True to the nature of autumn, rain and winds have blown many leaves off our trees creating a bed of colorful leaves on the ground. Painting layers of leaves is a fun way to practice negative painting, glazing with thin layers of color, and softening edges--three skills you will use over and over again while painting.
Visually, lighter objects in a painting move forward. Darker objects move backward. This is one of the ways we create depth in a painting. In negative painting we are painting the negative space around the subject. In this case, when we paint the areas around the leaves, we are also creating a darker layer. When we add a leaf to this darker area, the leaf appears to move farther away visually.
To create a painting with layers of leaves, select three primary colors to use in your painting--a red, blue and yellow. You can mix additional colors from these three, such as mixing blue and red, to make purple. I selected Phthalo blue, Aureolin for my yellow, and Permanent Alizarin Crimson for my red. I also used New Gamboge, a rich shade of yellow, and Burnt Sienna to begin the first layer.
Begin by taping your paper to a backboard on all sides. A one-fourth sheet of watercolor paper (11 x 15") will give you plenty of room to build your leaf layers. The demonstration is on a 9 x 12 inch sheet. I'm using Arches 140# cold press paper.
Wet your paper with a spray bottle or by brushing clear water across the paper. Pour off excess water by holding your paper vertically and wiping away the drips that collect at the edge of the tape. When the paper has had time to absorb the water, create a juicy multi-colored wash on the paper with the lightest shades of the colors you've selected. I chose to use shades of yellow and burnt sienna. Let this first layer dry completely.
Draw or trace a leaf on the dry wash, as above. Create a background for that leaf by painting a thin layer of color around its edges and brushing that color out until the edge disappears (known as soft edges or losing edges).
To soften the edges, rinse your brush with clear water and brush the damp brush across the edges of the glaze. When this glaze is completely dry, draw another leaf and create a glaze around that leaf, letting it dry completely before adding the next. As you add leaves, draw the leaves so they are partially hidden under the leaf before it. As you work, notice how the water and pigment interact and make adjustments to how much water you use if needed.
Above, you see a bloom (upper right) created by too much water in relation to pigment. The water moved the pigment beyond the softened edge. You may find that you get the mix of water and pigment just right sometimes and other times, not. Sometimes you may forget to let the glaze dry. Notice what happens. Explore and play.
The smoothness of my layers improved with practice. Below, you can see the progression of the layers and how the painting begins to change with each additional glaze.
As I worked, I noticed that I liked the way the greens began to cool down the yellows. I also liked seeing the pigment under the glaze shining through.
Could you see the leaves moving backward as you glazed? What did you notice about color? I enjoyed watching the greens on the right side of my painting (below) turn to that beautiful shade of blue. Purple mixed from the same blue created a lovely accent.
Below is another one of my explorations on an 11 x 15 inch quarter sheet of Arches 140# cold press paper.
And here's another one below, created some time ago, with iris blossoms and leaves.
Links and resources:
Fun with Fall Leaves series