This Month’s Most Important Cup of Tea


As you can see, I am of two minds when it comes to October.

What kind of month is it? It is either the End of Easy Living (oh, how I love feeling 10 years younger every day in Summer Mind), or it’s The Beginning of Coziness (I look better in soft wooly sweaters than in tank tops). Hard to tell, so why choose?

Here’s a season-appropriate take on our conversation last week, re: Fine Art v. Illustration.

This is Fine Art:


This is Illustration:


Here’s proof (by me, of course):


One thing that I know for sure about October is that it is time to find my Perfect Fall Leaf of the Year.

I’ve been searching far and near: my backyard:, a walk around the block, and a journey to a little nature preserve that is 9 miles away but the way I drive, it’s 24 1/2 (I’ve been living here 11 years on Long Island and I can still get lost 5 miles from home.) The color out there is pretty spectacular:


Notice that I prefer to take my Fall Color photos on an overcast day.


That’s because I work exclusively from photos, and low light is the only way to get real color out of the scene. For contrast, here’s a picture I took on a gloriously sunny day:


See that center radiance? In real life, it was a vibrant glowing orange — not a pale yellow; the bright light washed out the whole loveliness of this view. So I prefer to get the photo with color — light effects I can paint in on my own, later.

But still…is there anything more wonderful than a bright and mild Fall Day?


Besides any random old day in SUMMER, I mean?

I found some interesting color when I stopped by a local garden called Cedarmere, home of William Cullen Bryant (read all about him and his garden in my Damn Garden Book):



You will never catch me painting out in the public like this:


For one thing, I can not stand up while I paint. Just can’t do it. Well, come to think of it, I can do it, I just don’t want to.

Every year my annual Fall Leaf Painting post gets the most hits of anything else I put up on this blog — literally tens of people tune in. Just to remind you, here’s the last leaf I painted (before this blog went florange), in 2013:


This year, before I set to painting The Perfect Fall Leaf of 2015, I’m going to show you something that I’ve never discussed. I’m going to show you  how I choose my Perfect Fall Leaf to paint.

First of all, it can’t be boring:



That leaf above is from a Tulip Tree, which can grow to 60 – 80 feet straight up. They are called The Redwoods of the East and were one of the first trees sent from the American colonies back to England, where they became (and still are) a favorite shade tree for large country estate gardens. Their foliage is prized for its brilliant yellow-spectrum hues:


But what I’ve shown you so far are just baby Tulip Tree leaves. Here’s a grown-up one:


Yeah, I’m not painting that.

My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it must contain every color of the season, particularly green; to do that, I have to get it either right before or right after it falls off the branch. Timing is everything in the Fall, because nothing moves faster than the peak of this season.

Here is what is wrong with the following beautiful Fall leaves:


I don’t do interesting viens anymore, because I did some in past years and they don’t look real, or convincing as an illustration, no matter how perfectly you paint them, like this:


For the same reason, I also don’t paint weird leaves, like this:


I did this interestingly weird leaf (below) to a T, and I’ve never really cared for the end product:


This next leaf is a nice mix of colors, but it’s small:


And I’ve learned that these kind of small, chicken-poxy leaves, in the end, don’t have enough oomph to be a Perfect, Stand Alone Fall Leaf:


I’m willing to consider a little decrepitude, if it’s picturesque enough:


But I also want to do something that I haven’t done before:


Too generic:


Too long-stemmed:


Too beat up:


But my search was not entirely in vain. I did find a few leaves that might, maybe, possibly be The One.

So here are the contenders:





No, I’m not going to show you the painting process today — I think this thinking process has been taxing enough for the last Friday in October. Because while I might have divided feelings about October, I am of ONE MIND when it comes to November:




11 Comments, RSS

  1. I’ve been poking around, picking up leaves to do just that — paint something new! At least I don’t have the criteria of not choosing something I haven’t done before — I haven’t done any of them! So, this week I’m going to try my hand at it without your painting lesson — and then probably go at it again in another week! Great fun. I can see why the leaf posts are the favorites — they are wonderful!

  2. Megan

    Oh just love all those autumnal colours, it’s spring here. I do like the weird leaf you painted, didn’t look weird to me, says more about me I expect. Good luck finding just the right Goldilocks leaf. They all look very interesting to me. Have a lovely weekend, love that wine glass!

  3. Sandy

    Oh yeah, I have been waiting for your fall leaf painting!!!! And I think that all of your leafs are perfect!!! I would love to watch you paint 100 leafs but the best would be to watch you paint just one and then you and me open a bottle of pinot and watch the rest of the leafs fall.

  4. Marg-o

    Is that tulip leaf for real?! Now I see why its called the redwood of the east. I know what you mean about october, being both the beginning and the end, but the end is sadder than the beginning, more beautiful too. Maybe because it is sad? Like you said, that’s a lot of thinking for a Friday.

    I want that Perfect Fall Leaf of 2013.

    I want that wine glass.

  5. bunny

    I want that perfect leaf of 2013 too…

    …but I NEED that wine glass. Here’s a toast to pumpkins, ghouls, a little brisk in the air, watercolored fall leaves, and of course, Lets go Mets!

  6. Deborah S. Farrell

    When I was a kid, I loved, Loved, LOVED looking for the perfect fall leaf. I had a strong preference for the orange ones.

    Recently, on the Sunday Morning tv show, they had a segment on the Hudson Valley painters (I think that’s what they called it), and they talked about how Europeans couldn’t make sense of their fall landscapes because in Europe the trees just turn yellow in the fall. No reds or oranges (or bronzes, or . . .). I keep thinking about that as I drive around being enthralled by they fall colors at their peak. I can’t imagine not having all these colors. I feel the same thinking about the 2 red-green colorblind people I know — they can’t see what I’m seeing!

  7. ann

    Being such a warm area, we don’t have fall leaves, yet, in Vidalia, GA. We really have to search for some useful candidates to paint.

    To get a dose of fall color I am painting a pumpkin and two black cats right now.

    Thank you for the colorful pictures you posted which bring me great joy here in the south.

  8. I laughed out loud at the “I can paint standing up, I just don’t want to”. Stand-up desks are all the rage in workplaces – even elementary schools (where it actually makes some sense), but I’m with you – enough of the standing all day!

    Fun looking at your leaves – so many colors and so many variations. The trees are beautiful, but , but , but – that gray, cloudy, yucky November is just about here. Im with Edgar Allen Poe, ” distinctly I remember it was in the bleak November”. Pretty much sums it up ! The wine glass should help.

  9. Mary

    great inspiration, these leaves. The East coast is blessed w/ so many choices.
    I know your pick will be interesting and helpful to painters.

    First picture: Wine with tea? Never tried that.
    In a back yard setting with the perfect companion; WHY NOT?
    Happy leaf hunting……

  10. Laura

    Do you do anything to preserve your leaf to work on them? I teach this project to my high school students and soak the leaves in a tub of diluted glycerin. That stretches the workability of the leaves for the week.

    You’ve got tough contenders. Lots of green or not much at all. Showing your thoughtful selection process makes this a great post to add to my student resources.. Thank you.

  11. Joan

    I’m happy with any fall leaf you choose to paint. Fall is my favorite season and is so welcome in the Intermountain west high desert where as of yesterday our temps were still in the 80’s, very un-fall-like. Halloween is the signal for fall in these parts and true to form, a cold front from the north is blowing in and drops us into the 60’s, which is very much fall in these parts.

    Looking forward to the process of your fall leaf painting and to see which of the above candidates you choose.

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