Autumn leaves can be difficult! …but with all of those wonderful colours, such a delight to paint.
In this blog I hope to help you understand the method more clearly. I found this Hedera (Ivy) leaf in my garden and decided to paint it as it was so colourful. It sang out to me with those colours of Autumn when they just begin to show.
When I start a painting a subject of any type, I first study it carefully. I look at texture, colour, pattern, form, growing habit, shape and how the light falls on it before I start to draw. The drawing will be more accurate if you take time to study your subject carefully. Look at every little detail and blemish. Fall in love with it!
I loved this Hedera leaf with its wonderful colours and the first stage was to mix my palette. When you do this look for all the tones and shades. There will be many more than you imagine!
All about the colours…
My swatch included the greens, yellows and browns – quite a few of these. I added to this palette as I went along, with some darker shades for the stalk and blemishes on the leaf.
This is my leaf along side my final swatch. If you look you can see two different shades of green, a darker one at the edges which is blue in tone and the lighter one across the leaf which is a more yellow green. There are many browns too! Here’s how my swatch works: The X signs are colours I’ve didn’t use after testing.
The green mixes (1&2) are made from Winsor Blue Green Shade (WB), Transparent yellow (TY) and a tiny bit of Permanent Rose (PR). The PR rounds the green to make it less stark and more natural looking. Green No. 2 has a little more WB added than the No. 1. The bluer one is used around the edge of the leaf and to define the shadows in between the small veins at the fine detail stage. The yellower green is for the main area of the leaf. My yellow shade is purely TY (3) and sometimes TY plus water (H20).
There are many shades of brown, 6 to be exact. These all vary slightly. The darkest ones are for blemishes and the stalk, 7, 8 and 9. No.s 4, 5, 6 and 10 are the ones used on the brown areas of the leaf. No. 11 is the green/yellow used at the top of the stalk only. Here are the mixes for 4-11:
4 – Burnt Sienna (BS), Quinacridone Gold (QG) and Winsor Violet (WV) = (= means a little bit!). In addition I have added a little more QG to make a slightly yellower version of no. 4.
5 – BS, QG and Indathrine Blue (IB) = (=a little bit). Again I have mixed a slightly darker version of this tone by adding a little more IB.
6 – BS, IB and QG=
7 – IB, QG and PR (Permanent Rose) making a black
8 – IB, QG and PR with extra PR and QG making a reddish brown
9 – IB, QG and PR with extra PR and QG plus a little extra IB making a dark brown
10 – BS, QG and IB= making a conker rusty brown
11 – TY (Transparent yellow) and WB= making a pale greeny/yellow
Let’s start painting the wet-in-wet layer!
So to begin with, for the first layer, I used wet-in-wet technique on one side of leaf at a time. Always do one side at a time because if you try to do both sides at once, one side will dry up on you before you get there!
You will need to use good quality Hot Pressed watercolour paper for this technique as it will not work on ordinary watercolour paper. I am using my every dwindling old stock Fabriano paper which is perfect but the quality has changed completely over the last two years. An alternative paper, which I tested recently, is St. Cuthbert’s Mill Bockingford Traditional Watercolour HP white. This paper I find as good as the old Fabriano for wet-in-wet.
Firstly, I wet the whole area carefully and evenly. When doing this technique take care not to leave pockets of water but aim for a smooth all over effect. You’ll need a No. 6 full bodied pointed tip sable brush. Fill your brush with water and make a puddle in the middle of the area first. The following two photos show an example of wet-in-wet I photographed for a Pear painting.
Carefully move the water with the tip of the brush into the uncovered areas. Along the edges use the tip and move the water very slowly around the edge of your drawing. The point will help you to get the water accurately up to the line for a nice neat edge. Try not to go too fast when doing this.
Now check for puddles and sweep off some of the water as needed. Don’t sweep too much off or you’ll end up with a dry bit!
Once the area is even and full, turn the paper sideways to check you have covered every little bit evenly. Now wait until the water is at a ‘glistening’ stage. When it is ready it will look shiny. It’s important to catch it just at the right time. If you wait too long it will start to dry on you. Once the whole are is covered and glistening you are ready to apply your paint.
Drop your paint (a light-medium thickness, not thick!) into the areas where it appears taking care to leave highlights clear of paint to start with. Rinse and dry your brush off before adding new colours onto the painting. The paint will spread out naturally. I have blobbed the green and yellow paint in on this side which gives the impression of the smaller veins in between where the paper shows through. You can move the paint around a little and wipe it out with a dry brush too. Add more pigment to areas like the edges on my leaf where the green is stronger if you have time. Move quickly and if any area starts to dry out on you, STOP! and leave it all to dry thoroughly. DON’T attempt to keep going as you will ruin the layer. Once it’s dry you can repeat the whole process again to get your first layer down.
Now do the same to the other side once the first side has dried completely!
Your first layers should look like this, a bit wishy washy, but it is best to work with a lighter mix than a thicker one or your paint will go smudgy. Notice where I have left the highlights clear of paint.
Now the first layer is done, make sure it is completely dry before you attempt the second layer.
Painting the second layer…
The second layer is the layer where you will add more colour to enhance the first layer. In this photo the left side looks more colourful now. On the right side I have started the 3rd layer which involves graduated washes. I am now using my no.2 full bodied pointed sable brush. I have added washes to dry paper which smoothes out the leaf making the appearance more solid, but without losing the highlights. Where the arrow is, I have already started to add a little of my shadow mix to create form and depth. My shadow mix is a very watered down version mix of No. 6 on my swatch. It creates just the right tone for shadows on this area. Test your watered down mix first as they can appear watery but still dry darker! On some areas I will use No.4 for shadowing depending how pale the shading appears on the subject. Towards the top part of my leaf (right side) I have used no. 4 rather than no.6.
Below I have started to add some of my darker blue green mix along the edges of the veins and washed it out to make smooth graduations.To do the graduated wash apply a damp brush along the edge of the paint so that it fades away smoothly rather than leaving a definite line. These washes line the edge of the veins as well as giving form to the undulations. In areas between the main veins I have made shapes to define the smaller veins more using this same method. Fiddly work!
Now the right side is starting to look more formed I will do the left side using my different shades of brown to create the mottled pattern. Firstly, I’ve applied graduated washes along the bottom sides of the larger veins. Again, I’ve worked into the areas in between to define the undulations using the same method. You can see how it’s starting to take shape now. Lastly, I added a thin wash of BS & QG mix to enhance and warm up the browns (see swatch above).
I couldn’t resist painting the stalk earlier in the painting! I just love fine detail work. For the stalk I began by putting a thin wash of no. 11 all the way down the stem. Then I added the brown details using 4, 5 (darker one) and 9. It’s all dry fine detail work on the stalk. Lastly, I added thin washes of my shadow colour no. 6 along the left and right side to create the curve of the stalk which is more obvious at the top where the leaf begins.
The final details…
To finish up the left side I applied more shades of brown to create the patterning using no. 4, 5 (darker version) and 6. I’ve enhanced the shadowing under the larger veins again. Finally, I added in the rusty parts (no. 10) and fine detail using 7 & 8. Well it almost looks finished….. except I’ve added a fine wash along the left side of the middle vein to give depth and enhance the dip where the leaf bends.
The finished painting…
So that’s it, all done! I would like to have kept more light on the right side of the leaf but with all the working into the small veins it disappeared a little. We learn something from everything we paint!
Any question please feel free to contact me via here or PM on facebook!
Hedera hibernica – copyright Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017. All rights reserved.