Leaves, water colour
Autumn is often tantalizingly beautiful, and while I miss the longer days, I love the colours, and the long slow transition between summer and winter. The clues start early, with the first leaves going towards gold in August, on the Chestnut trees. This year, it seemed as if there wouldn’t be much autumn colour, for the leaves on all the other trees remained green even into November, so I was expecting a storm to blow them clean away. However, I was wrong, and the days have remained dryer, and the leaves have indeed provided a stunning display of bronzes, russets, crimsons and gold.
My weekly students have taken the challenge as always, and did a study of the colours and patterns on leaves recently. If you would like to try, here are your tools for success**.
1. Get outside! Luckily, leaves DO grow on trees, so keep an eye out in the park - keep your head down, and be fussy.
2. Look for leaves with only two colours on them, at first. Perhaps a pale yellow colour, with darker yellow or brownish patterning. Or a yellowy leaf with russet or green patterns.
3. ‘Pattern’ may mean a mottled texture, or colours created by autumn deterioration. Look for leaves with character, and don’t expect to find ‘the perfect one’. You will discover, once you start picking them up, that another one will turn up nearby, and another, until your eye becomes expert at spotting them from several feet away... Some will have a nice long reddish stem, others have a good overall shape. Don’t begin with a red leaf please.
4. Overall shape IS important - if the leaf is too ripped or shredded by the wind, you won’t like the painting. We do have an idea of what leaves ‘should’ look like (even though our idea is rarely accurate) so bear this in mind when you are sifting in the park. In other words, make sure you like it.
5. When you get home, spread them out on a clear plain surface. They will begin to curl almost immediately. Let them do this - but if they are too curly, you can soak them in water for a while. Don’t flatten them...!
6. Choose one to start. Lay it on a piece of white paper and consider the lighting. Shine a lamp on it, and experiment by moving the lamp around, then move the paper around too, to see where the best shadows are.
7. Start drawing. Begin at the point where the stalk meets the leaf (see pic below)and draw outwards in all directions from that point, using short lines - use the veins as a wonderful guide. Begin all the veins before extending them to their full length.
8. Take note of the Anatomy of the leaf and how the veins go towards a point. In other words, allow your eye to move around to compare placement, don’t look at the veins without noting where they are going in relation to the outside of the leaf, and in relation to the other veins.
9. Once it’s drawn in, including the shadows, draw some small boxes, about 4cm x 4cm. Use these to practice laying down washes, lightest tone first, and play with wet-on-wet.
10. Look at this example. This is a student’s study, and all work took two and a half hours. She spent a long time working in the boxes - getting confused, but then realizing that there were no consequences, it was just to find out what happens, then really enjoyed moving on to the larger leaf. It didn’t get ‘finished’, but that wasn’t the point.