Saturday, 26 September 2015

Thinking About Leaves, more on Vellum

This week I've been continuing with the 30 day challenge and came back to the old problem with painting leaves....nothing lets a botanical painting down more than poorly painted foliage and the worst case scenario is badly painted leaf on vellum! Don't think no one will notice if your leaves aren't up to scratch....they will! It's always worth brushing up on leaves so this week I've been preparing new tasks for some of my students and leaves are always firmly on the agenda for me too. ...they need constant practice.

Here's a video of a leaf I painted on vellum this morning, sped up x16 so that gives you an idea of the actual time frame.

Almost finished, the autumn leaf on vellum
I love to paint leaves and autumn is the most exciting time with a variety of rich colours. Tidy edges are vital, as are clean highlights which should not lifted, overworking is an absolute no-no! it's always obvious if you do any of these, so there is no hiding place with leaves. Best advice is to keep it clean.... if it's not.... well forget it and start over until its right!

Rough measurements of a leaf in perspective

I believe that it really is all about observation of the the light and shade, so often I see leaves painted in a 'stylised' fashion, with 'tramline veins' that don't mirror the actual venation of the leaf. My recommendation is always to 'really look' at leaf and forget what you think know and just 'see' what's really there. Yes always take basic measurements of height, width and widest point etc. get the facts first but then look at how the light hits the subject. Start with a leaf portrait first and then move on to leaves perspective. Here are some of my leaf portraits from over the years.
Cherry leaf on vellum from around 2007. The thing I really love about vellum is the way its possible to 'polish' the surface and creates a shine. Work on vellum should never have thickened paint at the edges and should take full advantage of the translucency that can be achieved on this surface but you can also create that lovely texture using the different dry brush techniques

Decaying lime leaf on vellum, again vellum is great for detail and translucency, A sharp pointed brush is required, such as W & N series 7 miniature, size 4 and 1

Hydrangea on Fabriano artistico..... the technique is much the same as for vellum, lots of dry brush work over the wash.

Herb Robert on Fabriano artistico, love the rich autumn colours. Transparent colours are a must. I like Transparent Yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow in leaf mixes is a favourite. Steer clear of opaque yellows and try to have no more than 3 single pigment colours if you want to keep it fresh looking.

One of my early leaves on vellum. Horse Chestnut on Kelmscott, maybe 2008

Cherry with a leaf minor cast, 2010

Lime leaf on vellum, 2010

Mahonia on vellum, with some lovely dacay!

Red Maple on vellum

Red Maple on paper

Shiny dark greens with the Camellia on paper. Cerulean or Manganese blue makes a good 'shine' colour on those dark green leaves

Building up the layers on vellum.....doesn't always look so neat in the early stages. I use a 5 stage process which I've developed and I believe it works. can get a great shine in the end!
This one on natural vellum is perfect for decaying leaves but a little less suitable for flowers

My process is pretty much the same on paper but less washes are possible on vellum, this is  a rhododendron leaf on paper.Stippling dry brush over a wash similar to vellum

Leaf portraits are fun to do and you can learn much from them! They always sell well too, so why not start a leaf library.


  1. Fabulous post Dianne, as always. I was fascinated with the video too. Amazing how many layers you can get on the vellum and still have crisp clean work. A very good example of "Practice makes perfect". Beautiful.

    1. Thank you Laura. It always takes a day or two to get back into painting on vellum.,,, to judge the amount of water..,,, or lack of it

  2. Brilliant! I love your leaves too!

  3. Your leaves are very beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Dianne.. your leaf portraits are very lovely...