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Remember how much fun we had when we painted Fall leaves? (It’s still the highest-ranking post I’ve ever put up here on this blog — people love painting Fall leaves! See the October 18 post called October is the Coyote Month.)

Well, this is the Spring version of our Fall Leaf Painting Lesson.

In the May chapter of When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I have a painting of my dearly-departed mulberry tree. Thank DoG that I painted this wonderful tree before it was cut down to make way for a parking garage  (but then, my sorrow at the loss of this tree did give me the only occasion in my life when I thought I heard the voice of an angel — story on page 81)…still, I miss that tree.

That was my favorite in-town tree when I lived on the north side of the Long Island Sound. Now that I am living on the south side of the water, my favorite tree is the wild quince tree that grows in the ramshackle yard of the creepy haunted house across the street. In Spring, it looks like this:

Here’s a detail of the quince leaf:

Right now (May 15) the quince leaves are still too itty bitty to be interesting as a leaf painting, but the white violets in the backyard are in full bloom:

So let’s paint us some white violet leaves.

First step, make a pencil drawing of the leaves:

Which is too faint to scan, so here’s the black-marker drawing showing the cells that I chose to outline (the leaves have many more cells than this but you can’t paint them all — choose the biggest ones, the ones that make the most interesting intersections):

For a big (well, big relatively speaking)  cell, I apply a coat of clear water, then I dab in some green paint to get a washy-swirly affect:

(Test your paint before applying — I mix two or three different greens from my watercolor pans so I get more complex green than the one that come straight from the box.)

‘(See? How the water thins and swirls the color in the cell? Everybody say “Ooooooooooo.”)

Repeat for all the big[ger] cells, but make sure that they are not contiguous, comme ca:

Now you can go back and paint the smaller cells with a loaded paintbrush (in other words, don’t do the clear-water wash, just dab color onto your brush and let rip.)

BUT:  here’s the secret for painting Spring leaves: when you paint a new cell next to one that is already painted and dry, you get a nice outline without trying:

The lines of the cells are a result of simply painting each cell side-by-side.

This one came out very green. I’m going to use a lighter touch for the next leaf:


I did not have to outline a single cell: I let the paint do all the work.

Now get out there and paint some greenery!

P.S. There is another painting lesson on October 1 called I’m a Paint-Stained Wretch about painting sunsets — and my first ever painting lesson from last August is on the top of this blog, that button called Painting August. One of these days I might organize all my painting lessons and give them sane titles, but don’t count on it. I’m not that organized.

And while I’m on the road on my Great Pacific Great Northwest Tour, I’ll only have one post a week — meet me here next Monday for my next painting lesson — on rain!

6 comments to A new leaf. (Painting Lesson No. 3 1/2)

  • JOAN

    How I love your tutorials…so generous of you to take the time to share your techniques with us.

    The spring greens you’ve chosen are wonderful. I’m so ready for spring without wind, but looks like this is The Year of Wind. Keeps me inside and cranky. I loathe wind.

    I hope your tour is going and well and that you’re having a great time. Can’t wait to hear all about it when you get back.


  • Gigi

    Vivian, thank you for another fantastic watercolour painting lesson! Your painting style resonates with me and I adore the simplicity and clarity of your instructions.

    I would be the first in line to buy a Vivian Swift Painting with Watercolours How-to book. You’ve already got some fantastic content for another manuscript right here on your blog; you could simply lift the lessons right from here. But it’s probably too soon to talk about another book when you’re still basking in the glow of completing that Damn France manuscript. (I’m waiting anxiously for it to get to the book stores.)

    Thank you again for sharing your painting tips with us; you are an inspiration! I’m going outside right now to pick a violet leaf so I can try my hand at painting a spring leaf.

  • Susie

    Yes please, The Vivian Swift How To Paint book! And what are those paints you’re using, please?

    Maybe an E-book so you don’t have to deal with, ahem, an editor…..

    Thinking of you having a blast on your trip! We’re still having rain here in New York state. A squint of sun today, then back to rain. Maybe you’ve got sun in The Great Northwest?
    And it smells like Fall, never got to smell Spring and what’s happened to Summer? (notice all the seasons have a capital letter?)

    Come back to us safely.

  • I think you may be a genius! I just followed this tutorial to paint radish leaves. If you would like to see how your pupil did, they are here –
    I did enjoy painting these – thank you so much.
    I, too, think you should publish an art instruction book.

  • This is my first visit to your blog (thank you marancat!), and I loved your tutorial. Thank you so much! nancy

  • Suzanne

    Ditto all of the above! I’ve nearly always made such a muddy mess of leaves, and didn’t know what I did when I got it right. This is a great help, and thanks Marancat for sharing! Suzanne

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