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Painting Fall Leaves: Autumn Watercolor Projects for Fun & Inspiration

27 Sep 2021
It's officially the season for taking walks with scarves and sweaters donned, collecting leaves, then head to grab your paints and create a rich, stunning watercolor painting.

You only need a few supplies to create a gorgeous collage of watercolor leaves: watercolor paper, 3-5 watercolor paints, gold paint pen, pencil (optional), picture of leaves or dried leaves from a recent walk (for reference), a round tip paintbrush, masking tape (for adhering paper to surface), pencil for sketching.

The size of the watercolor paper can vary. The bigger the paper, the more leaves that can be painted! 9x12 will fit approximately 7 leaves.

The blank page phenomenon can be a real battle, especially if it has been a while since one picked up the paints. I find the best way to counteract this mental barrier is to start doing doodle-type paintings! Small projects work best, especially this watercolor leaf project.

So, if you've been sensing a bit of hesitation about creating some fresh watercolor paintings, this is the perfect warmup!

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to learn several projects the watercolor leaves will be perfect for this fall.
Painting leaves with watercolor is a wonderful way to celebrate the beauty of the changing season.

How to Paint Autumn Leaves with Watercolor
First, tape the watercolor paper down to the painting surface. Do a light sketch of the leaves with the gold paint pen.
Note the distinctive features of each leaf: pointed edges or round, the way some leaves cut deep into the stem with wild curves and others remain one smooth line all the way around.

The paint pen will repel the watercolor. Using a paint pen to sketch will create a "pop" with the leaves not achieved with a pencil or micron pen.

If you want to use the pencil first, then the gold paint pen over it, that works too.

Add the first layer of paint to the leaves. Keep the paint loose. Add extra water if the paint is thick or doesn't move.

The beauty of fall leaves is the way the colors dance together on leaves. Watercolor lends itself to this dance beautifully!
Once the first layer of paint is added, drop in the next color. Sometimes I will take the second color and outline the grooves of the leaf, allowing the colors to spontaneously mix and dance as they will. The fun of this project is seeing what colors and nuances will be created!

The colors chosen play a big part in how the leaves will pop on the page. Some colors play with each other much, much better than others.
I stayed within the autumn seasonal archetype when choosing colors, but kept the palette limited in order the sense of muddying up the leaves.
2 Fall Inspired Color Palettes
Here are two ideas for color palettes:
Earth Tone Palette

o Cadmium Yellow, Light & Medium Shades
o Burnt Sienna
o Raw Umber
o Red Windsor (or Cadmium Red would work)
o Cadmium Orange

Gem Tone Leaves

o Magenta
o Quinacridone Purple
o Gamboge
o Burnt Umber
o Viridian Green + Blue Mix (created a turquoise)

The earth tone palette is more traditionally fall.

This year, I fell absolutely in love with the gem tone colors. They have a strong pull of romantic and feminine beauty. Something about this color palette is resonating deep in me this season.

What other color palettes might be interesting? There are all sorts of ideas to be had!

Continue to add in color and fill out the leaves. Then, let them dry.

Come back, add in more detail with the gold pen (if desired) and add another layer of color to the leaves.
Let this dry.

Finally, add in some splatters of paint and a soft wash around the leaves.
What to do with your gorgeous watercolor leaves?
Below are some ideas.
9 Ideas for Watercolor Leaf Projects
• Turn them into Quote Art
• Cut them out and create cards
• Make a collage
• Hang them in the window as a fall decoration
• Cut them up and send them out in snail mail
• Cut each one out, add a note of encouragement, and send them with your kids to school, spouse to work, etc.
• After cutting out the leaves, write down what you are thankful for on several. String them up and use as a reminder through the autumn season as a (beautiful!) visual reminder of the beauty of life
• Laminate the leaves (before cutting), then cut them out in jigsaw puzzle pieces and give us a fun gift to young children in family or community
• Use the project as a connecting time with friends (everyone can paint leaves, no matter how un-artistic they feel!)
Want more inspiration for watercolor painting?
Check out all Melissa's workshops for all sorts of floral and seasonal-inspired courses.
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The Creative Season © 2021

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