Whilst wandering around the garden in late autumn I discovered some rather gorgeous looking Magnolia leaves still hanging onto our tree. There was a golden carpet beneath too which caught my eye. I collected 3 leaves and decided to paint them. Thankfully there were still some on the tree if these ones started to fade.
The first thing to do was to try and protect them from drying up. I took reference photos and then into the fridge they went in a plastic bag! Sadly, overnight they had gone very brown and the lovely gold hues I wanted to paint had disappeared. Thank goodness there will still some on the tree for colour reference.
I started by drawing up my three leaves onto tracing paper then used a black fine liner to outline my drawings. From here I could then put them on my lightpad in position and trace them off carefully with an H pencil onto my watercolour paper.
Once transferred onto my watercolour paper I very carefully used a Faber Castell kneadable rubber to remove excess graphite. Take care not to rub, just press it onto the graphite and then lift it up as you go. If you rub you’ll ruin the surface of the paper. You can use Bluetac to do this too but beware some papers have less sizing than others. Bluetac may remove some of the surface. A Faber Castell kneadable rubber is far softer.
Mixing the colours
The next stage was to mix up my colours, the lovely golden hues and browns. For your reference all are W&N colours unless specified: Burnt Sienna (BS), Burnt Umber (BU), Indanthrene Blue (Ind), Quinacridone Gold (QG), Indigo (I), Transparent Yellow (Trans Y), Winsor Lemon (LY or WL), Permanent Rose (PR), Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (S.RML). Also 2 + QG (top row far right) equals Brown no. 2 plus QG. See photo of my swatches below. More recently (2020), since writing this blog, I would not use Indigo as this is an opaque pigment. Sennelier Rose Madder Lake is also very close to Permanent Rose in tone.
You may notice in the next photos that I have cut out the shape of my leaves on some tracing paper and laid it over the top of my painting. This is to protect it from splashes. It’s better to use layout paper as tracing paper curls up a little with the heat of your hand against it. I have also found you can catch your paintbrush on the curled edge!
The first wet-in-wet wash!
To begin with I added a pale transparent yellow wash all over to enhance the brightness of all that followed. This was allowed to dry thoroughly. On the next layer I used wet-in-wet technique and started to introduce some of the mixes from my palette. On the second layer I painted each section of the leaf individually and added in more colour to strengthen. After this a little of the shadowing was added on the leaf ridges. This highlighted the veins. There are some more videos later in this blog explaining these techniques. You can scroll down now if you want to know now!
Once I was happy with the intensity of the gold and tan tones over the leaf, I again worked to enhance the veining and add in small details; the smaller veins and dots. I gradually working my way across the leaf up to the curled edge. I added more of my gold/burnt sienna mix to strengthen up the background layers in places. These washes were softening out at the edges of the painted area to ensure no hard edge lines.
I then used my Eraser brush (Billy Showell Eradicator) to enhance the light veins. Here is a little video which explains how I approached this. Once this was done this the whole thing starts to appear more 3D. I used to use 2 types, Jacksons Icon 1/8th inch series 702 and a stiffer one which is white synthetic – ProArte sterling 201 oil acrylic short flat size 0 (this is a long handled brush so I cut the end off!). On reflection the Pro Arte brush is far too abrasive for the surface of the paper. Now, (2020), I use a Billy Showell Eradicator brush which is perfect for everything. It has a nice small stiff tip and is slightly shaped so you can erase really fine veins as well as bring out highlights with a very gentle circular motion. The image here shows a Rosemary & Co. Eradicator to the left and a Billy Showell Eradicator, right. The Rosemary & Co. Eradicator is much wider.
After this I started to work on the twisted broken part of the leaf. This was a challenge as I needed to show the curves and twists to clearly get a good effect. Accurate shading and highlights will ensure this looks realistic. I painted the brown in first leaving a nice highlight of paler colour where the light hit the subject. Other colours were also added, a grey/brown, warm golden brown and .a beige mix Finally, I carefully used the tip of my eraser brush to lift out lighter parts to create the veined areas. You need to look carefully for the deepest shadows and darken the colour in those areas.
To get the papery effect on the little bits sticking out at the base of the leaf I used a very pale beige tone and dotted a grey mix into it. I also painted a darker grey very occasionally along the very edge on the smaller bits. It is best not to paint the whole edge or it will look too heavy.
Lastly, I strengthened up the golden areas of the leaf with a thin glaze of my gold mix. I finished the right side of the leaf using the same techniques! Once both sides were done, I noticed a little green tinges over some of the leaf. I added my green mix in a very thin glaze to those areas. Leaf no. 1 is now finished!
Leaf no. 2 – lots of videos here!
As this leaf was quite large I used wet-in-wet technique on each section between the side veins rather than paint the whole thing at once. A smaller area would allow me to work longer and get more done on the first wet layer. It was easier to make sections as there were a lot of different tones. Painting each section alternately also ensures that they do not bleed into one another. Firstly, I laid a thin layer of Transparent yellow down to keep the overlying layers nice a bright. This was left to dry thoroughly. Here’s a video to explain the process.
Once I’d completed three sections I continued into the bottom right part of the leaf. Here’s a little video explaining how I did this part.
Now for the top part, an area which thins and is very intricate. You need to be very careful to not go over the edges when wetting the paper. Very small areas are best painted in the normal way rather than wet-in-wet. At this stage, once the painting was thoroughly dry, I erased some of the graphite drawing with a soft rubber. The graphite will erase at this stage but not after the next layer. If you use too much pressure when drawing these lines will be harder to erase. Softer lead pencils will also be very dark and leave graphite dust on the paper. This will interfere with your painting. Here’s a video explaining.
Below shows both sides of the the wet-in-wet layers completed and dry. Now I just need to apply all the fine detail and shadowing. Notice on the picture below I have left out a very small area half way down on the left. This part of the leaf is far too small and intricate for wet-in-wet so I will fill this in later with glazing and dry brush. By the way, you can if you prefer, start with the left side, I just happen to prefer working from right to left.
I got carried away and started doing some of the dry brush work at the top of the leaf, my favourite part! It’s starting to come to life. The papery grey area will be challenging and make for very interesting painting!
Well that’s it for now. I hope this blog and videos have helped you and I’ll be back soon with another Blog.
Until next time happy painting!
*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017