paint perfect leaves?

I hear a lot from people in The Social Easel community talk about how difficult it is to paint leaves.  Leaves can look intimidating because they do have so much detail, but it does not have to be difficult. Let me ease your worries a bit by sharing with you… there is no such thing as a perfect leaf.  In fact, any leaf you paint is perfect for that moment and that leaf.  If you look out in nature, are any two leaves exactly the same? No!  So, take the pressure off of yourself to create the “perfect” leaf because at the end of the day, the leaf you paint IS the perfect leaf.

What will I need to paint leaves?

Mix Media Pad

First, I recommend everyone have a mixed media pad.  In fact, I love this mixed media pad, which you can find in my Amazon Store.

Christie holding a teal cove mixed media pad.

These pads make great sketchbooks for testing out paints and techniques.  The thickness and texture of the pages are perfect for just about any medium.  In this particular instance, the mixed media pad will be used for practicing your leaves by sketching out leaf silhouettes and then layering paint colors. 

Painted leaves showing the effects of layering paint colors.
Layering Paint color

Sharpie Pens

Secondly, to help you trace out a few silhouettes, you will want to grab a fine-point pen like a Sharpie Pen.  You can use a pencil, but I prefer to use a Sharpie.

Acrylic Paint

For the purpose of painting leaves, I recommend you grab three acrylic paints in three colors that really speak to you when you think of your favorite leaves in nature.  And then, also grab white paint.  In the event that you are having trouble deciding on those three colors for your leaves, consider playing around with a color wheel for inspiration.

A color wheel.

Paint Brushes

When you are painting leaves, it’s a good idea to have a few different types of brushes. I like to use a small angle brush (number 6 brush out of my set of brushes).  I also like to use two smaller brushes, one small round brush and another small liner brush (numbers 1 and 3 in my brush set). 

How to paint leaves?

Painting leaves is great practice in color theory, brush strokes, and layering techniques.  Here is a simple step-by-step guide on how to paint leaves you will surely love.

1. Pick out paint colors.

As I mentioned earlier, you will want to pick three different acrylic paint colors that you love, plus a white.  Not sure what colors to choose? Now would be a great time to get the color wheel out or look at photos of leaves in nature.  Here is a great tutorial on how to color-match acrylic paint colors

I chose dark blue (almost navy), dark hunter green, and light green.  I know you’re probably thinking, “Christie, leaves aren’t blue!” I know, but it’s amazing what you can create when you use colors that aren’t your typical choices.  Don’t be afraid to try something a little outside the box!

2. Start sketching your leaf silhouettes.

Now that you have gathered your three favorite colors and a white, go ahead and get your mixed media pad and your Sharpie pen.  You are going to start lightly sketching the silhouette of the leaves as seen in the following video. 

Christie sketches leaves with a sharpie and begin to fill them.

In essence, you want your leaves to look very loose and light. So just let your pen flow.  Play with the shapes. They do not need to be perfect!  In addition, you can add a stem coming off of a few of your leaves if you would like.  

3. Begin painting your base.

Grab a few brushes.  You can refer back to the brushes I mentioned above, which you can find in my brush set labeled as brush numbers 6, 1, and 3. 

Get your angled brush and start loading on the darkest color you have. In my case, I used dark blue.  As you place your brush onto the paper, you will want to push it down in the middle of the leaf to create more width and thickness.  Then you will want to let up on the pressure as you approach the tips of the leaves.  

Teal paint brush set
Paint Brush Set

As for the tips of the leaves, you will want to come in with your small liner brush. Start at the tips of your leaves, rest your wrist on the pad, and gently guide your liner brush along the edge as you lighten pressure to make it thinner until it disappears.  This will create a nice, thinning edge for your leaf tips.  Keep in mind, less pressure equals thinner lines… more pressure equals thicker lines.  Here is a quick clip to help you with those leaf tips.

Christie paints the tips of the leaves.

If you need to go back and do some more filling in, I recommend swapping to your small round brush.  You can always swap back to the thin liner brush to continue working on those leaf tips.  When you do use your thin liner brush, you should still load it with plenty of paint. You still need the full brush stroke even with the thin lines for your leaf points. 

4. Start mixing colors and layering.

Now grab your round brush, if you don’t already have it handy, and begin mixing your darkest color with your next darkest color.  In my case, I began mixing dark blue with dark hunter green to make different shades.  The first new shade looks kind of like a dark forest green. Just play around with the amount of each color. There is no wrong here. What do you want to be your dominant color? Start with that, and then slowly add in the secondary color. Make yourself a color swatch on scrap paper to see if you like it. In the beginning, it’s super important to have swatches on white paper so you can see the true color without being influenced by the colors that may be next to it on the palette.

Christie holding a small paintbrush adding darker detail to the outer edge of the middle leaf.
Christie starts to layer colors.

Then, using that same brush, begin to throw in some brush strokes on top of those leaves you originally had.  After you add a few strokes, go back and start mixing in the lightest color that you chose (not the white yet).  For me, I chose a light green, so I’m adding the light green directly into the brush right onto the leaf I’m painting.  

Don’t be afraid to add new brush strokes on top of wet paint to create beautiful color mixing and texture.  When you add these colors on top of each other and mix as you go, this creates uniqueness in your leaves that will never be identical to anyone else’s.  

As you layer, be sure to not completely cover the layer below your current strokes.  Let those colors beneath come through in order to add depth.

Christie pressing a small paint brush layering a lighter shade to the leaf.
Christie layers paint colors.

5. Start adding white to your lightest color.

Finally, start adding in white to your lightest color.  As you add more white, throw a few strokes onto your leaves, while still not completely covering the colors below.  Use the white to add contrast and highlight. 

Christie is using her paintbrush to create variation on the leaf using brush strokes with the lighter shade.
Christie adds the lightest layer.

6. Admire your work!

Look what you have accomplished! Look at the beauty, uniqueness, and depth of each leaf. I told you could do it!  

I hope you find this leaf painting tutorial useful!  Just like we are all different and unique, so are leaves.  So, there is no one perfect leaf… take your time, and be proud of what you have created!

Post a picture and share what you learned on The Social Easel Facebook Page!

Stay creative!!

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