Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fun with Fall Leaves--Enjoying Movement and Surprise

Leaves are small food factories that use cholorophyll to help produce energy through photosynthesis, a process of converting sunlight into sugars and starches.  During the hot days of mid-august, trees perceive the tiniest changes in their environment, such as the day length, light quality and temperature.
As autumn approaches, chlorophyll in the leaves is broken down into nitrogen, sugars and starches and moved to storage cells in the twigs in preparation for winter.  As the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves decreases, the more brilliant fall colors appear.
When I looked at these sassafras leaves a few days ago, they were mostly green.  In fact, I had trouble finding any leaves at all that were showing red, orange or gold.  Our nights (in east Tennessee) had not been cold enough.  But a couple of nights of near freezing and below freezing temperatures and brilliant colors began to pop out everywhere.  
I taped my Arches 140 lb watercolor paper to a backboard and started this leaf painting by wetting the paper while flat, then setting the backboard on an easel so that the painting surface was nearly upright.  (To see the easel I'm using click here.) As excess water ran down the paper onto the tape, I wiped it with a paper towel.  I waited until the wet shine on the paper became dull before beginning to paint.  The shine means the water is still on the surface and will dilute the pigment too much.

When I mixed the yellow paint to begin the leaf, I used more pigment and less water, so the color moved downward slowly.
I decided it was moving too slowly, not quite enough water, so I squirted some water on the lower edge of the leaf so the paint would move more (above). The fun of this approach to painting is that all the drips, runs, water marks and surprises encourage exploration to see what happens.  This is both a way to paint and a good practice for loosening up and learning about watercolor movement.

Movement is one of the most appealing aspects of watercolor and part of its mystery. You make a decision, watch what happens, and then make your next decision--one decision at a time.  With time and practice, you can anticipate and direct more of what will happen, but surprises will always be a part of watercolor magic.
I added red to parts of the leaf, and again used less water and more pigment in my paint mix.  I didn't want the red to move very far.  I then lifted the painting off the easel and holding it in my hand at less of an angle, brushed some water into the red to lighten it, allowing some of the color to run past the edge of the leaf sketch, as shown below, in the upper left.
At this point, I waited for the painting to dry some.  I want to add paint to the background next.
I use WN phthalo blue to create a background, the same blue that was used to add the green to the leaf color. Using the same blue helps to unify the colors in the painting.   The blue blends with some of the yellow underneath that is not completely dry and makes a nice varigated wash.  Knowing how much paint and how much water to mix comes with practice.
I wanted the background paint to run a little more so I sprayed the area with water and let it flow downward. I am using an old hair spray bottle that creates a fine mist.
I then added more pigment to make the background darker.  I love this affect.  It is fun to watch the colors fuse and run.  You can lighten with water or darken by adding another stroke of paint.  My painting surface is still vertical as I apply the paint.  If I lay the painting flat at this point the paint will flow backward creating water marks or blooms.  Try an experiment with one of your practices and watch this happen.  Blooms can add texture and interest to a painting and there will be times when you will want to use them.
As the water moves down the paper, I wipe the puddles away with a paper towel along the edge of the tape. My easel has a tray but I don't want water to collect there and drip onto the table making a mess that I might forget about.  At this point I let the paint dry slightly, leaving the painting in this position, until the paint has dried enough to stop moving.
I want to add some color around other areas of the leaf so I turn the painting to direct the paint flow and add a light background around the edge of the center lobe of the leaf on the right.  The paper is damp and I only add a small amount of paint to add a hint of color.  I wait for this to dry a bit.

Below, I have turned the painting again, so that it is upside down, and add paint to the right side which will be the left side when the painting is rightside up.

I add more paint to the lower edge of the leaf and fill in the little cut-out.  I then spray some water (below) to help the paint move to soften the edges.  I try not to hit the yellow area with the spray but it will be okay if I do.
I let the paint dry some with the painting still on the easel and then turn the painting right side up to see what I have.  I like this atmospheric movement in the background. What do you think?  You can see some small white spots in the upper left area where the mist landed on the pigment and moved it.
As you paint, you can turn the painting in different directions as it sits on the easel, or change the angle by holding the painting in your hand, or lay the painting flat or with only a slight tilt for the entire process.  There are many choices for approaching watercolor.  The angle of the painting surface influences the paint movement.  The more you learn about how water and paint move, the more at ease you will feel with watercolor.
While painting the large areas, I used a #10 round brush.  I have selected two other brushes (shown above) to use while working on the detail--my #3 round brush (left) and my #2 rigger.  The rigger is the best brush for making thin lines, such as grasses, twigs on trees, or the veins of a leaf! If you haven't used a rigger before, fill a page in your sketchbook with practice brush strokes using your rigger.  This helps to give you the feel of handling the brush and see the magic created by its long bristles.
I have used the elements of several of my leaves combined to create this leaf painting. To finish, I settle on one of them to use as my guide for creating some of the final detail on the leaf.

The veins on these sassafras leaves were much more apparent once the leaf turned yellow and it was interesting to see how the red broke through.  Sometimes an entire section between veins turned red, sometimes a fuzzy red smudge appeared.   I noticed all these details while studying the leaves because I wanted to paint them!  
You can add as much detail or as little as you want.  Above, you can see how I finished my leaf, adding brown spots and veins.

If you have tried some of the "Fun with Fall Leaves" paintings, send me a note about your experience, an image or a link to your blog post at:  vickiehenderson13 (at) gmail (dot) com. Use symbols in the email address.  It will be fun to see other styles and explorations of fall leaves in watercolor!

Next:  Layering leaves

Fun with Fall Leaves series
Why Leaves Change Color
Winsor Newton Watercolors

1 comment:

  1. Another beautiful step by step. Thanks Vickie. You certainly have a lovely way with autumn subjects.

    ReplyDelete

Welcome! I am glad to hear your comments, questions and feedback! Vickie

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